Mariners have buffet of options at No. 2
Top prep, college position player, college arm could be in play
SEATTLE -- With the second pick in Monday's First-Year Player Draft, Mariners amateur scouting director Tom McNamara knows his club can go a lot of directions.
Given that only the Pirates can pluck a player from the list before Seattle's turn, the Mariners should have a shot at either the premier college position player in Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon, the top college pitcher in UCLA's Gerritt Cole or the best high school athlete in outfielder Bubba Starling of Gardner, Kan.
McNamara isn't tipping his hand, unwilling even to list those players as being the prime suspects in the year-long talent search. But he does acknowledge one thing.
"We're in a good spot to get a good player, that I can tell you," McNamara said. "This is a good year with a lot of good players. We're pretty excited about bringing the right player to this franchise."
Live coverage of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft begins with a one-hour preview show on Monday at 3 p.m. PT on MLB.com and MLB Network, followed by the first round and supplemental compensation round.
MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Day 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player.
Two years ago, the Mariners landed North Carolina's Dustin Ackley with the second pick in the '09 Draft. Ackley is now on the verge of arriving in the Major Leagues, having spent the past year and a half developing his second-base skills to go along with a well-regarded bat.
Now Seattle can add another piece to general manager Jack Zduriencik's puzzle as he goes about stocking an organization that was pretty thin on talent upon his arrival three years ago.
There are a number of quality pitchers available at the top of the Draft, including Cole, Vanderbilt lefty Danny Hultzen and premier prep arm Dylan Bundy.
But the Mariners have drafted pitchers with their top pick in four of the past five years and have strength in their rotation at the Major League level, led by 2011 American League Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez and promising rookie Michael Pineda.
Thus, it wouldn't be surprising to see Seattle opt to add a potential offensive standout, with Rendon, Starling and high school shortstop Francisco Lindor out of Florida among those believed to be drawing their interest.
"We're preparing ourselves for at least four or five guys because you just want to make sure you're in position to take the right guy," McNamara said. "We're doing a lot of research, we've seen all the players, we've gotten to know them, we're talking to their agents and coaches. I wouldn't say we've narrowed it down to two yet. We're keeping things open and we feel good."
Mariners' recent Draft picks
|2010||Taijuan Walker*||RHP||Single-A Clinton (Mariners)|
|2009||Dustin Ackley||2B||Triple-A Tacoma (Mariners)|
|2008||Josh Fields||RHP||Double-A Jackson (Mariners)|
|2007||Phillippe Aumont||RHP||Double-A Reading (Phillies)|
|2006||Brandon Morrow||RHP||Blue Jays (MLB)|
Rendon, the power-hitting third baseman from Rice, would seem a logical fit if he isn't picked by Pittsburgh. The Mariners have a crying need for some pop and no long-term answer at third base, where Chone Figgins has two years remaining on his contract but was recently benched while hitting .190.
Rendon has been hampered by a shoulder problem, however, to the point where he played second base recently just to show he could be on the field making the shorter throw. But the Mariners, who drafted Ackley a year after Tommy John surgery forced him to play first base at North Carolina, say they aren't worried about his future position.
"We've seen Anthony play a lot of third base," McNamara said. "We're comfortable with what we've seen."
As for whether his shoulder might be a hindrance to drafting him with one of the top picks?
"That's to be determined," McNamara said. "We're just in our due diligence of getting all the facts. We're talking about a lot of players here."
Starling is another interesting case, as a 6-foot-5, 190-pound high school senior who excels in baseball, basketball and football. He's got a football scholarship to Nebraska in his back pocket, which makes signability an issue.
There's also the debate of whether to take a high school or college player, though McNamara said he's not averse to drafting a premier prep player -- even if the path might take a little longer. He and Zduriencik were with Milwaukee when the Brewers took Prince Fielder out of a Florida high school in '02.
"If we think the high school player is the best player at No. 2, we'll take the high school guy," McNamara said. "If we think it's a college guy, we'll take the college guy. When you take a high school kid, everyone says, 'Wow, we've got to wait a while on this guy.' And it's not easy. But when that player clicks and turns into a superstar, it gives you more confidence to do it again."
So the Mariners wait for Monday evening, when they'll see what Pittsburgh does and then make their own selection with a pick that could help set the course of the franchise's future.
"I have no idea what they're doing or thinking," McNamara said of the Pirates. "But No. 2 is a good spot to be this year."
In about 50 words
The Mariners aren't wild about having the No. 2 pick for the second time in three years, given it means the Major League club has struggled in that span. But they do love the ability to land one of the premier players in what is regarded as a strong Draft class as Jack Zduriencik goes about restocking the organization.
The Mariners have been looking closely at five-to-six players they feel warrant consideration with the No. 2 pick, with Rice third baseman Rendon, UCLA pitcher Cole, Kansas high school outfielder Starling and Oklahoma prep pitcher Bundy believed to be the primary targets.
Rendon has long been regarded as the premier position prospect, but a series of injuries -- including a recent shoulder issue -- have raised concerns. Cole has been the other top name on most lists, but he also has had a subpar collegiate season. Starling might be the best available athlete, but with a football scholarship to play quarterback at Nebraska, there's no certainty he'll opt for baseball right out of high school.
Given the Mariners' offensive struggles at the Major League level, it's easy to make the case that Zduriencik will be looking to add bats. But it's a strong year for pitching at the top of the Draft and Seattle doesn't have many premier arms in the Minor League system, so this one could go either way.
Seattle has used its first pick on right-handed pitchers in four of the past five years, with Dustin Ackley the lone exception in 2009.
Recent Draft History
Ackley is knocking on the door at Triple-A Tacoma, where he's heated up at the plate in the past month while continuing to get his timing down at second base. It's only a matter of time before the Mariners call up their top position prospect and see what he can do in the Major Leagues as a 23-year-old rookie.
Johan Limonta, a 20th-round selection by the Mariners in 2006, has come on strong the past two seasons and is currently hitting .326 as an outfielder in Triple-A Tacoma. Limonta was drafted as a 20-year-old Cuban while playing for Miami Dade Community College.
Limonta was a Southern League All-Star for Double-A West Tenn last year when he hit .302 with 14 home runs and 83 RBIs, and he's hitting well again this year after making the jump to Tacoma.
In The Show
Starting pitcher Doug Fister, a seventh-round Draft pick in 2006, is the most recent selection who is currently on the team's 25-man roster. Fister, drafted out of Fresno State, spent three years in the Minor Leagues before being promoted in '09.
Catcher Adam Moore was a sixth-round pick that same year, but he currently is out for the season after tearing ligaments in his knee.
Reliever Shawn Kelley, a 13th-round Draft pick in 2007, isn't presently on the club's 40-man roster because he's on the 60-day disabled list recovering from partial Tommy John surgery. But the right-hander is expected to rejoin the Mariners at some point this season once he completes his injury rehab.