Options abound for Mariners with sixth pick in Draft
Club needs to weigh risk/reward factor of taking arm in pitcher-rich 2014 class
SEATTLE -- With the sixth pick in today's First-Year Player Draft, the Mariners will ponder the same question facing most every club this year.
Pick a pitcher from the plethora of quality hurlers available and risk dealing with the injury bug that seems to be afflicting so many young arms these days? Or opt for a position player who might not have quite as much upside in what is regarded as a pitcher-rich Draft?
The Mariners are certainly aware of the injury risk with young arms. Their own touted Big Three of Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton are all currently on the disabled list. Hultzen, the No. 2 overall pick in 2011, is just building himself up to long toss in Arizona these days as he continues what will be an arduous 18-month rehab from last October's shoulder labrum surgery.
Walker and Paxton are close to joining the Mariners' rotation, but the 21-year-old Walker has yet to throw in a big league game this season as he's dealt with a series of shoulder issues. Paxton made two starts for the Mariners before running into his own set of shoulder problems.
The Mariners are far from alone in this regard. Just in the past nine months, MLB has lost top young hurlers Jose Fernandez, Matt Harvey, Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Brandon Beachy, Matt Moore, Cory Luebke, Kris Medlen, Patrick Corbin, Bruce Rondon and others to Tommy John elbow surgeries.
There are no sure things at any position in the Draft, but the young guns seem to be coming with particularly high risks, which makes for difficult decisions in a sport where quality arms and pitching depth are keys to success.
Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara has pondered the issue, but he keeps coming back to the same core belief he's always had when it comes to Draft day.
"I think you've just got to take the best guy," McNamara said. "Yeah, there's been a pretty serious rash with injuries, even on the college and high school end. This year, there's some pretty good ones, and it's been pretty alarming. But you've still got to take them. Hey, just keep taking 'em. Somebody is going to go out there and be a star."
That doesn't mean Seattle is locked into taking a pitcher, however. The Mariners are an organization that needs offensive help, and they've opted for college position players with their top pick in three of the five years since Jack Zduriencik became general manager.
The Mariners are something of a wild card this year at No. 6, having been linked to almost all of the top projected picks at some point by various Draft analysts.
Florida high school shortstop Nick Gordon, the brother of Dodgers infielder Dee Gordon, and North Carolina shortstop Trea Turner are names to watch, along with Alex Jackson, a California prep catcher who many project to a corner-outfield spot. Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto is another position player expected to go in the top half of the first round.
But pitching is the definite strength of this Draft, and the Mariners surely will have the opportunity to land one from the elite group of hurlers if they choose to go that direction. Two left-handers -- California high schooler Brady Aiken and North Carolina State's Carlos Rodon -- are expected to go among the first five picks.
But that still leaves hard-throwing Texas prepster Tyler Kolek, LSU's Aaron Nola and Vanderbilt's Tyler Beede as quality right-handed options, a well as couple more southpaws in Sean Newcomb of Hartford and Kyle Freeland of Evansville. With only five teams picking ahead of them -- and several likely to opt for position players -- a handful of those names will still be on the board when Seattle's turn arrives.
"We're in a good spot," McNamara said. "There's a good group of guys we think are going to be there when we make our selection, so we feel pretty good about it."
The 2014 Draft will take place today through Saturday, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network this afternoon at 3 PT. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 4 p.m., with the top 74 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of the second and third days will begin with a live Draft show at 9:30 a.m. PT on Friday.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 200 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. Every selection will be tweeted live from @MLBDraftTracker. You can keep up to date by following @MLBDraft, and get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
In about 50 words
The Mariners have the sixth pick in the first round, as well as the 74th overall pick in the Competitive Balance Round B, which will be the very last selection on Thursday. If Kendrys Morales signs with another team before Thursday, they would regain their second-round selection (47th overall). Rounds 3-10 will be Friday, with Seattle picking sixth in each round, with the final 30 rounds Saturday.
Zduriencik has been out on the road personally checking on several of the top prospects, but the Mariners are trying not to tip their hand to the teams picking above them. Seattle could opt for a position player if shortstops Gordon and Turner or catcher/outfielder Jackson are still available. But it seems more likely they'll tab one of the top pitchers that fall to them, with Hartford's Newcomb and Vanderbilt's Beede being prominent on their radar.
Despite the recent run of injuries to many of baseball's top young arms -- including the Mariners' own Hultzen, Walker and Paxton -- pitching is expected to dominate the early selections. The Astros have the top pick for a third straight year and are expected to take a pitcher, but they've been hard to predict in recent years -- and even the first selection isn't a sure thing at this point.
Throwing further intrigue into this year's Draft, two of the top pitchers -- right-handers Jeff Hoffman of East Carolina and Erick Fedde of UNLV -- have already had Tommy John surgeries this year. Both would have been high picks, but teams now must weigh at what point they're worth taking.
Under MLB's Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Mariners have been allotted $6,767,900 to sign their 2014 Draft picks. Clubs can go over the allotted figure, but they then must pay fines and face the potential loss of future Draft choices.
Mariners bonus pool
Under the two-year-old CBA, each team has an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of that club's selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. The signing bonuses for a team's selections in the first 10 rounds, plus any bonus greater than $100,000 for a player taken after the 10th round, will apply toward the bonus-pool total.
Any team going up to five percent over its allotted pool will be taxed at a 75-percent rate on the overage. A team that overspends by 5-10 percent gets a 75-percent tax plus the loss of a first-round pick. A team that goes 10-15 percent over its pool amount will be hit with a 100-percent penalty on the overage and the loss of a first- and second-round pick. Any overage of 15 percent or more gets a 100-percent tax plus the loss of first-round picks in the next two Drafts.
The Mariners need offense at the Major League level. But while they've drafted position players with their top pick the last two years, scouting director McNamara says they'll stick with their belief of always taking the best player no matter what position, even if that means adding another pitcher.
In Zduriencik's tenure as Seattle's GM, the Mariners have taken a college player with four of their five top picks -- Dustin Ackley (2009), Hultzen ('11), Mike Zunino ('12) and D.J. Peterson ('13). The only time they swayed from that was in 2010, when they didn't have a first-rounder but tabbed prep pitcher Walker with their first selection, the 43rd overall pick in the supplemental round.
RECENT DRAFT HISTORY
Shortstop Chris Taylor, a fifth-round selection in 2012 out of the University of Virginia, was the Mariners' Minor League Player of the Year last year after excelling at both Class A Advanced High Desert and Double-A Jackson, and was on the verge of earning a promotion to the big league club after hitting .372 in his first 35 games at Triple-A Tacoma this year. However, Taylor broke the little finger on his left hand sliding into second base on May 13 and is currently on the disabled list. The 23-year-old clearly has opened a lot of eyes, though, and he could find his way to Seattle soon if he can get healthy and back on track.
Right-handed reliever Dominic Leone, a 16th-round selection out of Clemson University in 2012, made a rapid ascension through the farm system, as well, and has been one of the Mariners' biggest surprises this year as a key member of the bullpen. The 22-year-old zipped through Class A Clinton, High Desert and Jackson last season, had a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League and then was promoted to Seattle five days into the regular season before he'd even had a chance to pitch for Tacoma.
In The Show
The Mariners have focused strongly on the Draft in recent years, and many of those picks are now starting to produce at the Major League level. Zunino, Ackley and Nick Franklin are first-round selections who are integral parts of the future, but some later-round picks are also filling key roles. Third baseman Kyle Seager (third round in '09), center fielder James Jones (fourth round in '09), right fielder Stefen Romero (12th round in '10) and shortstop Brad Miller (second round in '11) are all products of recent Drafts, as are Leone and injured starters Paxton (fourth round in '10) and Walker, both expected to be big parts of the rotation once they get healthy.
Mariners' recent top picks
2013: Peterson, 3B, High Desert
2012: Zunino, C, Seattle/MLB
2011: Hultzen, LHP, Injured/rehab
2010: Walker, RHP, Tacoma/Triple-A rehab
2009: Ackley, LF, Seattle/MLB