The Major League Baseball draft starts tomorrow and the Mariners have the fifth overall selection. Every draft is important because it is where the minor league system is replenished, but drafts take on added importance when a team is picking as high as the Mariners. Seattle has already publicly stated that they are looking to draft a college pitcher with their first pick, but that is hardly giving away a big secret since the top of the draft is considered to be extremely pitcher heavy and the Mariners really need some pitching prospects. Pitching is the glaring hole in this organization right now.
However, there are other holes too that are not quite as obvious. Since prospects usually take three to four years to develop, it is wise to look at potential holes three to four years down the road, and the Mariners will have a huge one at first base when Richie Sexson's contract runs out. Even if Seattle wants to re-sign Sexson in three years he will likely be at the end of his prime and soon will not be a viable option as a starter. As far as current first base prospects go, only Brian LaHair looks very promising. However, he is a relatively older prospect in AA, and it seems that the organization is not overly excited about what he can offer (if I were GM LaHair would be in AAA right now).
With these needs in mind, I set out yesterday to find prospects the Mariners should be looking at. I limited my search to college juniors and seniors, since all college juniors and seniors are automatically eligible for the draft. I would include high-schoolers too, but it is nearly impossible to find statistics for them, plus I prefer college prospects to high school ones. After a fairly intense day of searching I identified about 35 players that intrigued me, and I narrowed that list down to the 15 college prospects that I hope the Mariners are looking at in the 2006 MLB draft (in reverse order):
*All statistics are from the 2006 season, AVG = batting average, OBP = on-base percentage, SLG = slugging percentage, SB = stolen bases/attempts, BAA = batting average against, K/9 IP = strikeouts/9 innings pitched, WHIP = walks + hits/innings pitched
15. Whit Robbins, 1B, Georgia Tech: .358 AVG, .472 OBP, .603 SLG, 40 BB, 36 K - Robbins blossomed this year into a slugger in the ACC, one of the best baseball conferences in the country. His bio page claims that he is also a great defender, though I'm not convinced of that based on his fielding statistics. His strikeout rate is a little higher than I would like to see as well, but his walks prove he has plate discipline and as I mentioned earlier, he did play in what is perennially one of the finest conferences for baseball. Also, he fills a need in the Mariners organization.
14. Evan Longoria, 3B, Long Beach State: .353 AVG, .458 OBP, .602 SLG, 40 BB, 29 K - Like Robbins, Longoria exploded this year and posted tremendous numbers, and people noticed as he is a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, which is college baseball's equivalent to the Heisman Trophy. Longoria is a lock to go in the first round and he is widely considered the best position prospect by far in the draft. However, I don't agree with that. Longoria only posted prolific numbers this year and his numbers before 2006 were quite pedestrian. It shows how much he has improved, but I prefer guys that have a longer track record of success.
13. Chad Huffman, 1B, TCU: .388 AVG, .498 OBP, .742 SLG, 38 BB, 31 K - Though Huffman comes from a smaller conference, he has produced throughout his college career. Every year he has posted an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of over 1.000, and despite the high standards, he has clearly improved every year. He also plays first base, a need in the Mariner organization.
12. Luke Hopkins, INF, New Mexico State: .403 AVG, .548 OBP, .799 SLG, 53 BB, 27 K - Hopkins's numbers may be boosted by playing in the desert and a weaker conference, but for two straight years he has posted absolutely ridiculous numbers that only one player in the entire conference has approached. That player is the previous prospect, Chad Huffman. Hopkins doesn't seem to have a set position on defense which probably means he is a rather weak defender. However, if he can hit anything like he has in college, I would stick him at first base and deal with any defensive shortcomings in a heartbeat.
11. Ryan Strieby, 1B, Kentucky: .347 AVG, .476 OBP, .720 SLG, 44 BB, 37 K - This was Strieby's first year at the Division I level, but his power numbers in the SEC really grabbed my attention. On top of that, he is from Brier, Washington and attended Edmonds Community College before transfering to Kentucky this year, so he has strong local ties. Fans love it when local kids are picked by the home team, especially when they fill a need like Ryan Strieby does.
10. Brad Lincoln, P, Houston: 1.69 ERA, .198 BAA, 10.7 K/9 IP, 0.96 WHIP: Lincoln is one of two pitchers the Royals are considering taking with the first overall pick, so it is unlikely he will fall to the Mariners at number five. Lincoln has great stuff and he had a dominating year, but he was far from dominating the two previous years thanks to a lack of control. It is reasonable to believe he has developed and improved, but I am not convinced he is as good as most baseball experts believe. Like I said, I prefer guys who have proven themselves for more than one year, especially when they improve dramatically from one year to the next like Brad Lincoln has.
9. Steven Wright, P, Hawaii: 2.30 ERA, .204 BAA, 10.1 K/9 IP, 0.90 WHIP - I don't know if anyone in all of baseball would take Steven Wright over Brad Lincoln, but I probably would. For his college career, Wright clearly has better numbers than Lincoln and he has improved significantly two years in a row. The steadier track record and comparably dominate numbers are what edge Wright just past Lincoln for me.
8. Wade LeBlanc, P, Alabama: 2.72 ERA, .204 BAA, 9.0 K/9 IP, 1.06 WHIP - LeBlanc had a disappointing year in 2005 but came back strong in 2006 and anchored the pitching staff for the team currently ranked ninth in the nation. His subpar junior year concerned me, but last summer he played in the Cape Cod League and did very well and then backed it up with a strong 2006 campaign.
7. Jon Jay, OF, Miami(FL): .355 AVG, .494 OBP, .513 SLG, 38 BB, 24 K, 27/32 SB - I don't understand why baseball experts are not enamored with Jon Jay like I am. This guy can flat out hit and has put up sensational numbers for three straight years. He has not hit many home runs yet but he hits lots of doubles, and doubles tend to turn into home runs as a guy strengthens and matures. However, even if Jay does not develop any more power, he has the speed and plate discipline to be a fantastic leadoff hitter.
6. Cole Gillespie, UT, Oregon State: .378 AVG, .498 OBP, .709 SLG, 40 BB, 27 K, 14/18 SB - Though 2006 was Gillespie's third year of college baseball, it was his first as a starter for the entire year and he posted incredible numbers. There are some injury concerns, but he is so impressive as a hitter and he can play all over the diamond. According to the Oregon State coaches, Gillespie is one of the hardest workers on the team and has a great attitude, which is probably true since he is willing to play anyhwere on the field defensively.
5. Max Scherzer, P, Missouri: 1.95 ERA, .204 BAA, 8.8 K/9 IP, 1.01 WHIP - 2006 was a bit of a "down" year based on Scherzer's past success, but he still had a wonderful season. Scherzer has electric stuff and is a consensus top 10 pick in the draft. He is probably one of the guys the Mariners are seriously considering taking with the fifth overall pick.
4. Eddie Degerman, P, Rice: 1.80 ERA, .170 BAA, 11.7 K/9 IP, 1.01 WHIP - I absolutely love Degerman and I can't figure out why more scouts don't. He has been one of the finest pitchers on the Rice staff for a couple years now, and that is saying something considering all the great pitchers that have come out of Rice recently. My guess is he can't throw as hard as other pitchers in this draft, but his bio says he can throw three pitches for strikes, which most college pitchers can't do. He actually went to class as well and is on track to graduate with a degree in economics. Despite all the focus on pitching in this year's draft, nobody sees Degerman as a top prospect so I'm really hoping the Mariners scoop this guy up in a later round.
3. Craig Cooper, 1B/OF, Notre Dame: .425 AVG, .522 OBP, .654 SLG, 38 BB, 14 K - Now a senior, Cooper has hit very well since his freshman year and started to add power to his game in 2006. He started his career with the Irish as a center fielder but was moved to first base during his junior season and has already established himself as a very good defender. What impressed me most about Cooper this year was his .425 average and a mere 14 strikeouts, pointing out how amazing he is at making contact.
2. Andrew Miller, P, North Carolina: 2.26 ERA, .217 BAA, 9.4 K/9 IP, 1.13 WHIP - Miller, along with Brad Lincoln, are the two pitchers Kansas City is considering taking with the top pick. Miller is the closest thing to the consensus top prospect in this draft so it would be very surprising if the Mariners got a chance to draft him. He is left-handed, 6'7", throws a fastball in the mid-90s, has a wicked slider, and is also a Golden Spikes Award Finalist. In other words, he has everything a scout loves to see.
1. Tim Lincecum, P, Washington: 1.94 ERA, .173 BAA, 14.3 K/9 IP, 1.10 WHIP - A Golden Spikes Award Finalist like Miller, Lincecum has posted dominating numbers for three years at Washington and had better numbers across the board than just about every pitcher in college baseball, highlighted by his ridiculous 14.3 K/9 IP. No one is sure where Lincecum is going to go, but I think the Mariners would have to be complete morons to pass on this hometown hero if he's still available at number five. He is as good as any pitcher in this draft.