thoughts on the Mariners, MLB draft, and more homelinksdraftabout me

Road Game To Remember

I was at the game last night, and while game recaps are very few and far between from me (intentionally - there's enough great ones out there already), last night's game is more than worthy of an exception. Let me count the ways that it was pure, unfiltered fun:

Pitching To Contact

Doug Fister
We all need something to wipe away yesterday's ninth inning. Uff da.

Let's focus on Doug Fister's eight innings of work prior to the meltdown. It was classic Fister. Only 99 pitches through 8 innings of work, without many hits (3), walks (1), or strikeouts (3) to talk about. Many balls went in play, and nearly all of them were converted into outs.

The sustainability of Fister's approach has been a discussion topic ever since he cracked the majors. Can a guy so seemingly hittable really clock 200 innings year in and year out, and not have hitters figure out how to hit him hard? Fister has almost accumulated two full seasons of service time in the majors at this point, and we are still waiting for the other shoe to drop. If anything, he might be getting better.

Recently, there have been several pieces discussing the merits of pitching to contact. I'm not sure what caused the outbreak. For all I know, it's just coincidence that I happened upon these writings at about the same time.

Dustin Ackley Gets The Call

Dustin Ackley
Generally, I avoid stories that have already been covered by the excellent ensemble of reporters and bloggers that dutifully follow the Mariners. However, I have to say something about Dustin Ackley. I just have to. I first noticed him as a freshman at North Carolina, and imagined how good he could be. For a fleeting second, I even wondered how wonderful that left-handed stroke would look in Safeco.

That was a pipe dream. Tomorrow, it's reality.

MLB Influence Rankings

With all the draft coverage, the monthly influence infographic had to wait until now. Here are the latest influence rankings:

An explanation of how this graphic is created, and what it represents, can be found here. Click on the picture above to see the graphic full size. For comparison, here are the April and May graphics. Click "continue reading" for a few thoughts on the graphic.

2011 Draft: Mariners Recap

I'll cut to the chase quickly. The Mariners made 51 picks in the 2011 draft, and this is a pick-by-pick account of who Seattle acquired.

I don't like grades, because it is weird to me to "fail" a team when they obviously got better. No matter how good or bad a pick is, the drafting team just got a new player, and didn't have to give a player. Instead, I'll use a star system (perhaps I ate at a Thai restaurant tonight, and perhaps it influenced me). I'll use a four start system, to force me to stray from the middle. To be clear, picks with the most stars aren't necessarily the picks with the best players. How early or late the pick is matters too:

2011 Draft: Day 3 Recap

Go me. I claimed that someone interesting from college football gets picked in the draft every year, and of course this is the year that didn't happen. The one year where they might sign for a month or two because of the NFL lockout, and none of them are picked. I never got why football players get picked with mild regularity, so I guess it is par for the course that once I warmed up to the idea, nobody went. Go figure.
There were some entertaining picks though:

2011 Draft: Day 3 Preview

Oh yes, you best believe that I would reload the draft board for day three. Honestly, the MLB talent is likely gone, but you never know.

The third day is about taking flyers on prep guys certain to go to college (such as a guy on my top 33 list still hanging out there, Trent Gilbert). It is about taking guys to fill out the short-season rosters. It will also be about doing a few favors for players, coaches, and scouts in organizations. There should be some fun names that come off the board in the waning rounds. There always are.

Personally, I wish that more teams emphasized college seniors in the third day. There are lots of quality ballplayers that may not ever make the majors, but have had great collegiate careers. Not only are they nice guys to fill out short season rosters with, but it's good for the sport to recognize these guys. It's a big deal to get drafted by an MLB team, no matter the round. How cool would it be to get paid to play baseball too, even if for only a few months?

So, today's list is mostly a collection of productive college players that don't necessarily project to the pro level. There are lots of them, and this is my little way of letting some of them know that somebody out there pays attention and salutes the job you've done on the field.

Without further ado, the players:

2011 Draft: Day 2 Recap

There's a ton more to cover on this day. There's no way to say everything, but I'll do my best to highlight what strikes my fancy as I go through the picks.

One quick note: I plan on doing a pick-by-pick analysis of the Mariners draft, but I will wait until the very end to do that. However, my quick take on today is that the Mariners made many unspectacularly solid picks. It was college heavy, and particularly heavy on guys that are simply "ballplayers" - not necessarily the tallest, fastest, or strongest, but a bunch of guys that found ways to get the job done with what they've got. They are unlikely to flame out, and also unlikely to be stars.

On to specific picks, in bullet points, organized by round. If I didn't write anything about the player mentioned, I most likely covered him either on my top 33 list, or as part of my day 2 preview:

2011 Draft: Day 2 Preview

Tomorrow is the real meat and potatoes of the draft. The headliners are for the most part gone, but one or two players do not make a draft class. Round 2 through 18 (oops, already in round 30 today) will, and there is a ton of talent still left out there.

As I mentioned in the Day 1 recap, with so many high ceiling guys flying off the board early, many dependable college guys are still out there. They may not be as flashy, but many of them are likely to outproduce players taken ahead of them. The trick is finding the right guy, getting him in the right situation, and perhaps tweaking what can be tweaked.

Instead of ranking a bunch of players (aside from the guys remaining from my top 33 list), I'll offer a handful of players at each position with brief scouting reports. I anticipate most of them going off the board at some point in day two, though who knows where.

Without further ado, a fire hose of players:

2011 Draft: Day 1 Recap

60 picks are in the books! Most teams only had one or two selections, but the headliners are gone (for the most part). Here are some rapid reactions:

  • Gotta start with the top. Gerrit Cole is a nice top selection. He isn't who I would have gone with first overall, but he is hard to argue against. I doubt the Pirates regret taking him. Pittsburgh is starting to collect elite power arms.
  • The Mariners made a surprising selection with Danny Hultzen, but it's not a bad one. I still thought Anthony Rendon was the obvious choice, but I am sure the Mariners got a critical piece of information I had no access to - the medical reports on his shoulder. It's worth noting that Rendon fell all the way to sixth, where the Nationals scooped him up. Others were wary of his shoulder, and the Nats are likely to move him to second base with Ryan Zimmerman safely entrenched at third. The Mariners don't really have the same luxury with Dustin Ackley as the long-term solution at second. It looks like the prevailing feeling around baseball is that Rendon's shoulder is a legitimate long-term concern, and given that, Hultzen makes a ton of sense for the Mariners. He will make even more sense if the Mariners go out and grab some bats early in day two.
  • The Diamondbacks loaded up on pitchers with their three picks, Trevor Bauer, Archie Bradley, and Andrew Chafin, in that order. I had them ranked 3rd, 5th, and 15th, respectively, on my big board. Bradley is a particularly bold pick, because he will cost money, and that pick is unprotected as a compensation pick from last year for not signing Barret Loux. Part of me feels like the D'Backs went too heavy on pitchers, but at the same time, there is only one other team that came away with as talented of a trio tonight...
  • ...and that team is the Washington Nationals. They were already winners when Rendon fell in their laps, and kept on winning when they grabbed Alex Meyer and Brian Goodwin later on. Even though these are all college players, they all have high ceilings. These aren't typical "safe" college picks. Meyer is 6'9" with an electric arm that he just started to harness this past year. Goodwin is only sophomore aged, thanks to transferring to a community college. He already has an advanced approach at the plate, and might hit for average and power with speed when it is all said and done.
  • The Rays started off with killer picks by taking Taylor Guerrieri and Mikie Mahtook, both of whom fell more than anyone can really explain. Then, they made a run on athletic high schoolers. I expected more of a mix out of them with all the picks, but going with the a heavy dose of prep athletes makes good sense. Several of them will probably flame out, but if the Rays can sign all of them, they've pretty much guaranteed themselves some quality players at premium positions.
  • The Red Sox did their usual cash grab by selecting Blake Swihart and Henry Owens. However, Matt Barnes wasn't a guy that fell to them because of money, and he was a nice pick to start their night. Hard not to like the trio they nabbed, along with Jackie Bradley Jr. (who I'm not so high on).
  • In general, a ton of young, athletic guys went in the draft, particularly in the sandwich round. Chicks might dig the long ball, but clearly GMs and scouting department dig more athletic guys at the moment. Pitching and defense are back in vogue.
  • That last point was my lazy transition to the losers of day one. I guess no one really loses because everyone gets talent without giving anything up. Still, some capitalize more than others. The Mets made the most conflicting pick of the night for me, when they selected Brandon Nimmo. He is an amazing story, as his high school didn't even have a baseball team. Going from that to a first round pick is remarkable, and I'm rooting for the guy. However, from a team's perspective, drafts aren't about human interest stories. Nimmo was a reach where he was taken, with guys like Mike Mahtook and Brian Goodwin still available. I'm rooting for the kid, and others were happy to see the Mets take a high school guy, but that doesn't insulate the Mets from some questioning as far as I'm concerned.
  • The pick I disliked most came from the Dodgers, as if their year could get any worse. Chris Reed isn't a bad pitcher, but he went way too high. Picking him at 16 suggests that LA will convert him to a starter. While many think he has the stuff to come out of the bullpen, there were plenty of great prep and college players that have been starting and flourishing. I'm a strong believer that you pay primarily for two things early on in the draft - elite skills, and advanced polish. Reed is good, but I don't think he has an elite tool, and he definitely does not have polish as a starter, given that he has been relieving. There is way too much unnecessary risk tied up in this pick for my liking.
All in all, it was a solid draft. I was surprised that so many teams went so heavy on youth. It doesn't seem like there is much diversity in thinking among teams right now, for better or worse. It also might be a reflection of the general belief that there were lots of good prep players this year, and on top of that it was a weaker year for college players, particularly college position players.

As a rule of thumb, Division I position players are the safest picks in a baseball draft (but also often have the least upside). Only 11 of the first 60 picks were every day players from D-I schools. I anticipate many busts in this draft because of the risks taken, but that doesn't mean that there were lots of dumb picks. The reality is that greater rewards often come with greater risks.

Still, with so many higher ceiling guys going early on, there are lots of lower ceiling guys still around that are good bets to make the majors and stick around as role players, and maybe even solid starters. I'll be back with a fatty list of guys to look for in day two shortly.

Potential Mariners Top Picks

The Mariners have only one pick tomorrow in the first round of the MLB draft, the second overall pick of course. Since baseball teams cannot trade draft picks, there day will be done about 20 minutes after it starts.

Really, aside from the Pirates, the M's couldn't have it much easier. They can go into the afternoon with a list of two players in mind, get one of them guaranteed, and then high five each other for "getting their guy" the rest of the afternoon.

The million dollar question, rather literally, is who's the guy?

As is usual with Jack Zduriencik, the Mariners are mum on whom they might pick. However, only a handful of guys make sense. Here are the most likely candidates to become the newest Mariner, in my estimation:

  • Anthony Rendon, 3B, Rice - Reports are that the Pirates are leaning towards Gerrit Cole with the top pick, which I think this is one of the best case scenarios for the Mariners. Any scenario with Pittsburgh taking a pitcher is best, because it leaves the M's with their choice of any position player. With all due respect to the 2011 Mariners, despite their winning ways, the offense still stinks. Unless the M's medical staff is worried about Rendon's shoulder, which could plausibly happen, I don't see how the M's can afford to pass him up. He is my odds-on favorite to be the pick.
  • Bubba Starling, OF, Gardner Edgerton HS (KS) - The toolsy prep phenom is a physical specimen with the chance to be a true five-tool talent. This would be a gutsy pick at the top of the draft, but the superstar potential might be enough to lure the Mariners, especially if Rendon is gone and/or if the Mariners worry about Rendon's health. He will likely be tough to sign away from Nebraska, but I am sure the Mariners have already set aside a big chunk of change to sign whomever they pick.
  • Gerrit Cole, RHP, UCLA - With Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda already around for many years, I doubt a power pitcher is on top of Seattle's wish list. However, if Rendon goes with the top pick, and the M's don't like all the risk involved with Starling, it would be hard to pass up Cole. How frightening would he be as a staff addition?
  • Francisco Lindor, SS, Montverde Academy (FL) - According to rumors last week, Lindor had a private workout with the Mariners.  There is no way he lasts until the M's second round pick, so presumably this shows a degree of interest for their first pick. The M's seem to have a solid shortstop of the future with Nick Franklin, but it's never a problem to have too many good gloves and bats up the middle.
  • Danny Hultzen, LHP, Virginia - While I think it is remote that the Mariners take Hultzen, there is a bit of a counterintuitive argument to be made for him. First of all, unlike Cole, he complements Pineda and Hernandez better as a lefty that doesn't throw in the upper 90s. Second, he doesn't seem likely to demand as high of a bonus as other potential top picks, which might save money for investments later in the draft. If Rendon is taken by the Pirates, and the Mariners do not like the prep bats available, perhaps they go for a somewhat conservative pick up top, and pick someone a little tougher to sign later on.
  • Blake Swihart, C, Cleveland HS (NM) - This is my longshot that I probably should not have put on the list at all. I haven't seen anyone link Swihart to the Mariners, and if he really was in consideration, I bet he would have held a private workout with the team by now. Plus, on top of that, I don't see any mock drafts with Swihart near the top 10. Still, I love the guy, and the Mariners have a gaping hole at catcher in the organization.
I am pretty certain that the next Seattle Mariner is in that list above. If I were in charge of the Mariners draft, I would have my fingers crossed that Rendon is passed on by the Pirates. If he were to get picked, I would consider Swihart or Hultzen, and probably lean towards Hultzen. In less than 24 hours, there will be no need to speculate anymore.

2011 Top 33

Anthony Rendon
Why 33 on this year's list?

I promise that I won't continue expanding, but what started as a casual suggestion from a friend is now a reality. Truth be told, I don't like picking arbitrary lengths for lists, especially with common numbers like 10 and 25. From now on, I will rank as many players as there are first round draft slots (excluding the "sandwich" round, which are technically supplementary first round draft picks at the end of the first round). This number will always be around 30, but will vary depending on how many teams do not sign their first round draft picks.

So, from now on, my formal list of prospects is in theory my list of first-round talents. If I ran a team's scouting department, I probably would not use a list like this, opting to put players with similar grades in large pools, and selecting the best player for my organization out of the highest pool remaining.

Pools aren't as fun to talk about as lists though, and not nearly as succinct or easy to lay out on a blog. So, a list this shall remain. Plus, it forces me to go out on a limb from time to time and actually make some decisions on particular players.

Before unveiling the prospects I like the most in 2011, I have to share that it has been a great year to follow folks from previous lists. This year alone, eight different players that I've featured in the past have made their MLB debuts, and several more are waiting in AAA. Most interesting to me is that the 2008 list has one more player than the 2007 one to reach the majors so far, which is a good sign for my personal development as a talent evaluator.

With that said, I am far from a professional. This is an intensive side hobby for me, where I depend on College Splits data, and whatever videos I can find - mostly between searches for individual players on YouTube, and videos posted on Baseball Beginnings. I owe a ton to these sites, which is why I linked to them.

While I take pride in my list, I try to remain realistic. I am one weekend warrior "competing" against trained professionals. I spend no cash at all, while teams spend thousands - if not millions - to scour the nation for the finest amateur talent, along with a small army of full-time employees at their disposal. Even outside experts get more time and resources to comb over data and reports, not to mention opportunities to see players in person. The odds should be stacked against me.

I've had some nice successes though. I had Josh Collmenter ranked as one of the 25 best college prospects in the 2007 draft, yet he lasted until the 15th round. He made the majors this year. On my very first list, I ranked Tim Lincecum as the top prospect in the 2006 draft, and that has worked out quite well too.

I love looking at prospects, and I keep faring well enough to go through the draft process each year. I try my best to be an independent thinking without being different simply for the sake of being different. These are my educated opinions based on the resources available to me. Every team should be able to do better than me, but history suggests that won't happen. Without further ado, my top 33 prospects in the 2011 draft, in reverse order:

Mariners Farm At A Glance

I feel like my annual list of MLB draft prospects needs some kind of build up, if for no other reason because it is so long. It would feel like a shock to the system without fair warning, and a little stretching.

So, why not ease into this year's draft coma with a look at the Mariners farm system as it sits right now?

All in all, I do not think it has been as exciting of a year so far in the minors for the M's, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Many new players emerged last year, and some of them are following up break-out performances with worthy encores. That's good, because it makes it less likely that some of last year's youngsters are flashes in the pan.

Still, as in any year, there are surprises, both good and bad - as well as unsurprising performances, also good and bad. Below is my overview of the M's minor league affiliates, divided into hopefully useful groups: