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The Z Difference

I got to thinking this evening that there are currently three players from the 2009 draft on the Mariners roster - 2B Dustin Ackley, 3B Kyle Seager, and LHP Anthony Vasquez. It's way, way too early to close the book on the 2009 draft, but if history repeats itself, there will be some teams that do not get three players out of their 2009 draft classes ever. Just having a trio from a draft only two years ago make it to the majors is something to celebrate.

In fact, I got to thinking: What was the last Mariners draft class to generate three MLB players?

The 2008 class has nothing to show (so far). There is still hope for a handful of players from that year though, I guess most notably RHP Josh Fields (the same one recently traded to Boston). It does not look like a good class.

So far, two players have made it to the bigs from 2007, recently DFA'd 3B Matt Mangini, and RHP Shawn Kelley. Again, this is still a rather young draft class, and there are still hopefuls, most notably RHP Philippe Aumont (now with the Phillies).

I was pleasantly surprised to see that I only had to go back to 2006 to find the last class as productive as Z's first, the 2009 bunch. Honestly, the Mariners did quite well in '06. The class is headlined by RHP Brandon Morrow (now in Toronto), but also features RHP Chris Tillman (Orioles), C Adam Moore, RHP Nathan Adcock (Royals), RHP Doug Fister (Tigers), and RHP Kam Mickolio (D'Backs).

Noticing a hidden theme though? Many of these players are in other organizations, and have logged more time in other organizations than with Seattle. That's part of the reason it feels like the Mariners do not develop their fair share of talent.

Going further, the 2005 class has four MLB players, though one did not sign with the Mariners (RHP James Russell). The other three - C Jeff Clement, LHP Justin Thomas, and RHP Anthony Varvaro - have combined for a -1.5 WAR thus far in their careers. Not exactly significant contributions.

In 2004, the M's drafted 7 MLB players, though only got 4 of them signed. That quartet is "good" for a -2.5 WAR in their careers to date.

The 2003 draft produced a couple quality contributors, OF Adam Jones and LHP Eric O'Flaherty, but neither blossomed in Seattle.

2002 produced -0.2 WAR worth of production out of a pair of players, though once again, a handful of future MLB players did not sign. 2001 has a similar story; I was surprised to see that the Mariners drafted RHP John Axford that year (but of course he didn't sign), but the team got -0.7 WAR out of a couple players! Again in 2000, just -0.4 WAR from two players (not including RHP Jason Hammel, who did not sign).

It is prudent to stay cautious about projecting the future of the Mariners organization. Young players are hard to predict with any certainty. However, the 2009 draft class has already produced a 2.7 WAR, all since Dustin Ackley's promotion in June. Already, in three months or so of limited action, 2009 has asserted itself among the most productive draft classes for the Mariners in the past decade. With guys like SS Nick Franklin and OF/3B Vinny Catricala also working their way through the minors from the 2009 draft class, it might be on its way to becoming the best of the past decade.

It's downright frightening to look at the string of drafts before Jack Zduriencik. Mariners draft picks from 2000 to 2008 (that signed with the Mariners) have generated 17.3 WAR as a group. That doesn't tell the whole story though.

The few resources the Mariners actually acquired through most of 2000s were comically mismanaged. Between trades involving prospects from those years, and letting others from go without netting anything in return, the Mariners have ended up with a net loss of 11.5 WAR. In other words, the Mariners would have (in theory) got 11 or 12 more wins in the past decade simply by never letting go of former draft picks.

All in all, when these poor decisions are thrown in, the Mariners have 5.8 WAR to show for their drafts from 2000-2008. I haven't run the numbers for other teams, but that has to be dead last, or darn close to it. The draft is where every team replenishes their talent. It is one of only two avenues where teams can add talent without giving any talent up (the other way being free agency). Every team should run up significant WAR numbers in drafts. The Mariners struggled to break even.

For perspective, the 2009 draft class might accumulate something like 4-5 WAR, based on how they have done this season. Add that to their current 2.7 WAR from this year, and they are sitting in the 7 WAR range. In a season and a half of playing time, Jack Z's first draft class might outpace the net production from the previous 9 years combined. Heck, Dustin Ackley alone might do it by June or July 2012. That's remarkable, for worse and for better.

Maybe it feels like the Mariners are Jack Zduriencik's team at this point, but there is no way to underestimate the mess he inherited. It's been too long since the Mariners have had a strong draft class, and also kept the players long enough to reap the rewards. Finally, that's going to change.