I’m not a huge draftnik in general, and specifically with baseball I don’t know if I could care any less than I already do. I don’t follow college baseball, I sure as SHIT don’t follow high school baseball, I’m not a scout, and trying to project what teenagers will become in 3-8 years sounds like a futile and pointless exercise.
I pay attention one day a year, and that’s Day 1 of the draft, and by “pay attention” I mean: I happen to be on Twitter and notice the beat writers talking about it. Then, I click on links they offer, read what people have to say, and that’s the basis for my knowledge on the subject. Pretty neat, huh?
In years past, the Mariners have drafted the following in the first round:
- 2015 –
- 2014 – Alex Jackson (OF)
- 2013 – D.J. Peterson (3B – converted to 1B)
- 2012 – Mike Zunino (C)
- 2011 – Danny Hultzen (SP)
- 2010 – Taijuan Walker (SP)
- 2009 – Dustin Ackley (OF – converted to 2B – converted to OF)
- 2009 – Nick Franklin (SS)
- 2009 – Steve Baron (C)
As you can see, a real Who’s Who of garbage (and Taijuan Walker). To be honest, I forgot all about Steve Baron, but he’s a no-bat defensive catcher who makes Jesus Sucre look like Babe Ruth at the plate. Nick Franklin is in the Tampa Bay organization and is still trying to break on through into becoming a regular big leaguer. Dustin Ackley is The Most Disappointing Man In The World. Taijuan you all know and love. Hultzen is one of a long line of safe Jackie Z draft picks, who was supposedly the most “Major League-ready” pitcher, but whose bevy of arm injuries has killed his career. The jury is still out on Peterson and Jackson; but Peterson was drafted for his bat and his power, and has yet to really impress with either on a regular basis; and Jackson is mired in single-A ball, appearing to be on nobody’s fast track to the Majors.
This year, with the 11th overall pick, the Mariners selected Kyle Lewis, an outfielder out of Mercer University. He’s 6’4, he bats and throws right-handed, his position for now is in centerfield, but some project him to be a corner outfield guy. He played basketball and baseball in high school, and only dedicated himself exclusively to baseball relatively late in his amateur career. He went to Mercer as a project, busted out as a Sophomore, and was “College Player of the Year” as a Junior this year. In 61 games this season, he hit 20 homers while putting up a slash line of .395/.535/.731, while also walking a whopping 66 times. So, he’s got the power, he’s got the plate discipline, his swing is apparently a little long and wonky, but they can work on that with him after he signs, he’s rangy, with good but not great speed, and has a nice arm. His high leg kick is apparently a concern, which could mean he’s in for a lot of strikeouts when paired with that swing. So, it’ll be imperative that he smooths all that out if he wants to make it to the Bigs someday. One would think, as he continues to round out as a pro and puts on some more muscle, he won’t necessarily need that leg kick to generate the power he’s accustomed to. If that clicks for him, he could be a monster. I’m seeing comparisons ranging from Jason Heyward to Mike Cameron.
From what I’ve read, I like the pick, but then again I’d probably be saying that no matter who the Mariners went with at the 11th overall spot. Lewis had been considered by many to be a Top 10 pick, with some people ranking him as high as the third overall selection. The Mariners themselves thought they didn’t have a chance at him when they scouted him initially, so for them it was a nice, pleasant surprise. I mostly like that he’s a high upside player. Granted, he could make it to Tacoma and promptly flame out like so many Quad-A outfielders we’ve gotten to that point in recent years. But, if he figures it all out, he could be a superstar in this league. Here’s to hoping he’s got the focus, and the organization has the people around him to make that a reality.
The farm system, right now, is pretty dire. I don’t think there’s a single person in AAA, for instance, who projects to be an everyday Major Leaguer (maybe a bullpen guy or something, but the rest of those guys seem to have hit their ceilings). There’s some good-looking talent in AA right now, but you figure you’re still at least a couple years away (at best) from seeing them produce in a Mariners uniform. Beyond that, who knows? So, when I see the Mariners have drafted a centerfielder, I don’t really pay attention to specific “needs” at the big league level. Since these guys don’t generally make an impact for many years after they’re drafted, it’s not like football where you see holes and you draft guys to fill those holes; in 5 years, or whatever, when Kyle Lewis is ready to get his shot at the Major Leagues, will there be a hole in centerfield? Probably, but you can’t think that way as a fan. From a farm system perspective, there are holes EVERYWHERE, at all levels! The draft is the crappiest of crapshoots, particularly in baseball. Bringing in talent, regardless of position, is what’s important right now.
Especially since, when you think about it, the Mariners are currently in contention, and might be robbing from that farm system to try to bring in big leaguers to help us win right now. Obviously, we just drafted Kyle Lewis, so he isn’t going anywhere. But, guys above him, in AA and AAA, might be shipped off. So, replacing those guys with incoming draft picks – and having some of those draft picks actually pan out – is going to be pretty important.
Which brings me to the Mariners’ second round pick, Joe Rizzo. He’s a high schooler with a nice swing, who appears to be pretty polished at the plate, and raw literally everywhere else. He’s not as athletic as you like – particularly for a third baseman – which is why everyone is already projecting him to move anywhere from left field to first base. Considering that’s more or less what they were talking about when the Mariners drafted D.J. Peterson, I’m not super-thrilled with these descriptions. I mean, who was the last guy they talked about in these terms, who actually panned out in a big way in the Majors? Seriously, I’m asking, because as I said before, I don’t follow the draft all that closely!
For what it’s worth, they said similar things about Dustin Ackley as well (although, his bat was more highly regarded, thus the #2 overall draft slot). Guys who hit well in college and high school, who don’t have an established defensive position, aren’t really options in my mind. Yeah, they may be good to go from a hitting perspective, but that just means they’re going to put all their energy into either learning a new defensive position, or trying to refine the position they came up with. Either way, all that focus on the defensive side of the ball – which is VERY important – will inevitably take away from them becoming a professional hitter, at which point you’ve got a player who isn’t good defensively, who also hasn’t made any strides at the plate, and all that promise they had coming in will have been squandered.
Look for Joe Rizzo to be absolutely nothing for the Mariners one day. I hope he proves me wrong, but I seriously doubt it.
At least with Kyle Lewis, you’ve got athleticism, and some built-in defensive ability, to go with his excellence at the plate, so all he has to do is refine and mature, as opposed to essentially starting all over as a professional.
Baseball can be really discouraging. Baseball prospects are generally at the top of that pyramid. Now you can see why I rarely try to put any energy into focusing on the minor leagues.