When it comes to selecting catchers in the baseball draft, the Seattle Mariners haven’t had the best of luck.
You wouldn’t call it awful, but you wouldn’t call it good.
Draft picks such as Jeff Clement, Ryan Christianson and Rob Johnson don’t exactly inspire confidence or optimism.
But there’s a good chance that when the Mariners make the third overall pick in today’s Major League Baseball draft of amateur free agents, they will take University of Florida catcher Mike Zunino.
Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara wasn’t about to tip his hand on who they will take with that pick. Under general manager Jack Zduriencik’s regime, there is no leaked information.
“If we think the best player at No. 3 is a high school player, we’ll take the high school player,” McNamara said. “If we think it’s a college position player, we’ll take the college position player. If we think it’s a high school pitcher, a college pitcher – we’ll just take the best guy.”
Still, many mock drafts and baseball draft experts have Seattle linked to the hard-hitting catcher for the top-ranked Gators.
Of course, that leads to a fair amount of trepidation for Mariners fans.
After all, it’s tough to forget the 2005 draft. The Mariners had the third overall pick and decided to take the hard-hitting Clement out of USC instead of a hard-hitting shortstop out of Long Beach State named Troy Tulowitzki, whom they had been planning on selecting.
While he would never officially say it, the thinking was that then-general manager Bill Bavasi decided to take Clement instead of Tulowitzki because of the dearth of catching prospects in the Mariners’ organization.
Seattle had a need for catching help and drafted for it.
It makes this year’s draft that much more interesting. The Mariners do need catching help. Clement never panned out as a catcher or a hitter. A brief sojourn with the Mariners in September 2007 yielded a .375 batting average (6-for-16) with two homers and a double, but Clement never could match that type of production at the plate the next season while defensively he regressed from less than average to worse as knee injuries took their toll.
Johnson, taken in the fourth round of the 2004 draft out of the University of Houston, never materialized as the defensive presence he was expected to be.
The organization had high enough hopes for Adam Moore (drafted in the sixth round in 2006) to make him untouchable in 2009 when Zduriencik took over. But injuries have stalled his career and progress.
Zduriencik and his staff took Steven Baron with the 33rd pick of the 2009 draft. Some analysts considered it a reach for the athletic and raw Baron. The Mariners signed him for above the expected signing bonus range and got him to forgo a scholarship to Duke.
Baron hasn’t quite progressed as expected. His athleticism has made him a better than average defensive catcher but offensively, swing issues have stunted his growth.
He remains mired at Single-A Clinton and is hitting .218 with a .605 on-base plus slugging percentage.
With Moore coming back from another knee surgery, the catchers with Triple-A Tacoma are journeyman Guillermo Quiroz and four-year minor leaguer Brandon Bantz, while Andrew Giobbi and Jesus Sucre hold down catching jobs at Double-A Jackson.
None would be considered a touted prospect. Realistically, the position might be the weakest in the organization in terms of depth and talent.
So Zunino seems like the obvious choice, right?
While coy about many things, McNamara is clear about one thing – the Mariners draft whom they believe is the best player available, no matter what.
“I still believe in picking the best guy, whether it’s a hitter or a pitcher,” McNamara said. “The day you draft for need, and you pass on that guy you really think should be the guy you take, it will come back and haunt you. The guy will go out and be a Cy Young winner, and you might have a part-time extra player in the big leagues. Everyone is going to ask you, ‘Why didn’t you take the other guy?’ Take the best player.”
As good a hitter as Clement was in college – batting .348 with 17 doubles, 15 homers, 54 RBI, 44 walks and an on-base percentage of .472 as a junior at USC – Clement wasn’t the best player available, Tulowitzki was. But Bavasi and then-scouting director Bob Fontaine didn’t think or act like the current regime.
Was it wrong?
Maybe. Maybe not. But what makes it seem so bad is that the 2005 class was considered one of the best, with nearly every top 10 pick making significant contributions, except for Clement and pitcher Wade Townsend, the No. 8 overall pick by Tampa Bay.
This year, no one outside of the organization is quite sure of the order of the Mariners’ draft board. But it’s clear that the closely guarded board under Zdurinciek and McNamara can take a different shape than what the draft experts think.
Last year was a perfect example. Seattle selected left-hander pitcher Danny Hultzen out of Virginia instead of Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon. The Mariners thought Hultzen was the best player available and, despite serious offensive issues on the big club, they still went with the pitcher over the hitter.
“I saw Hultzen four times last year – four Friday nights in a row, but I matched him up against the No. 1 of the other team he was facing,” McNamara said. “I saw him good, I saw him with his back against the wall, I saw him in bad weather, I saw him pitch down 4-0 after the first inning. I saw him every way you could see a guy. There were a lot of good players last year. The guy we picked is the guy we wanted, and there were a lot of good players.”
So is Zunino the guy the Mariners want?
There is some thought around the baseball scouting world that while Zunino is talented and advanced, he projects to be only a good – but not great – everyday catcher like Jason Varitek (Seattle took Varitek No. 14 overall in 1994 but traded him to Boston in 1997).
Meanwhile, those same scouts also think that Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa might be the next Tulowitzki.
It’s a tough decision. The Mariners vow to take the best player available. Will that be Zunino or Correa or someone else?
We will know today sometime around 4:25 p.m.
Mark Appel RHP, Stanford
Could the Cardinal have the first pick of the NFL and MLB drafts this season? It’s possible. Appel has been rated as a top-three pick all season. The hard-throwing right-hander has a mid-90s fastball that has reached 98 mph. He has a good slider and an improving change-up. He’s a former basketball player and a solid athlete at 6-foot-5, 215 pounds. His mechanics are clean and low maintenance.
Projected big league comparison: Matt Cain, Josh Beckett
Byron Buxton OF, Appling County HS (Georgia)
Rated as the best position player in this year draft, the 18-year-old center fielder has reached legendary status with his athletic exploits – such as throwing a football 82 yards. At 6-2, 180 pounds, he’s a bundle of speed, athleticism and raw talent. While he hasn’t hit for a ton of power, scouts think he will hit for some as he matures.
Projected big league comparison: Matt Kemp, Justin Upton
Mike Zunino C, Florida
Rated as the best catcher in this year’s draft, Zunino won’t wow you with his bat or his skills behind the plate. The best word to describe him is solid. As a hitter, he has power and projects to be a well above-average hitter for a big-league catcher. Defensively, he is better than average in blocking pitches and throwing. Scouts love his presence behind the plate and his ability to handle pitchers.
Projected big league comparison: Jason Varitek, J.P Arencibia
Carlos Correa SS, Gurabo, Puerto Rico
He will become the highest drafted player taken out of Puerto Rico, eclipsing the previous high of No. 17 (Ramon Castro, 1994). He looks like a big-league player at 6-3, 185 pounds and oozes power potential. Defensively, there is some question if he will remain at shortstop. Correa, 17, has a strong arm and could move to third base.
Projected big league comparison: Ryan Zimmerman, Evan Longoria
Kevin Gausman RHP, LSU
One of the more complete pitchers in the draft, Gausman has a mid-90s four-seam fastball that can hit 98 mph, but he also throws a two-seam fastball in the low 90s. Gausman, whose father, Clair, is a college football referee, has a good change-up that has tailing action, but he needs to find consistency with his slider and curveball.
Projected big league comparison: Jake Peavy, James Shields Local prospects State athletes likely to be drafted today.
Clint Coulter C, Union HS, Camas
The state champion wrestler is big and strong (6-2, 215) and has shown all the tools. Committed to Arizona State, but could be a first-day selection.
Mitch Gueller RHP, W.F. West HS, Chehalis
Has value as an outfielder or pitcher, but his mid-90s fastball likely has him drafted as a pitcher. Committed to Washington State, but could be supplemental or second-round pick.
Adrian Sampson RHP, Bellevue CC
Came back from Tommy John surgery in 2009 to be the top pitcher in the NWAACC this season, going 11-0 with a 1.36 ERA. He struck out 107 hitters in 79 innings. Picked in 16th round by Florida in 2011 but didn’t sign.
Austin Barr C, Camas HS
The hard-hitting catcher would likely be taken in the first 100 picks of the draft, but by all indications the 4.0 student is committed to attending Stanford and playing for the Cardinal.
Andrew Pullin OF, Centralia HS
Gained renown for his ability to pitch with either arm, but it’s Pullin’s speed in the outfield and on the bases and his quick hands that will get him drafted as an outfielder. Pullin is committed to Oregon.
Other possible draftees: Jake Lamb, 3B, University of Washington; Dylan LaVelle, 3B, Lake Stevens HS; Taylor Ard, 1B, Washington State; Derek Jones, OF, Washington State; Theo Alexander, OF, Lake Washington HS; Cabe Reiten, SS, Olympia HS Mariners’ PAST 4 TOP PICKS
The Mariners’ first-round picks under GM Jack Zduriencik:
The talented left-hander is dominating at Double-A Jackson with a 1.59 ERA in eight starts. He should be in Triple-A Tacoma in a few weeks and should be in the Mariners’ rotation in 2013.
2010Taijuan WalkerRHPYucaipa (Calif.) High School43
He might have more potential than any other prospect in Seattle’s loaded farm system. Armed with a high-90s fastball and explosive curve, he’s struck out 175 in 154 professional innings.
2009Nick FranklinSSLake Brantley HS27 Altamonte Springs, Fla.
The hard-playing, switch-hitting shortstop dealt with mono and concussion issues last year, and is hitting. .342 this season in Double-A. He should be a September call-up and likely will be the starting shortstop in 2013.
2009Dustin Ackley2BNorth Carolina2
Zduriencik’s first draft pick as Mariners GM, Ackley has become part of the foundation for the franchise’s future. He’s made solid transition to second base and is a potential .300 hitter.
Notable catchers drafted by seattle
One of the most prodigious power hitters in Arizona high school history, he chose a scholarship at TCU over the Mariners.
Danny Hultzen’s catcher at Virginia, Hicks is hitting .295 with nine homers, 44 RBI and an .827 OPS at Single-A High Desert.
A great athlete who hasn’t quite been able to put it together at the plate; he’s still stuck in Single-A after three seasons.
Showed promise in the minors, but persistent injuries, including two knee surgeries, have hindered his growth.
A power-hitting left-handed catcher was supposed to be a sure thing. But Clement struggled to catch and hit.
Drafted out of the University of Houston, he was supposed to be a defensive stalwart, but wasn’t. His bat also was non-existent.
Showed promise in 2005, but his offense never developed.
Never played a big-league game in his nine-year career.
Traded to Boston with Derek Lowe as part of the awful Heathcliff Slocumb email@example.com 253-597-8483 blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish firstname.lastname@example.org