Seattle Mariners: A Decade Of Hits And Misses In The 1st Round
Although most major league teams will be calling up minor leaguers on their 40-man rosters in September, the Seattle Mariners have had to open their presents a little bit early this year, with two of their top pre-season prospects making the big club earlier this summer. Those two, middle infielder Nick Franklin and catcher Mike Zunino, were two of the team’s first round picks in the Jack Zduriencik era and perhaps represent the vanguard of drafted players to emerge in the majors as the Seattle GM’s strategy to tend to the farm begins to bring results. But even with their promotion, Seattle doesn’t lack for top prospects picked early in their respective drafts.
Here is a review of the past ten years’ first round picks by the Mariners, including some of the top young talent still in the organization.
2013- D. J. Peterson, 3B University of New Mexico (12th Overall)
The second time was a charm for the Mariners, as they signed D.J. Peterson this year out of college, after having been spurned by him when they picked the big third baseman in the 33rd round of the 2010 draft. The Mountain West Conference triple crown winner, Peterson’s bat could settle in at either corner slot. Through 208 AB in 55 games in Class-A ball he has flashed above average power with .303/.365/.553 with 13 home runs and 47 RBI. Peterson was struck in the face by a pitch and hospitalized on August 22 and could miss the rest of the season in the Midwest League.
2012- Mike Zunino, C University of Florida (3rd Overall)
The Mariners continued their search for a catcher by selecting Mike Zunino with the 3rd overall pick in the 2012 draft. Having hauled home as much hardware as a college catcher could – a Johnny Bench Award, Golden Spikes Award and Dick Howser Trophy – Zunino proceeded to rocket through the Mariners’ system. He played 44 games in low-A Everett and AA Jackson after the 2012 draft. He started in the 2013 season at AAA Tacoma as the number 17 prospect on Baseball America’s top 100 list before his minor league numbers (.295/.372/.590) and injuries to the M’s catching corps forced a call up for his MLB debut on June 12. Although understandably adjusting to the big leagues, Zunino continues to excite as a power-hitting backstop with outstanding defensive skills, giving the Seattle fans hope that they have finally found the answer at the catcher position.
2011-Danny Hultzen, LHP University of Virginia (2nd Overall)
A top left-handed pitcher in the 2011 draft, Virginia’s Danny Hultzen offered remarkable command of a quartet of pitches that could grade out as major league average or better; the Mariners selected him with the second pick . Entering 2012 as Baseball America’s number 29 prospect, Hultzen cruised through the AA Southern League with a 1.19 ERA and 0.929 WHIP, before hitting a wall with AAA Tacoma. There, the control that is the basis of his game deserted him as he allowed 43 walks in less than 49 innings en route to a 1.890 WHIP. Still, this was regarded as a blip, and Baseball America had him as its number 21 prospect heading into this year. Hultzen looked to prove his boosters right and went 4-1 in five starts with a 2.20 ERA and 0.907 WHIP and seemed ready for a call up at age 22, but recurrent shoulder soreness has put him on the shelf, probably for the season.
2010– Taijuan Walker, RHP Yucaipa High School (43rd Overall)
The stacked 2010 draft class largely eluded the Mariners, as they gave up the 18th pick to the Los Angeles Angels after signing Chone Figgins. But the team surely cannot be disappointed with the gem that fell to them at the number 43 supplemental pick they received for losing Adrian Beltre. Taijuan Walker developed quickly, featuring a plus fastball with a curve and change that could grade out at big league average or better. Baseball America’s number 18 prospect to start the 2013 season, he sits at number 7 in the BA midseason list, and after a minor league campaign featuring a 2.93 ERA, is a leading candidate for a September call up.
2009- Dustin Ackley, OF-2b University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (2nd Overall)
The 2009 draft, just months after the Mariners hired GM Jack Zduriencik, was a big one for the team, with three picks in the first round. Their first, second overall, was Dustin Ackley an outfielder from North Carolina where he went to the college World Series in each of his three years. Once with the Mariners, he began to learn second base, where the team hoped he could deliver an above average bat. Ackley responded well enough to be Baseball America’s number 12 prospect in 2011. That year in 66 games with Tacoma, he produced a line of .303/.421/.487 before a call up in June 2011 to play 2B for the M’s. He finished the year with 333 AB for the big team, with a line of .273/.348/.417. However, a lackluster 2012 and slow start in 2013 saw him back in Tacoma to work on his offense. Since his callback on June 26, Ackley has played mostly in the outfield and delivered an improved line of .289/.331/.407.
2009-Nick Franklin, SS Lake Brantley High School (27th Overall)
Shortstop Nick Franklin was headed to Auburn University before Seattle drafted him at number 27 using a compensatory pick from the Philadelphia Phillies for signing Raul Ibanez. Franklin rose steadily through the Mariners’ system over five seasons, spending time at both shortstop and second base. He started the 2013 season as the number 79 prospect ranked by Baseball America, and put up solid numbers at AAA Tacoma (.324/.440/.472). Called up on May 27 to slide in at 2B when Ackley was sent down, Franklin has flashed solid power for a middle infielder with 11 home runs in 272 AB.
2009-Steve Baron, C John A. Ferguson High School (33rd Overall)
The Mariners went with a defensive catcher in the first supplemental round of 2009, selecting Steven Baron from Miami. Baron had been scouted with outstanding skills behind the plate, with a strong arm and quick release. Rare for a high-schooler, he had also been calling his own games. His hitting still needs work despite the fact that he hit .345 in his senior year. Baron has been unable to get beyond A-ball, struggling to stay above the Mendoza line over five seasons. Still he is believed to have the skill set to improve on that score, and his defensive tools are worth being patient for.
2008– Josh Fields, RHP University of Georgia (20th Overall)
Josh Fields had been drafted by the Atlanta Braves but unsigned in 2007, before the Mariners selected him in the first round in 2008. He profiled early as a reliever with a closer’s mentality, going right after hitters with a plus curveball. Fields was traded to the Boston Red Sox and then selected by the Houston Astros as the first pick in the 2012 Rule 5 draft. Fields broke camp with the Astros this year and has gone 27.1 innings in 31 appearances, striking out 29 but giving up 7 homers and allowing 19 runs.
2007– Phillippe Aumont, P Ecole Secondaire du Versant, Gatineau Quebec (11th Overall)
One of the earliest Canadians ever to go in the MLB draft and the first from Quebec to go in the first round, Phillippe Aumont was picked by Seattle eleventh overall. He flashed a heavy fastball that touched the mid-nineties for scouts, and seemed to be living up to his promise, fanning 59 in 51 innings for the Mariners’ high-A and AA affiliates in 2009. Aumont was traded to the Phillies in December of that year as part of a package that brought Cliff Lee to Seattle. Aumont was called up at the end of the2012 season and continued on with the Phillies as the 2013 season started. However he faltered at the big league level and was sent down twice to AAA Lehigh Valley, where he has labored with a 4.36 ERA and 1.909 WHIP.
2007-Matt Mangini, 3B 52 Oklahoma State (52nd Overall)
Using a supplemental pick for losing Gil Meche to free agency, the Mariners picked Matt Mangini a big third baseman with promising power. In 2006, Mangini received the Thurman Munson award as the batting champ in the collegiate Cape Cod League. His 2010 line at Tacoma (.313/.352/.521) earned him a lackluster call up that year. Mangini was released by the Mariners in 2011, then picked up and released by the Tampa Bay Rays, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Cincinnati Reds. He is a free agent as of his March 27, 2013 release from the Reds.
2006- Brandon Morrow, RHP University of California (5th Overall):
The Mariners selected the fireballing Brandon Morrow out of Berkeley with the fifth overall pick in 2006, and put him on the big league roster as a reliever for the entire 2007 season. Morrow responded with a 4.12 ERA over 63.1 innings of work, striking out 66 but also issuing 50 walks. He also started the 2008 season in the pen, filling in as the team’s closer when J.J. Putz went down and garnering 10 saves. He was sent down to the minors on August 3 before being recalled that September as a starter. He went 2-2 over 28 innings pitched, striking out 28 and yielding an OBA of just .212. However, his control continued to hamper him, as he gave up 19 walks. The M’s sent Morrow back to the bullpen 2009 season, but he spent the year bouncing back and forth between relief and starting roles, and between the majors and AAA. He was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in December of that year, and has rounded into a starting pitcher since, drastically cutting down on his walk rate and ending 2012 with an ERA of 2.96 and WHIP of 1.115. In 2013, he was shut down with a right arm injury in May after 10 starts.
2005– Jeff Clement, C University of Southern California (3rd Overall)
The 2005 Johnny Bench award winner and first-team All-American Jeff Clement was selected by the Mariners with the third overall pick in the 2005 draft, with the look of a can’t-miss prospect. The power-hitting backstop’s 46 home runs during his career at USC were second only to Mark McGwire’s 54, and he had previously set the national high school home run record with 75 at Marshalltown High School in Iowa. Clement played briefly with Seattle in 2007 and 2008, bouncing back and forth to AAA Tacoma. The Mariners traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009 in a deal that brought Jack Wilson and Ian Snell. In 2010, Clement suffered a knee injury that would sideline him through the 2011 season. He was promoted back to the majors for part of 2012, with 24 nondescript plate appearances, before becoming a free agent and signing with the Minnesota Twins in November. As a minor league first baseman and DH, he has been hitting .220/.289/.395 for AAA Rochester.
2004-No First Round Draft Pick
In 2004, the Mariners signed Eddie Guardado and lost their first round draft pick to the Twins.
BHC Pick of the Litter: Nick Franklin
BHC Franchise Flop: Matt Mangini
Analysis: Following some dismal seasons, the Mariners hired Jack Zduriencik to be their GM in October 2008. “Trader Jack” had developed a reputation for scouting as a vice president for the Milwaukee Brewers where he drafted Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks. His arrival in Seattle was to usher in a new approach to developing the farm system. Certainly starting with the team’s three selections in 2009, the M’s first-round picks have been aimed at developing a young core. Although there has yet been no payoff, ownership may be giving Zduriencik another year to prove out his strategy, as rumors swirl that his contract has been extended to the end of 2014. More than most GMs, he will be watching September developments with interest.