The Mariners and the draft

 

Not long ago, I realized that Ken Griffey Jr. will likely be the first number-one overall draft pick to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The fact that a draft that’s been around for fifty years hasn’t produced a Hall of Famer with its number-one overall pick underscores the difficulty in reaching “the Hall” and the complexity of selecting and developing talent during the draft process.

Sure, selecting players like Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez can transform a General Manager (GM) into an instant genius. However, the likelihood of finding transcendent players like “Junior” and “A-Rod” is quite rare. The fact that one team drafted both players within six years of each other is tantamount to winning the lottery. Far more often, high-round draftees won’t live up to the hype and will be never reach their major league potential – assuming that they even make it to “the show.”

Considering that the Mariners “won the lottery” by nabbing both Junior and A-Rod – yet have enjoyed so little success – I decided to examine how the organization has performed in the draft throughout its history. The first factor that I chose to review was the total number of Mariner draft choices who actually reached the majors with Seattle or with another team. To provide context, I grouped players by the GM in charge when the players were selected and I also annotated the best player selected during each GM’s administration.

On the below table, an “MLB Player” is any player who was drafted and signed by the Mariners and registered any major league playing time. That means a player who played in one game counts the same way as a player like A-Rod who has played for over 20 years.

Seattle Mariners General Managers
  Name Term MLB Players           Best Player Drafted
  Richard Vertlieb 1977-78 11              Dave Henderson
  Lou Gorman 1979-80 15              Bud Black
  Hal Keller
1981-85 24              Alvin Davis
  Dick Balderson 1986-88 17              Ken Griffey Jr.
  Woody Woodward 1989-99 66              Alex Rodriguez
  Pat Gillick 2000-03 13              Adam Jones
  Bill Bavasi 2003-2008 23              Doug Fister
  Jack Zduriencik
2009-Present 17              Kyle Seager

There have been many occasions during the Mariners’ history when the team was did very poorly in the draft, but no year was worse than 1984 – pitchers Bill Swift and Calvin Jones were the only players selected who reached the majors. The Woody Woodward years produced the most big league players, although his dealing of talent – drafted and otherwise – has left a bad taste in the mouth of many Mariner fans.

Although many drafts have been duds, the Mariners have managed to draft good players from time to time. To illustrate that point, I used the FanGraphs version of wins above replacement (fWAR) to create a lineup of the Mariners’ best draft choices. The only debatable positions would be first base and designated hitter – Tino Martinez and Alvin Davis. I chose Davis to be the designated hitter because he did it more often during his career than Martinez – that’s the only reason.

All-Mariner Draftee Starting Lineup
 Pos Player Year Pick        General Manager
 1B Tino Martinez 1988 14           Dick Balderson
 2B Bret Boone 1990 131           Woody Woodward
 SS Alex Rodriguez
1993 1           Woody Woodward
 3B Kyle Seager 2009 82           Jack Zduriencik
 OF Ken Griffey Jr. 1987 1           Dick Balderson
 OF Dave Henderson 1977 26           Richard Vertlieb
 OF Adam Jones 2003 37           Pat Gillick
 DH Alvin Davis
1982 138           Hal Keller
 C Jason Varitek 1994 14           Woody Woodward
 SP Mark Langston 1981 35           Hal Keller
 CL J.J. Putz 1999 185           Woody Woodward

There have been other notable players who also started their professional careers with the Mariners organization who deserve mention. Some were better than others, some never wore a Mariners uniform, and some are active major leaguers. The active players listed – all selected during current GM Jack Zduriencik’s tenure – are the most likely to flourish in the big leagues.

Other Notable Mariner Draftees
Pos Player Year Pick       General Manager
OF Raul Ibanez 1992 1006         Woody Woodward
OF Jose Cruz 1995 3         Woody Woodward
OF Phil Bradley 1981 53         Hal Keller
2B Harold Reynolds ** 1980 2         Lou Gorman
SS Brad Miller 2011 62         Jack Zduriencik
C Dave Valle 1978 32         Richard Vertlieb
UTL Willie Bloomquist 1999 95         Woody Woodward
SP Derek Lowe 1991 214         Woody Woodward
SP Mike Hampton 1990 157         Woody Woodward
SP Joel Pineiro 1997 393         Woody Woodward
SP Bud Black 1979 417         Lou Gorman
SP Shawn Estes 1991 11         Woody Woodward
SP Doug Fister 2006 201         Bill Bavasi
SP Bill Swift 1984 2         Hal Keller
SP Gil Meche 1996 22         Woody Woodward
SP Brandon Morrow 2006 5         Bill Bavasi
SP Chris Tillman 2006 49         Bill Bavasi
SP Taijuan Walker 2010 43         Jack Zduriencik
SP James Paxton 2010 132         Jack Zduriencik
RP Carter Capps 2011 121         Jack Zduriencik
RP Carson Smith 2011 243         Jack Zduriencik
 ** Drafted in June secondary draft

My takeaway is that – throughout their history  –  the Seattle Mariners have either drafted poorly, received inadequate returns when flipping talent, or both. During the Jack Zduriencik era, the team has done much better at holding on to their best prospects. Unfortunately for the Mariners and their fans, the majority of those prospects have yet to establish themselves at the major league level. Unlike his predecessors, Zduriencik’s draft legacy hasn’t been completely written yet. Having draft choices like James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Brad Miller, Mike Zunino, and Carson Smith becoming mainstays in 2016 would go a long way towards improving the team’s draft reputation and on-field success.

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