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Multiple factors have kept the Seattle Mariners from MLB postseason action since 2001. But none has derailed the team as much as its draft futility, which predates their dreaded drought.

The Mariners haven’t always been so inept at drafting and developing MLB talent. Perhaps the team didn’t yield as much high-caliber value as elite organizations. But Seattle drafted well enough to build a contender – at least in theory.

To see what I mean, just look at the top draft selections in franchise history.

Seattle’s Best

Based on the Baseball Reference version of wins above replacement (WAR), the following are the Mariners’ most productive draft picks ever.

Mariners’ All-Time Best Draft Picks

 
Pos
Yr
Pick #
WAR
Álex Rodríguez
SS
1993
1
117.8
Ken Griffey Jr.
OF
1987
1
83.8
Mark Langston
LHP
1981
35
50.3
Derek Lowe
RHP
1991
214
34.4
Adam Jones
SS
2003
37
32.4
Tino Martinez
1B
1988
14
29
Mike Hampton
LHP
1990
161
28.3
Mike Moore
RHP
1981
1
28.2
Kyle Seager
2B
2009
82
27.9
Dave Henderson
OF
1977
26
27.6

Álex Rodríguez may be the most reviled Mariner, but he’s arguably the best player produced by Seattle. A-Rod is one of just four members in the 3,000 hit/600 home run club along with Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Albert Pujols.

Seattle’s other ultimate pick – Ken Griffey Jr. – was the first Mariner to have his uniform number retired and earn a plaque in Cooperstown. Oh yeah, there’s also a statue of Junior outside T-Mobile Park.

Mark Langston was superb before the club dealt him to the Montreal Expos for Gene Harris, Brian Holman and some guy named Randy Johnson. I hear that Johnson fella turned out okay.

At 26-years-old, Mike Moore logged 266 innings and led the AL in starts. The Oral Roberts alum signed with the A’s as a free agent before the 1989 season, which turned out to be the best of his 14-year career.

Moore finished third in 1989 Cy Young voting behind winner Bret Saberhagen and teammate Dave Stewart. He also dominated in the postseason earning two wins during Oakland’s World Series victory over the Giants.

The late Dave Henderson was Seattle’s first pick in their first draft. Hendu was a respected contributor for six seasons before a trade sent him to the Red Sox in August 1986 with Spike Owen for Rey Quinones, Mike Brown, Mike Trujillo, and John Christensen.

Henderson proved to be a clutch postseason performer. He propelled the Red Sox to the 1986 World Series with a dramatic game-tying, two out homer in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the ALCS. He’d later help the A’s reach three straight Fall Classics.

First baseman Tino Martinez also spent six campaigns in a Mariners uniform. In December 1995, the team traded Tino along with Jim Mecir and Jeff Nelson to the Yankees for Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock.

Martinez’s career year was 1997 when he finished second to Junior in AL MVP voting. The Tampa native would play eight more seasons with the Yankees, Cardinals, and Rays.

Kyle Seager is the only active Mariner on our list. Based on WAR, the North Carolina alum is the team’s best third baseman ever.

Seager also has the fifth most home runs in franchise history and ranks seventh in games played – he may overtake Dan Wilson for fifth place this year.

Risky Business

Some fans may gripe about the Mariners letting A-Rod walk via free agency or trading everyone else mentioned except Seager. Understandable sentiment, but at least the team gained some on-field value from each of these draft picks.

On the other hand, the organization traded Derek Lowe, Mike Hampton, and Adam Jones before they became established major leaguers. Making matters worse, the return for the trio wasn’t commensurate with the talent dealt away.

In July 1997, the Mariners shipped Lowe, who pitched 53 innings as a Mariner, along with former first round pick Jason Varitek to Boston for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb.

Sending Varitek to Boston irked Mariners fans, although the team had Wilson – a future Mariners Hall of Famer – as their catcher.

Then again, Lowe and Varitek enjoyed long careers and helped the Sawx become World Series champions. Conversely, Slocumb made 84 appearances in two seasons with Seattle.

Hampton appeared in 13 games as a rookie before the team sent the southpaw with Mike Felder to the Astros for Eric Anthony in December, 1993. The future former Mariners bullpen coach became a two-time All-Star and was the 1999 NL Cy Young Award runner-up.

And Anthony? The team released him after the 1994 campaign.

Ouch.

Jones played 73 games with Seattle before a much-maligned 2008 trade sent him to the Orioles with Tony Butler, Kam Mickolio, George Sherrill and Chris Tillman for Erik Bedard.

With the Orioles, Jones became a five-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner. The 33-year-old joined the Diamondbacks in the offseason after 11 years with Baltimore where he was a team leader and a pillar in the local community.

Tillman, a former second round pick, appeared in 210 games with the Orioles before his big-league career ended last year. Sherrill contributed for two years before moving on. The Tennessean finished his career with Seattle in 2012.

Bedard finished fifth in Cy Young voting the season before the trade. However, the Canadian struggled to remain available for Seattle making just 46 starts in two and a half seasons.

The team also traded minor leaguer Shawn Estes (11th overall pick in 1991) to the Giants in 1995. In return, Seattle received Salomón Torres, who appeared in 28 games over three years; Estes played 13 seasons and was an All-Star in 1997.

Late Round Success

Most of the players we’ve discussed were selected in the first three rounds. However, the Mariners also managed to find value in the later rounds before succumbing to their current draft funk.

Players Selected In the 5th Round And Beyond

 
Year
Rnd
Overall
WAR
Derek Lowe 
1991
8
214
34.4
Mike Hampton
1990
6
161
28.3
Bret Boone
1990
5
134
22.8
Bud Black
1979
17
417
20.9
Raúl Ibañez
1992
37
1006
20.4
Alvin Davis 
1982
6
138
20
Doug Fister
2006
7
201
19.7
J.J. Putz
1999
6
185
13.1
Joel Piñeiro
1997
12
373
12.8
Ryan Franklin
1992
23
642
11.5

Although Seattle traded Bret Boone after his first two years for Bobby Ayala and Wilson, he’d return as a free agent to help catapult the team to 116 wins in 2001. Boone ranks behind only Robinson Canó among top Mariners second baseman.

Despite being a 17th round pick, Bud Black reached the majors. But the Mariners dealt him to the Royals for Manny Castillo before the start of the 1982 season.

Castillo played 282 games for Seattle in 1982-83 and never appeared in MLB again. The current manager of the Rockies played 15 years and helped Kansas City win the 1985 World Series.

Raúl Ibañez had three stints with the Mariners after his 37th round selection in 1992. In 11 seasons with Seattle, Raúl bashed 156 home runs – eighth best in club history.

Mr. Mariner – Alvin Davis – was the first great player in franchise history and held most of Seattle’s offensive records until Junior, A-Rod, Edgar Martinez, and Jay Buhner came along. Hence his induction into the team’s Hall of Fame.

J.J. Putz, Joel Piñeiro, and Ryan Franklin all delivered value before moving on. Piñeiro and Franklin left via free agency, while the team traded Putz in the first and best deal made by then-new GM Jack Zduriencik.

Putz was part of a three-team, 11-player swap netting the Mariners Mike Carp, Ezequiel Carrera, Maikel Cleto, Aaron Heilman, Endy Chavez, Franklin Gutierrez, and Jason Vargas.

Doug Fister was another young homegrown product dealt before thriving. To be fair, trading Fister to the Tigers in July 2011 made sense. At the time, Seattle was several years from expected contention.

Still, the return for Fister – Charlie Furbush, Casper Wells, Chance Ruffin, and minor leaguer Francisco Martinez proved underwhelming. Conversely, the Fresno State alum helped Detroit reach the 2011-14 postseasons.

What’s The Deal?

By now, it’s obvious the Mariners traded away a ton of drafted talent in lopsided deals favoring the other side. So far, we’ve mentioned Lowe, Varitek, Hampton, Jones, Tillman, Jones, Fister, Estes, and Black.

Still, every team makes trades destined for failure. Good drafts and solid player development should help offset deals gone bad – that’s how it used to work for the Mariners. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case for two decades.

Some fans still cite the Bedard trade as the cause of the Mariners’ 21st century malaise. It was a dud of a deal, but trading Jones and Tillman wasn’t the issue. Not having adequate reinforcements behind them in the farm system was the true cause of the team’s ills.

Bear in mind, Seager and Jones were the only active players on our Top-10 list and just two others are under age-50. The recently retired Rodríguez and Griffey, who turns 50 in November.

Yeah, that’s right. Junior is AARP-eligible this year.

Feelin’ old now?

Y2K Bug

There’s no specific date when draft productivity went south, but classes became much leaner after the final year of long-time GM Woody Woodward’s tenure in 1999.

During Woodward’s 11-year tenure, the team had 15 first round picks with 10 reaching the majors. Five were an All-Star at least once, although not necessarily with Seattle – A-Rod, Estes, Varitek, Gil Meche, and Matt Thornton. Additionally, José Cruz was a Gold Glove winner.

Since Woodward’s departure, the Mariners have made 16 first round picks through 2015. Jones has been the lone All-Star. The only one other first rounder to accrue over 10 WAR – Brandon Morrow.

Here are the Mariners’ 10 best draft selections this century, regardless of round.

Best Picks By M’s Since Y2K

 
Pos
Yr
Pick #
WAR
Adam Jones
SS
2003
37
32.4
Kyle Seager
2B
2009
82
27.9
Doug Fister
RHP
2006
201
19.7
Brandon Morrow
RHP
2006
5
11.4
James Paxton
LHP
2010
132
10.9
Chris Taylor
SS
2012
161
9.5
Chris Tillman
RHP
2006
49
9.3
Dustin Ackley
CF
2009
2
8.1
Mike Zunino
C
2011
3
6.9
Brad Miller
SS
2010
62
6.2

The list is chock full of names familiar to Mariners fans, but it’s not impressive. Not surprisingly, Jones and Seager are at the top. The drop off in WAR after the pair is dramatic.

Okay, it’s clear the Mariners have scuffled at drafting and developing. But how do they compare to successful teams?

Not well.

Here are the best players selected by three teams demonstrating sustained excellence both in the draft and on the field – Red Sox, Cardinals, and Dodgers. Seattle isn’t remotely close them.

10 Best Picks Since Y2K

BOS
STL
LAD
Dustin Pedroia (51.7)
Yadier Molina (39.2)
Clayton Kershaw (64.9)
Jon Lester (44.6)
Dan Haren (35)
Russell Martin (37.7)
Mookie Betts (37.7)
Matt Carpenter (26.4)
Matt Kemp (21.2)
Kevin Youkilis (32.6)
Colby Rasmus (19.8)
Chad Billingsley (17.2)
Jacoby Ellsbury (31.1)
Lance Lynn (15.9)
Corey Seager (14.7)
Anthony Rizzo (30.9)
Brendan Ryan (15.1)
Cody Bellinger (13.3)
Josh Reddick (24.8)
Jon Jay (13.9)
James Loney (12.1)
Jonathan Papelbon (23.5)
Tommy Pham (12.8)
Dee Gordon (12)
Clay Buchholz (17.9)
Kolten Wong (12.7)
Edwin Jackson (10.6)
Jed Lowrie (17.6)
Jaime García (10.5)
Joc Pederson (9.1)

Clearly, the Red Sox are king of the hill. Their least productive player – Jed Lowrie – wouldn’t rank lower than fifth on any other team’s list. Moreover, Boston’s list includes two under-30 studs (Mookie Betts and Anthony Rizzo) and a pair of proven vets (Jon Lester and Josh Reddick).

The Dodgers have a strong group headlined by Clayton Kershaw. They also boast two Rookies of the Year (Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger), plus every player except James Loney has been an All-Star.

Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter are the marquee names for St. Louis. However, every draft pick listed except Colby Rasmus helped the team reach the postseason or win a World Series.

Turning Point

While Woodward’s long tenure as GM provided stability, there’s been considerable churn afterwards. The team has hired four general managers since – Pat Gillick, Bill Bavasi, Zduriencik, and current boss man Jerry Dipoto.

Gillick is a Hall of Famer, but his stint in Seattle was brief and tough to assess from a drafting perspective. That said; the team selected Jones selected on his watch and two other picks – René Rivera and Ryan Feierabend remain active.

Then again, the Mariners did win 393 games and appeared in consecutive AL Championship Series during Gillick’s four-year stint. Realistically, the club’s decline accelerated after he left.

A Tough, Terrible Run

How ineffective have the Mariners been at drafting since Gillick’s departure? Derek Lowes’ 34.4 career WAR exceeds the combined value (33.5 WAR) of every first round draft pick made by Bavasi and Zduriencik.

That’s bad, right?

The Mariners had four first round picks during Bavasi’s watch with Morrow being the best. The only other players delivering any semblance of value – Fister (19.7 WAR), Tillman (9.3), Michael Saunders (5.6), and Shawn Kelley (3.5).

Bavasi’s time as GM proved unproductive on the field and in the draft room. In five years, the Mariners had one winning campaign and four managers. Gillick’s team’s averaged 98 wins annually; Bavasi’s averaged 90 losses.

Then Came Jack

The Mariners’ inability to leverage high draft picks worsened during the Zduriencik-era (2009-15). This was particularly damaging for the organization and frustrating for fans since the team drafted multiple first rounders early in Zduriencik’s tour, but came away relatively empty-handed.

Jack Z’s First Rounders

 
Year
Overall
WAR
Current Org
Dustin Ackley
2009
2
8.1
--
Nick Franklin
2009
27
1.3
PIT
Steven Baron
2009
33
-0.3
PIT
Taijuan Walker
2010
43
5.8
ARI
Danny Hultzen
2011
2
N/A
--
Mike Zunino
2012
3
7.9
TBR
D.J. Peterson
2013
12
N/A
CWS
Alex Jackson
2014
6
-0.3
ATL

In the eyes of many fans, Dustin Ackley symbolizes the failure of the Mariners and Zduriencik. The team selected Ackley second overall and 23 spots before the best player in baseball – Mike Trout.

In fairness, Ackley was a consensus pick at the time. The Mariners traded the former North Carolina Tar Heel shortly before Zduriencik’s dismissal in 2015. He’d resurface with the team during Spring Training this year, but is currently inactive.

Both Nick Franklin and Steven Baron are playing for Class-AAA Indianapolis in the Pirates’ farm system.

Dipoto traded Taijuan Walker and Mike Zunino for major league talent, including current Mariners Mitch Haniger and Mallex Smith. Walker is recovering from Tommy John surgery with Arizona, while Zunino continues to struggle with delivering consistent offensive production with the Rays.

Alex Jackson was a high school catcher converted into an outfielder. However, Dipoto dealt him to the Braves for pitchers Max Povse and Rob Whalen. Still just 23-years-old, Atlanta reverted Jackson back to catching. He made his MLB debut in April and is currently with Class-AAA Gwinnett.

D.J. Peterson remains active playing for the AAA affiliate of the White Sox. Unfortunately, the same isn’t true about Danny Hultzen. Hailed as one of the “Big Three” in the Mariners system along with Walker and James Paxton, shoulder injuries derailed Hultzen’s once-promising career.

Looking Forward

Now, the responsibility for turning around the Mariners and their awful draft record belongs to Dipoto. While the 50-year-old exec has proven an effective peddler of major leaguers, we don’t know whether he can effectively build an organization by cultivating minor league talent.

Having said that, Dipoto has taken positive steps designed to reinvigorate the depleted system he inherited.

Last offseason, Dipoto added three former first round picks via trade – Justus Sheffield, Jarred Kelenic, and Justin Dunn. Throw in the first rounders Dipoto drafted – Kyle Lewis, Evan White, and Logan Gilbert – and you suddenly have a much more robust farm system.

Does acquiring these six high draft picks since Dipoto’s 2015 arrival represent a turning point in the Mariners’ trajectory?

Perhaps, but only if multiple players (including international amateurs like Julio Rodriguez) deliver major league value. Furthermore, the team must draft wisely, develop MLB talent, and trade prospects judiciously. It’s too early to tell whether the team will succeed at these endeavors.

Still, the outlook for Seattle’s farm system appears more promising than it has in a very long time. That by itself is a positive development for the team and its beleaguered fan base.

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