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|
|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.