We won’t know for years whether the players selected in this year’s Major League Baseball amateur draft will provide value to their organizations, debut with another team, or even reach the big leagues.
With that in mind, I thought it’d be fun to look back and identify the 10 best draft selections ever made by the Seattle Mariners.
To simplify the selection process, I’ve opted to use wins above replacement (WAR) as the basis for my comparisons.
For those unaware, WAR is a comprehensive metric that accounts for a player’s total contributions (value) to his team. For this article, I’m using the Baseball Reference version (bWAR).
It’s worth noting I’m using player’s career bWAR — not just their value as a Mariner. Much to the chagrin of Seattle fans, several of the names listed below had little-to-no playing time with the club and flourished elsewhere.
Next to each player’s name, you’ll find year drafted, round, overall selection number in parenthesis, and career bWAR.
Okay, let’s go in ascending order and begin with the only active Mariner on the list.
10. Kyle Seager — 2009 Third Round (82), 25.3 bWAR
The fact an active player with just seven years of big league experience is on this list signals just how much the organization has struggled to draft and develop homegrown talent during the last four decades.
In 2009, the Mariners selected four other players — Dustin Ackley, Nick Franklin, Steven Baron, and Rich Poythress prior to Seager. Nevertheless, the former North Carolina Tar Heel turned out to be the best.
In fact, Seager’s 25.3 bWAR is greater than the combined career value of Ackley, Franklin, and Baron. Poythress never reached the major leagues.
Seager is the best player drafted during the tenure of former general manager Jack Zduriencik. Perhaps, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, or some other prospect during selected the Zduriencik era will surpass the 29-year-old.
For now though, the Mariners’ starting third baseman is the tenth most valuable draft selection in the history of the organization.
9. Dave Henderson — 1977 First Round (26), 27.6 bWAR
“Hendu” was the first player selected during the June draft in Seattle Mariners history. Signed out of high school, Henderson debuted at age-22 in April 1981.
The right-handed hitting outfielder played five full seasons with the Mariners before being traded with Spike Owen to the Boston Red Sox in August 1986 for Rey Quinones , Mike Brown , Mike Trujillo, and John Christensen.
Once in Boston, Henderson and his new teammates went on to win the American League championship before losing to the New York Mets in the World Series.
In total, Henderson played 14 seasons for five different teams before retiring after the 1994 season. His most productive years came as a member of the Oakland Athletics when he averaged 4.1 bWAR annually between 1988-91 and helped Oakland win three consecutive American League pennants and one World Series title.
After his playing days, the fan favorite would spend 10 seasons in the radio booth broadcasting Mariners games. Sadly, he passed at the too young age of 57 in 2015 after undergoing a kidney transplant.
8. Tino Martinez — 1988 First Round (14), 28.8 bWAR
The Tampa, Florida native primarily played first base with the Mariners when not serving as designated hitter. However, after 1993, another person named Martinez took over that spot for the next decade.
After beating the New York Yankees in dramatic fashion to reach the 1995 American League Championship Series, Seattle shipped Martinez along with Jim Mecir and Jeff Nelson to the Yankees for Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock.
As with Henderson, Martinez’s best years occurred after he left the Pacific Northwest. The best of his 16 seasons came wearing Yankee pinstripes in 1997 when he finished second in Most Valuable Player voting. During his six years in the Bronx, the Yankees won four Fall Classics making Tino a beloved figure in New York.
Martinez would also have stints with the St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Devil Rays before closing out his career with the Yankees in 2005.
7. Mike Moore — 1981 First Round (1), 28.8 bWAR
The native Oklahoman debuted with the Mariners in 1982 — less than a year after being the first overall selection in the draft. The best of his seven seasons with Seattle came in 1985 when he finished tenth in Cy Young Award voting.
Moore is one of only six pitchers to log more than 1,000 innings as a Seattle Mariner. While the others — Randy Johnson, Felix Hernandez, Jamie Moyer, Mark Langston, Freddy Garcia — had more distinguished playing careers, Moore was the first good homegrown pitcher in franchise history.
6. Mike Hampton — 1990 Sixth Round (161), 29.0 bWAR
Hampton would go on to help three clubs — the Mets, Houston Astros, and Atlanta Braves — reach the postseason during his career.
During his 16-year big league career, Hampton was one of the best hitting pitchers in the game. His 16 career home runs rank fifth best all-time among pitchers and he’s top-three in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage among hurlers with 800-plus plate appearances.
5. Adam Jones — 2003 First Round (37), 30.1 bWAR
Jones is the only other active player on the list. The 31-year-old was converted from a shortstop into a center fielder by the Mariners before the club dealt him with Tony Butler, Kam Mickolio, George Sherrill, and Chris Tillman to the Baltimore Orioles for Erik Bedard.
The sheer mention of this deal continues to infuriate a segment of Mariners fans.
As an Oriole, Jones has been a six-time all-star, received Most Valuable Player votes in three different seasons, and earned four Gold Gloves.
4. Derek Lowe — 1991 Eighth Round (214), 34.5 bWAR
Slocumb would spend two relatively undistinguished seasons with the Mariners, while Lowe and Varitek would help Boston reach and win the World Series.
Lowe had successful stints as both a starter and closer for the Red Sox and even finished third in Cy Young Award voting in 2003.
3. Mark Langston — 1981 Second Round (35), 50.7 bWAR
Chosen after the Mariners selected Moore and Kevin Dukes, who never played above Class-AA level, Langston turned out to be the best of the bunch.
In 1984, the southpaw finished second to teammate Alvin Davis and ahead of Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett and Roger Clemens in American League Rookie of the Year voting. He’d spend six seasons with the Mariners and ranks as one of the best pitchers in franchise history.
Langston’s departure from Seattle also provided value to the organization. Since he was a pending free agent and the club wasn’t going to resign him, the Mariners traded Langston with Mike Campbell to Montreal Expos for Gene Harris, Brian Holman and a 6-foot-10 left-hander with control issues — Randy Johnson.
Langston went on to have great success with the California Angels after signing with the club during the following offseason, while Johnson began building his Hall of Fame resume in a Mariners uniform.
2. Ken Griffey — 1987 First Round (1), 83.6 bWAR
There’s a reason a Ken Griffey Jr. statue outside Safeco Field — he was the greatest Mariner ever. Not only does Junior hold team records for home runs (417) and bWAR (70.3), his infectious love of the game made him a cultural icon.
At this point, some of you may be wondering why the greatest player to ever don a Mariners uniform and a first-ballot Hall of Famer is only second on my list. It’s simple; Griffey’s value tailed off dramatically after leaving Seattle prior to the 2000 season.
When the Mariners traded Junior to the Cincinnati Reds for Jake Meyer, Mike Cameron, Antonio Perez and Brett Tomko; he was considered the best center fielder in the game. By age 29, he won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves, named to 10 all-star games, and was a unanimous American League Most Valuable Player selection in 1997. That changed when he moved to the Queen City.
During Griffey’s nine seasons with the Reds, he averaged just 23 home runs and totaled 12.8 bWAR — that’s less than replacement level value. The prime culprits in Junior’s decline were injuries and age-related regression.
As much as fans hated to see Griffey leave Seattle, it turned out his replacement — Cameron — provided more value during his four-year stint with the club than the Hall of Famer did for the Reds during the same period.
Between 2000 and 2003, Cammy played in 231 more games and delivered 10.3 more WAR than Griffey. He even hit one more home run, although that’s more indicative of The Kid’s lost playing time due to injuries than Cameron’s power.
1. Alex Rodriguez — 1993 First Round (1), 117.7 bWAR
Seeing A-Rod listed as the most valuable Mariner draft selection ever is making some of you see red. I get it. The way he left Seattle left a bad taste in your mouth or you can’t get over his PED issues. Perhaps, both issues bother you.
While I understand those sentiments, the value he provided to his teams — the Mariners, Texas Rangers, and Yankees — makes A-Rod the Mariners draft pick.
It’s possible Rodriguez will never be enshrined in Cooperstown, but he does possess a Hall of Fame resume — three-time Most Valuable Player with three different teams, 3115 hits, 699 home runs, and 14 all-star selections make a compelling statistical case.
That’s why Alex Rodriguez is the Seattle Mariners most valuable draft pick ever.