Prelude to the Top 20
Posted by Jason A. Churchill on February 11, 2007
Remember back in 2000 or 2001 when the Seattle Mariners were led to the postseason by skipper Lou Piniella and GM Pat Gillick? Yeah, those were fun times, for sure. But the point I want to make here is well below the surface of 116 wins and two straight ALCS appearances.
Many observers, including yours truly to an extent, have written quite a bit about the poor draft philosophies – and results – of the Gillick regime, where Roger Jongewaard and Frank Mattox headed up the draft for the Mariners. Prior to the 2006 season, current scouting director, Bob Fontaine, was being praised for his draft choices, while Gillick and company were ridiculed.
While Fontaine certainly has a clue and has made some solid decisions to make the most of some tough situations (not picking until the 3rd round in 2004), maybe some of us spoke too often, too soon, and much too harshly on the previous front office.
The Gillick group did not have a pick in the first three rounds in 2000, and took a high-risk left-hander, Sam Hays, with the fourth round selection. Hays is no longer in baseball and never made even a minor league impact, but the criticism needn’t lie solely on the poor selection.
Hays was a fourth-round pick, not a first or second. He was not given a near-record bonus (he got what amounted to slot money). And the reason why the club was void of a choice in the top three rounds is because Gillick was busy the previous winter signing Jeff Nelson, Arthur Rhodes and Aaron Sele on his way to putting together a pretty good big-league roster.
Gillick absolutely has to be forgiven for surrendering draft choices to put together that team. Right?
In 2001, however, the M’s reached. Three times. Choosing Michael Garciaparra with their sandwich pick and selecting catcher Rene Rivera and outfielder Michael Wilson in round two were all risky choices. Taking athletes over baseball talents is rarely a good idea, and teenage catchers are almost always a crap shoot.
Neither of the M’s third rounders did squat, either. Catcher Lazaro Abreu never got past rookie ball and infielder Tim Merritt was released prior to the 2004 season. That June yielded one of the most abysmal drafts in team history.
Bobby Livingston was the fourth round choice, and he is no longer in the organization after sputtering in Triple-A last season.
In 2002, it seemed to be more of the same after John Mayberry chose Stanford over the M’s low-ball offer. Seemingly, another total waste of a first round pick. Second rounder Josh Womack? Now an organizational player without much chance to see any big-league time.
Eddy Martinez-Esteve was the Mariners third rounder, but the club failed to sign him and he’s now a top 10 prospect for the San Francisco Giants. Again, the 2002 draft was a colossal disaster.
It’s possible, and in hindsight it appears probable, that the club was simply avoiding the big signing bonus during these two years, due to the expenses the major league roster was piling up. Not to mention the bigger dollars they were shelling out for international prospects Chris Snelling, Travis Blackley, Jose Lopez and Felix Hernandez.
This is not an excuse, especially when considering the fact that Safeco Field was King Cash Cow for the first five years of the decade – with no end in sight.
Inexcusable as it may be, perhaps Gillick, Mattox and Jongewaard should be cut some slack here. But there’s no two ways around it. These three drafts, 2000-2002, did nothing for the current Seattle Mariners, and that, my friends, is tragic.
But the ’03 draft, the final under Gillick, is about to start paying some dividends, and it may be enough to erase one or two of the previously craptastic drafts. The club took the compensatory pick from failing to sign Mayberry and drafted their future center fielder.
First rounder Adam Jones is among the top 20 prospects in the game after a strong showing as a 20-year-old in Triple-A. And although second rounder Jeff Flaig is nowhere near the radar, a pair of left-handers are nearing the bigs, and both pack enough stuff and projectability to help the Mariners for the next 10 years.
Third-round pick Ryan Feierabend is less than a year away and reliever Eric O’Flaherty could break camp with the 25-man roster this spring. With Jones on the brink of a permanent stay in the show, the 2003 draft has turned out a lot better than it appeared it would just a couple years back.
Fontaine, on the other hand, has his own picks to defend, despite getting a few gems in the low-to-middle rounds. Matt Tuiasosopo was just a third round pick, sure, but he was given a record signing bonus and he’s done absolutely nothing — and it may not be all of his own doing. The organization has rushed Tui and 2004 first rounder Jeff Clement, and their development has clearly been stunted.
If neither turn into big-league regulars, not only are their draft slots a fraud, but the money invested in them becomes close to a total waste… exactly what the club was trying to avoid with first rounder Mayberry and third rounder Martinez-Esteve in 2001.
In the end, Fontaine’s draft choices have been good, such as Mark Lowe and Rob Johnson in rounds four and five in 2004, and the selections of southpaws Robert Rohrbaugh and Justin Thomas in ’05, but the jury is truly still out on the ultimate results, just as they are with the previous group’s 2003 draft.
But if I was a betting man, my money would be on the ’03 kids outperforming the ’04/’05 combination.
In the next set of the top 50 prospects in the Seattle Mariners farm system, we’ll start to see a ranking next to the players’ name. These are awfully difficult to draw out, and one could effectively argue that a given player is ranked a few spots too high or too low. But this is the way I see it, after speaking to as many scouts, coaches, players and managers as I possibly could.
Note: Yorman Bazardo was originally ranked at No. 19 and since he was dealt to the Detroit Tigers, has since been removed entirely. That leaves the top 20 one man short. So No. 20 moves to 19 and we’ll be without the No. 20 slot.
Furthermore, many have been asking me where Carlos Triunfel, Mario Martinez and Juan Carlos Ramirez are going to fall in the rankings. The answer is, they do not fall anywhere, but not simply because they have yet to play ball in the states. It’s a combination of that fact, and the fact that I am not able to get enough scouting report type information on the three of them to put together a reasonable analysis.
Triunfel, however, is currently the best talent of the trio and has the highest ceiling. He and Martinez are surefire top 15 types, and ultimately will likely jump into the top 10 next year. Both have great athleticism and could end up at shortstop and center field with Triunfel potentially moving to third and Martinez to a corner outfield spot as a backup plan.
Each have big-time upsides.
Ramirez, an 18-year-old right-hander, sits 91-94 with his fastball and has a pretty good curve ball that could be the best in the system the day he arrives in the states. The knock on the Venezuelan is his command, but even that improved fairly dramatically this past season in the VSL.
I promise more on all three as I get the information, but I can relay this, fresh 411 from the farm.
All three are in the states right now as you read this and are expected to play here this season. Ramirez is likely to see the Felix-lite treatment, meaning he could split time between both short-season clubs and/or see Wisconsin by the end of the year, of not sooner… and he’s built just like the King of the same age at 6-3 and about 185 pounds.
Triunfel is going to play full-season ball, at least to start the year, so that spells Wisconsin. Martinez may also start his year in the Midwest League, but none of the above is set in stone, and the club swears up and down that none of those decisions have been made as of yet.
Prospects 11-19 will be published on Tuesday night.