Mariners set to lift shroud of secrecy

Draft pundits have linked Seattle to just about every top draft choice — just the way GM Zduriencik likes it

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.comJune 5, 2014 

Oregon State’s Michael Conforto, a Redmond High School graduate, watches a ball he hit against Mississippi State during a College World Series game last year in Omaha, Neb.


Wondering who the Seattle Mariners are targeting with the sixth overall pick Thursday when Major League Baseball kicks off its annual three-day first-year player draft?

Go ahead. Guess.

That’s pretty much what the industry’s top analysts are doing — and they’ve come to no consensus.’s Keith Law, who once worked in the Toronto Blue Jays’ front office, summed it up well in an early mock draft.

“The Mariners, along with the Brewers, are among the most secretive clubs around the draft, and have been linked to a lot of names,” Law wrote. “ … I take that to mean most of us don’t really know who they truly want.”

It isn’t hard to see the link between the Mariners and Brewers. Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik spent several years running the Brewers’ scouting operations before coming to the Northwest.

Contemporaries characterize Zduriencik as someone who didn’t run with the pack when he served as a scout and who didn’t readily share information and assessments with those from other organizations.

Zduriencik still bristles in recounting how, as an area scout, he shared information with his organization’s cross-checker — standard procedure — and then heard that assessment fed back to him by a rival.

“ ‘What makes you think that?’ ” Zduriencik asked the rival scout. “ ‘How do you know who we’re looking at?’ This guy said our cross-checker had talked about it. Boy, that made me mad.”

The point is this: The Mariners, following their GM’s lead, work hard to shroud their intentions. That’s why they’ve been linked to roughly half of the consensus top 20 prospects.

That list includes four college pitchers: right-handers Aaron Nola of Louisiana State and Tyler Beede of Vanderbilt; and left-handers Sean Newcomb of Hartford and Kyle Freeland of Evansville.

Also on the list are Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto, North Carolina State shortstop Trea Turner and two high school seniors: catcher/outfielder Alex Jackson of San Diego and shortstop Nick Gordon of Orlando, Fla.

There have been others, and the list is fluid. There’s also a sense the Mariners enjoy the chaos they create.

“It’s entertainment every day to find out who we’re taking,” scouting director Tom McNamara said.

McNamara came to the Mariners from the Brewers less than three weeks after Zduriencik became general manager in 2008. He learned well: McNamara offered few specifics last week in a predraft media briefing.

“I was taught a long time ago that you take the best player, whether it’s a pitcher or a position player,” he said.

“Sometimes, you look at your system. We’re human. Of course, you look: ‘Hey, we could use some arms at the lower level,’ or, ‘We could use speed.’ But you need to be careful. You don’t want to sidestep the best player out there and draft for need. We’ll take the best player, or the best pitcher, out there — whether it’s a high school or college player.”

That narrow it down for you?

Some uncertainty, of course, stems from the fact five clubs are picking ahead of the Mariners, and there’s no guarantee what any of them will be doing.

The Astros select first, followed by the Marlins, White Sox, Cubs and Twins.

“We’re in a good spot,” McNamara said. “There’s a good group of guys we think are going to be there when we make our selection. We feel pretty good about it.”

Here are the basics. The Mariners have the sixth pick, but assuming free agent Kendrys Morales doesn’t sign elsewhere, they won’t choose again until the 74th overall pick, which closes the draft’s opening day.

The Mariners forfeited their second-round pick by signing Robinson Cano, who received a qualifying offer from the Yankees. The Mariners would get a pick back if another club signs Morales before the draft.

NO. 1?

Brady Aiken, Cathedral Catholic HS, San Diego

Polished three-pitch left-hander could be first player chosen in draft by Astros — and first high school lefty taken in top five picks since Adam Loewen went fourth overall to the Orioles in 2002. Only two high school lefties have gone No. 1: Brien Taylor (1991, Yankees) and David Clyde (1973, Rangers). UCLA recruit has terrific control with fastball that hits 96-97 mph, knee-buckling curve and tough change-up in low- to mid-80s.

>> The rest of the top prospects, B3 About the Major League Baseball draft

When: Starts Thursday at 4 p.m. PDT and continues for 40 rounds over three days, with first two rounds (and two “competitive balance rounds”) from MLB Network Studio in Secaucus, New Jersey. Rounds 3-10 will be held via conference call with teams Friday, and rounds 11-40 are Saturday.

First pick: Houston Astros have No. 1 overall pick for fifth time overall and are first to lead off draft three consecutive years. Astros selected Stanford pitcher Mark Appel last year and shortstop Carlos Correa from Puerto Rico in 2012.

Order: Determined by reverse order of finish in overall standings from last season. Teams not allowed to trade picks.

Top prospects: California high school LHP Brady Aiken, Vanderbilt RHP Tyler Beede, Florida high school SS Nick Gordon, California high school C-OF Alex Jackson, Texas high school RHP Tyler Kolek, LSU RHP Aaron Nola and North Carolina State LHP Carlos Rodon.

On the clock: Teams have 41/2 minutes to make picks in first round, and one minute in first competitive balance round, second round, second competitive balance round and rounds 3-10. Rest of draft has selections without delays.

Competitive balance rounds?: Started last year, these rounds give 10 teams with lowest revenues and 10 in smallest markets opportunity to get additional picks through lottery, held last July. Six selections awarded after first round, and teams not receiving one of those are entered into lottery for six picks following second round.

Signing deadline: Teams must sign drafted players, other than those who were college seniors, by 2 p.m. (PDT) on July 18. Top draft prospects

RHP Tyler Beede, Vanderbilt (6-foot-4, 215 pounds)

After setting school mark with 14 victories as sophomore, hard-throwing right-hander is 8-7 with 3.20 earned-run average. Fastball sits in mid-90s and is complemented by effective curveball and change-up. Off field, he has produced several rap songs under his stage name, Young Beedah.

OF Michael Conforto, Oregon State (6-4, 215)

Two-time Pac-12 Conference player of year and Golden Spikes finalist is perhaps most complete college bat among potential first-rounders. Left-handed hitter led Pac-12 in batting average. Had just seven HRs after 24 combined in first two seasons, but scouts like power potential. Has become more selective, drawing 55 walks.

LHP Brandon Finnegan, TCU (5-11, 185)

Hard-throwing lefty has smallish stature and frame, but generates lots of velocity with fastball that routinely sits in mid-90s and can get into upper-90s. Some shoulder concerns earlier in season. Profiles as solid starter or closer.

LHP Kyle Freeland, Evansville (6-4, 185)

Missouri Valley Conference pitcher of year, going 10-2 with 1.90 ERA, 128 Ks and just 13 walks. Had elbow surgery as HS freshman. Has hard slider. Fastball sits in low- to mid-90s.

SS Nick Gordon, Olympia HS, Orlando, Fla. (6-2, 170)

Son of former big league pitcher Tom “Flash” Gordon and brother of Dodgers SS Dee Gordon could be first position player drafted. Outstanding defender with speed on bases.

RHP Jeff Hoffman, East Carolina (6-4, 185)

Was off to solid start — 3-3, 2.94 ERA — before injuring elbow and needing Tommy John surgery. Throws fastball in mid- to upper-90s and has knee-buckling curve.

C/OF Alex Jackson, Rancho Bernardo HS, San Diego (6-2, 215)

Right-handed slugger has terrific arm and is solid enough to stick behind plate. Some teams might want his bat in the bigs sooner, so he could move to outfield or third. On scouts’ radars since leading California high schoolers with 17 HRs as sophomore.

RHP Tyler Kolek, Shepherd (Texas) HS (6-5, 235)

Bounced back from broken left arm last year in collision to have big senior season. Fastball sits in high-90s and excited scouts by touching 100-102 mph. Working on control and improving solid curve and promising slider.

LHP Sean Newcomb, Hartford (6-5, 240)

America East Conference pitcher of year has steadily moved up draft charts after big junior season (8-2, 1.25 ERA and 106 Ks in 93-plus IP). Fastball generally in low-90s but can get up to 95-96 mph.

RHP Aaron Nola, LSU (6-2, 170)

The first two-time Southeastern Conference pitcher of year and Golden Spikes finalist might be most polished pitcher in draft. Went 11-1 with 1.47 ERA, 134 Ks and just 27 BBs in 116 innings. Fastball is in mid-90s, complementing solid slider and good change-up.

C Max Pentecost, Kennesaw State (6-2, 190)

Had NCAA-best 36-game hitting streak earlier this season. Hitting .423 with nine HRs and 58 RBIs, and is finalist for Johnny Bench Award as nation’s top catcher.

LHP Carlos Rodon, North Carolina State (6-3, 235)

Followed up dominant sophomore year — 10-3, 2.99 ERA, 184 Ks and 45 BBs — with solid but not spectacular junior campaign: 6-7, 2.01, 117 Ks, 31 BBs in 982/3 IP. Fastball sits in mid- to low-90s but gets up to 96-97 mph, and devastating slider is in mid-80s.

RHP Touki Toussaint, Coral Springs Christian Academy, Coral Springs, Fla. (6-2, 185)

A bit raw after not playing baseball until high school but has shown enough talent and promise to be considered first-round type of arm. Has fastball in low-90s but can regularly get it into mid-90s, and has wicked curveball. Because of his lack of experience, he’s still learning how to consistently repeat delivery and command all pitches.

SS Trea Turner, North Carolina State (6-1, 170)

Slick-fielding shortstop is one of speediest players in draft with good eye at plate and consistent contact, making him potential leadoff-type hitter. Good range and strong infield arm. Led Division I players with 55 SBs in 59 attempts as freshman, including 29 in a row to start season, and is school’s career leader in SBs. Hit .321 with team-leading eight HRs this year.

OF Bradley Zimmer, San Francisco (6-4, 185)

Sweet-swinging lefty hit .368 with seven HRs and 31 RBIs, stole 21 bases and tied school’s single-season mark with seven triples. Line-drive hitter with power potential has excellent speed and potentially could fit at any of three outfield spots. @TNT_Mariners News services The Associated Press

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