After months of endless traveling around the country evaluating amateur talent, haunted by weather issues and occasionally frustrated by a coach who decides at the last minute to change his rotation, Mariners scouts get their payoff in the MLB draft that begins on June 6.
Ah, the trials and tribulations of being a major-league scout.
Earlier this spring, Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara and national cross-checker Mark Lummus were trying to get from Chicago to Indianapolis to check out a prospect. Their flight was delayed, and as the layover wore on, a nervous McNamara finally asked what was going on.
“They said there was a bat — the flying kind — stuck in the wheel of the plane,” he said. “That was a new one. We made it, just barely.”
After months of endless traveling around the country evaluating amateur talent, haunted by weather issues and occasionally frustrated by a coach who decides at the last minute to change his rotation (“It’s like a dagger,” McNamara lamented), Mariners scouts will get their payoff in less than two weeks.
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The three-day MLB draft will commence on June 6, with the Mariners owning the 12th overall pick. This past week, Seattle’s area scouts converged at Safeco Field to go over their reports, working from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. This weekend, they headed back out for a final push, amassing at far-flung high school and college games to take last looks at prospective picks.
The industry consensus is that the draft field is relatively weak this year, especially on the college side. Even McNamara, an eternal optimist whose standard statement is that no matter the perceived overall talent level, there are always good players to be found, allows that “it’s not as strong as it’s been in the last few years.”
But, that said, McNamara is still confident that, well, there are good players to be found.
“In our meetings, we’ve looked at each other a few times — maybe the draft is not as weak as everyone says, because we’re talking about a lot of good players here,” McNamara said. “There have been some guys who crept up the board and stepped it up, and guys who were not as good as we thought they might be, same as other years.”
This is the fifth draft under McNamara’s supervision. His previous efforts yielded Dustin Ackley (No. 2 overall), Taijuan Walker (43rd), Danny Hultzen (No. 2) and Mike Zunino (No. 3) with the top pick.
Of the Mariners’ current 25-man roster, just three are from McNamara drafts: Ackley, pitcher Carter Capps (third round supplemental in 2011) and third baseman Kyle Seager (third round in 2009), plus pitcher Stephen Pryor (fifth round in 2010) on the disabled list. But the Mariners’ farm system, dotted with McNamara picks whom the ballclub hope are on the verge of breaking through, is ranked second by Baseball America.
McNamara said there is a unique dynamic to picking outside of the top 10 after being in the top three in three of the four previous years.
“When you pick 12, you don’t know who’s coming your way, but you’re not down in the 20s where guys are totally out of reach,” he said. “We have a pretty good idea, but there are always surprises. This is where the next two weeks are really important. When you get to 12, if the top three guys on that board are all gone, then the fourth guy on the board better be a guy you like, and a guy you want.”
The consensus top two picks are college pitchers, Oklahoma’s Jonathan Gray and Stanford’s Mark Appel, though no one is quite sure in which order they will go. Houston will select first for the second year in a row. The best bat is widely believed to be San Diego outfielder Kris Bryant, followed by North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran, brother of Mariners’ Class AAA pitcher Brian Moran.
But the Mariners needn’t worry about those players, because they’ll be long gone by the time they pick. Baseball America’s most recent mock draft had Seattle taking J.P. Crawford, a shortstop from Lakewood (Calif.) High School. Their previous mock draft had the M’s selecting Austin Meadows, a center fielder from Grayson High School in Loganville, Ga.
Keith Law of ESPN also had the Mariners taking Meadows in his mock draft. Meadows is a 6-foot-3, 210-pound left-handed hitter who happens to be from the same Georgia town as another elite center-field prospect, Clint Frazier of Loganville High School.
Needless to say, scouts have been flocking to Loganville this spring. In fact, with precious few blue-chip prospects this year, scouts have been crossing paths frequently.
“For the last month and a half, most games I go to, there are 35 to 40 people,” McNamara said. “It’s a little embarrassing to go see a high-school pitcher, and 85 guys are surrounding the bullpen watching the guy pitch.
“I tell guys, think about when you were 17, having 85 guys staring at you. The good ones look at it as part of the job, part of my future. But if a kid is nervous, you can’t knock them; they’re just regular kids. The ones that like it, that don’t care, you might go back and see a second or third time, if you know what I mean.”
For all the scouts, show time is just around the corner.
“You do everything you can to make the right decision,” McNamara said. “Then sometimes you toss and turn and really hope this guy gets to us this year.”
And that the bats stay out of the airplane wheels.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @StoneLarry.
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