ATLANTA – Tom McNamara’s philosophy toward the Major League Baseball amateur draft has been simple and unchanging since he became the Mariners’ director of amateur scouting in 2008.
“I was taught a long time ago you take the best player available whether it’s a position player or a pitcher,” he said.
It’s the philosophy he used when taking Dustin Ackley with the second overall pick of the 2009 draft, Danny Hultzen second overall in 2011 and Mike Zunino third overall in 2012.
It’s the thinking he’ll employ Thursday night when the Mariners pick sixth in the first round of the draft.
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“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, so we feel pretty good about it.”
The Mariners will also have the 74th pick Thursday.
McNamara’s draft philosophy is far from unique. Most teams preach similar thinking. But the MLB draft is far from simple. With a new slotting system and players more willing to go to college, teams may go safe or cheap or draft for positional need. That thinking resulted in Seattle taking catcher Jeff Clement in the 2005 draft instead of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
Obviously, the Mariners organization could use more starting pitching and middle-of-the-order hitters, while true center-field and first-base depth is lacking. But none of that will influence McNamara.
“Sometimes when you want something you need to be careful,” he said. “You don’t want to sidestep the best player available and draft for need. We’ll take the best player or best pitcher out there, whether it’s a high-school or college player.”
So who will that player be?
McNamara isn’t offering many hints.
“There is a lot of college pitching,” he said. “There’s a nice group of high-school position players and small chunk of high school pitchers.”
But knowing who will be there is anything but clear.
No consensus top pick seems to exist this year. The Astros, who are picking first overall for the third straight season, have been linked to several players, including top college left-hander Carlos Rodon out of North Carolina State and high-school left-hander Brady Aiken, who has 100 mph fastball.
“I spoke to a few media members and I asked them, ‘what are you hearing?’ and they asked me, ‘what am I hearing?’” McNamara said. “It was a really boring conversation. Nothing got accomplished. You hear plenty of rumors.”
Seattle is the subject of many of those rumors.
“Every day I read something new,” McNamara said.
They’ve been linked to San Diego high-school catcher Alex Jackson, who is projected to be a corner outfielder. He’s considered one of the best high-school hitters in the draft. Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto and Orlando high school shortstop Nick Gordon — younger brother of Dodgers infielder Dee Gordon — and North Carolina State shortstop Trea Turner are also possibilities.
If they go with a pitcher, college right-handers Aaron Nola (Louisiana State) and Tyler Beede (Vanderbilt) and lefties Sean Newcomb (Hartford) and Kyle Freeland (Evansville) are candidates.
McNamara and his staff haven’t been scared off by the rash of arm injuries with pitchers this season. All three of the Mariners’ top pitching prospects — Hultzen, Walker and James Paxton — have dealt with arm issues. A handful of draft-eligible pitchers are undergoing Tommy John surgery.
“You’ve still got to take them …” McNamara said. “Somebody is going to go out there and be a star.”
When the Mariners’ pick is announced Thursday night by commissioner Bug Selig, the thinking behind it will not have changed.
“We’ll keep it simple,” he said. “Set the board up, take the best guy and don’t look back.”
|A look at the Mariners’ first-round picks under Tom McNamara, the team’s director of amateur scouting:|
|Year||Rd (overall)||Player, position, school|
|2013||1 (12)||D.J. Peterson, 3B, New Mexico|
|2012||1 (3)||Mike Zunino, C, Florida|
|2011||1 (2)||Danny Hultzen, LHP, Virginia|
|2010||1s (43)||Taijuan Walker, RHP, Yucaipa (Calif.) HS|
|2009||1 (2)||Dustin Ackley, 2B-OF, North Carolina|
|1 (27)||Nick Franklin, 2B-SS, Lake Brantley HS (Altamonte Springs, Fla.)|
|1s (33)||Steve Baron, C, John A. Ferguson School (Miami)|
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @RyanDivish