The Mariners have the 17th overall pick in the first round of the MLB draft, which starts at 4 p.m. on Monday.
It doesn’t have the six-month buildup like the NFL or the player-name recognition of the NBA, but the Major League Baseball amateur draft is more inclusive and more far-reaching than the other two professional sports.
With the cadre of high-school and college players available over 40-plus rounds in three days, it’s a massive undertaking for any organization and vital to its future. It’s why hundreds of thousands of dollars are invested in the search for talent in the form of scouting and evaluation.
For the first time since 2009, a new face is leading that aspect of the Mariners’ organization. This past offseason the Mariners promoted Scott Hunter to the job of director of amateur scouting after his predecessor, Tom McNamara, was elevated to the position of special assistant to the general manager.
Hunter, 41, comes from the Mariners’ international scouting side, having served as a top crosschecker over the past three seasons.
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“It’s been a little bit of a transition,” he said.
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto is admittedly a bit of a draft nerd after working on that side while with the Diamondbacks. But he’s helped Hunter more than hindered the process.
“It’s actually been great,” he said. “When I got the job and I was running around the country, everyone was like Jerry is going to be questioning you and have a lot of insight. He’s been great. He’s been a sounding board more than anything else.”
The Mariners have the 17th overall pick in the first round, which starts at 4 p.m. on Monday. As Dipoto often says, the first pick belongs to the organization, meaning that he, and people like Tom Allison, the director of all scouting in the organization, and several other evaluators, will also have input on whom the Mariners take with the pick.
But it’s Hunter, who has seen the Mariners’ top 100 draft prospects in person and is in charge of putting together their draft board, who will handle the rest of the draft.
“We’ll probably get down to 15 to 25 names that we hope will be there for our first and second picks,” he said. “At this point, everything is in play, depending on how the first five to 10 picks go in the draft.”
So much of that first selection will be based on how the other teams decide to choose. A year ago, the Mariners unexpectedly were able to draft outfielder Kyle Lewis with the 11th overall pick after expecting him to go in the top five.
“Without going into specifics, in the top portion of the draft, there’s probably five to 10 players that we feel confident were the guys that separated themselves from the pack,” he said. “After that, there are a wide variety of players and strategies that we can take.”
But the Mariners have established an overall philosophy in choosing any player in the three days of the draft.
“What I’ve tried to stress is that we want athletes, we want tools, but we want baseball players,” he said. “I want to make sure the guys we are selecting not only have the upside to make an impact in the big leagues, but that they also want to be part of something that’s bigger than themselves.”
A look at the Mariners’ recent top picks
2016: Kyle Lewis, OF (first round, 11th overall pick)
On his way to a brilliant first season in the organization, Lewis suffered a gruesome season-ending knee injury on a slide into home on July 10. After undergoing surgery in August and a lengthy rehab, Lewis is playing in extended spring-training games and is expected to join Class A Clinton or Class A Modesto after the draft. He is rated as the Mariners’ top overall prospect.
2015: Nick Neidert, RHP (second round, 60th overall)
The Mariners didn’t have a first-round pick in 2015 after signing Nelson Cruz. They used their second-round pick to draft the best starting pitching prospect in their organization. Neidert is dominating for Class A Modesto, posting a 5-2 record and 3.16 earned-run average in 13 starts.
2014: Alex Jackson, OF/C (first round, 6th overall pick)
Considered the top high-school hitter in his draft class, Jackson struggled in the Mariners system, hitting .243 with a .740 on-base plus slugging percentage and 103 strikeouts in 92 games in his second season at the low Class A level. Questions about his attitude, coachability and commitment to baseball arose from scouts and people within the Mariners. He was traded to the Braves in the offseason and is currently tearing it up for low A Florida, hitting. 301 with a .934 OPS, 12 doubles, 10 homers and 30 runs batted in.
2013: D.J. Peterson, 3B (first round, 12th overall pick)
In their run of looking for power bats, they went with the slugging Peterson, who put up video-game numbers at the University of New Mexico. While there was some question about the altitude and weaker conference inflating his numbers, scouts believed Peterson would still hit. He hasn’t. After two productive years, Peterson has struggled since. In his second season in Tacoma, he’s hitting .250 with a .693 OPS, eight doubles, seven homers and 32 RBI.
2012: Mike Zunino, C (first round, 3rd overall pick)
An All-American at Florida, Zunino was rated as the No. 2 prospect in the draft by Baseball America. He was solid defensively with power potential and a perceived quick path to the big leagues. The Mariners might have hastened that path prematurely, rushing him up after 50 minor-league games in 2013 and handing him the everyday job. Zunino struggled for much of the next three seasons, trying to find a consistent approach.
2011: Danny Hultzen, LHP (first round, 2nd overall pick)
Hultzen was projected to be the first of four pitchers selected in the top-four picks of that draft to make the big leagues. By all indications he was going to meet that projection. After a brilliant start to 2013 with Class AAA Tacoma, he was expected to join the rotation by midseason. Instead a shoulder injury derailed his season and the rest of his career. He’s no longer with the organization. He underwent his second major shoulder surgery a year ago and is sitting out this season in hopes of making another comeback.
Other first selections
2010: Taijuan Walker, RHP (first round supplemental, 43rd overall pick)
2009: Dustin Ackley, 2B, (first round, 2nd overall pick)
2008: Josh Fields, RHP (first round, 20th overall pick)
2007: Phillippe Aumont, RHP (first round, 11th overall pick)
2006: Brandon Morrow, RHP (first round, 5th overall pick)
2005: Jeff Clement, C (first round, 3rd overall pick)
2004: Matt Tuiasosopo, SS (third round, 93rd overall pick)
2003: Adam Jones, SS (first round supplemental, 37th pick)
2002: John Mayberry Jr., (first round, 28th overall pick)
2001: Michael Garciaparra, SS, (first round supplemental, 36th pick)