SEATTLE – Forget the Mariners’ fast start in April, and their current push back to .500 in this promising season.
The biggest event yet for Seattle’s new regime comes today, with what the Mariners are calling the most important draft in their 33-year history.
Owning the No. 2 overall pick, and three of the first 33 choices, brings unique excitement and opportunity in June.
It also brings an undeniable pressure to succeed in the highest-stakes game Seattle will play this year.
“We’ve got to get this right,” scouting director Tom McNamara said – four times in 10 minutes. “It’s big. It’s real big.”
The draft is why the Mariners ownership ripped up the executive wing of the franchise last winter. It’s the reason renowned scouting guru Jack Zduriencik is a first-time general manager in Seattle, with McNamara as his rookie scouting director after 15 years as a full-time scout.
Zduriencik has modernized the way Seattle evaluates players. He’s brought many who worked closely with him from Milwaukee’s front office to install a new foundation beneath the franchise.
Since its last playoffs in 2001, Seattle has been wasting. Wasting opportunities with high draft choices, and money on faded veterans who should never have been signed.
Zduriencik knows he must end the waste, with haste. The Mariners have their highest choice since they took Alex Rodriguez first overall in 1993. They also have selections at No. 27 and No. 33, a compensatory pick for losing RBIs leader Raul Ibanez to Philadelphia in free agency after last season.
“Just get ’em right,” Zduriencik keeps telling McNamara.
No wonder McNamara said this is the most important draft Seattle’s had.
“It’s a lot of picks. We’ve got to get them right,” he said. “We’re trying our best in there to make sure (with) the decisions we make, the people of Seattle three, four – maybe two years – hopefully will sit back and say, ‘Hey, this is the core of a playoff-, championship-, World Series-type team.’
“So it’s been pretty exciting.”
It could have been even more thrilling.
The 2008 Mariners had already lost 101 games entering the final weekend of last season. Had they lost a final, three-game series to Oakland, Seattle would be ready to draft San Diego State pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg with the No. 1 overall pick today.
But when they absolutely did not need to, the Mariners got their only three-game home sweep of a lost season. So now the Washington Nationals are drooling over Strasburg.
Seattle is left mulling whether to take a college hitter – slugger Dustin Ackley of North Carolina? – or a pitcher at No. 2.
The Mariners pick No. 2 for the second time in team history. Pitcher Bill Swift went No. 2 to Seattle in 1984. He was 41-49 in seven years with the Mariners, and 94-78 in 13 major league seasons overall.
Ackley is a speedy, left-handed, .400-hitting first baseman with North Carolina, but many project he’ll be a major league center fielder. One of five finalists for the Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s top amateur player, the junior hit a three-run home run Sunday that led the Tar Heels into the College World Series.
The Mariners could lose two members of their rotation whose contracts expire at the end of this season: Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn. McNamara has been touting amateur throwers so much leading into the draft, Mariners staffers have been teasing him that he loves only pitchers.
Either way, Seattle is looking for a top hitter and a top-of-the-rotation starter with character who can help soon.