ORLANDO, Fla. – The Mariners wrapped up the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings on Thursday by selecting left-handed-hitting first baseman Mike Ford from the New York Yankees’ minor-league system in the Rule 5 draft.
Ford, 25, split the season between Class AA Trenton and Class AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre, hitting .270 (116 for 429) with a .404 on-base percentage, a .471 slugging percentage, 24 doubles, a triple, 20 home runs and 86 RBI in 126 games. Ford, who walked more times (94) than he struck out (72), was named to the Eastern League midseason All-Star team while playing for Trenton and was named a Yankees organization All-Star by MiLB.com
“All he’s done is go out and control the zone and swing the bat as far versus (left-handed and right-handed pitching),” said Tom Allison, the Mariners’ director of scouting. “I would use the old Pat Gillick line: ‘A lot of times, you scout the player and acquire the person.’ This is a guy that we feel we know a lot about and we were able to fill in the blanks.”
Ford played collegiately at Princeton with Tyler Servais, the son of Mariners manager Scott Servais. Tom McNamara, the Mariners’ former director of amateur scouting and now a special assistant to Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, also scouted Ford heavily in the Cape Cod League.
“Scott has seen him for a quite a long while,” Allison said. “After his junior year up in the Cape where he really started to take off, Tom was very intrigued by him and was in the bidding for him but lost out to the Yankees. We alerted to him this year by our scouts that saw him and our analytics team.”
The obvious question: How does Ford fit with the Mariners organization?
Per the rules of the Rule 5 draft, each pick costs $100,000. A team must carry the chosen player on its 25-man active roster for the entire season. A player can be on the disabled list during that time but must be on the active roster for a minimum of 90 days. If a player is removed from the 25-man roster, he is exposed to waivers and must be offered back to his original club.
With Ryon Healy penciled in at first base and the Mariners expected to carry 13 pitchers on the roster, it seems like fitting Ford on the 25-man roster all season is an impossibility.
“You start with the players first,” Allison said. “You acquire the talent, bring him in and let that kind of play itself out during spring training. The offense from the left side does have some fits depending on how the bullpen shakes out and with the rest of the position players.”
The Mariners also could work out a trade for Ford with the Yankees to keep him in the organization and send him to the minor leagues.
Signed as a non-drafted free agent, Ford has hit .272 (420 for 1,542) with a .380 on-base percentage over five minor-league seasons. During that time, he has walked more times (267) than he has struck out (245).
“One of the things that was always attractive about him was that when you looked at his college and early minor-league stats, he knows what a strike is,” Allison said. “He’s very calm in the box. He’s one of those guys in the world of hit first and the power comes later. That’s something that both our scouts and analytic teams believe is that the power will come. We really recognize the quality at-bat he’s going to give you each time.”
Ford also made news in 2014 when he hit four homers in a game in Low-A ball.
In the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 draft, Seattle picked up a pair of catchers and lost a left-handed pitcher.
Seattle selected Joe Odom from the Braves system with its first pick of the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 and later Tyler Baker from the Diamondbacks system. The Mariners lost Lane Ratliff, who spent much of the season with Low-A Clinton and short-season Everett, to the Diamondbacks. After trading David Banuelos and losing two catchers to six-year free agency, the Mariners needed to add depth behind the plate.
“We needed to fill in some holes and bring in some competition for spring training,” Allison said.
Odom, who turns 26 on Jan. 9, missed much of the season after suffering a broken forearm. He played 28 games between Class AA Mississippi and Class AAA Gwinnett, hitting .266 (17 for 64) with three doubles, a home run and eight RBI in 28 games. He’s a defense-first catcher with quality receiving skills.
“We really like some of the framing things he does and his leadership skills,” Allison said. “It’s something that sticks out. He’s been a good player when he’s been on the field.”
Baker, 24, split the season between Low-A Midland and High-A Visalia in Arizona’s organization, playing 63 games and hit .238 (51 for 214) with 11 doubles, a triple, six home runs and 15 RBI. He also missed time with an injury at the end of the season, taking a foul ball off his face while standing in the on-deck circle.
“He’s another guy that really stood out for his framing metrics and leadership skills,” Allison said.
Ratliff, 22, made six starts and eight relief appearances with stints in Everett, Clinton and Tacoma. He posted a combined record of 3-2 with a 5.13 ERA with 33 strikeouts and 22 walks. During four seasons in the system, Ratliff posted a 6-8 record with two saves and a 5.98 ERA. He struck out 112 batters in 108 1/3 innings with 55 walks. He was a sixth-round selection in the 2014 draft out of Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Mississippi.
The Mariners announced the following front-office promotions Thursday: Kevin Mather to president & CEO; Trevor Gooby to senior vice president, ballpark operations; Kevin Martinez to senior vice president, marketing & communications; Frances Traisman to senior vice president, sales; and Randy Adamack to senior vice president & special adviser to the chairman and CEO.