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Vince Grippi: Mariners must draft well to turn franchise around

Ken Griffey Jr. was one of the Seattle Mariners’ rare draft successes. (CAROLYN STEWART / Associated Press)
Ken Griffey Jr. was one of the Seattle Mariners’ rare draft successes. (CAROLYN STEWART / Associated Press)

It’s a big week for the Mariners.

No, not the games, which began quite poorly Sunday with a 4-0 shutout loss to their new bête noire, Toronto.

The week is big because of what starts this evening: Baseball’s three-day, 40-plus-round amateur draft.

Stop laughing. You want the Mariners to contend every year? Then they have to be better at drafting young players.

It’s not the NFL draft, sure, with all its glitz and glamour and Mel Kipers. And it’s not the NBA draft, with its lottery and tanking and a 19-year-old with a loud-mouth dad.

OK, there are a few of the loud-mouth dads hanging around every draft.

But baseball’s draft still sneaks up on the average fan. And it doesn’t project the hope its football and basketball counterparts do. Mainly because just about everyone who has ever been drafted, from Rick Monday to Mickey Moniak, last year’s first pick, is a project.

Rarely if ever do draft picks have an impact the year they are picked. Even the best are a year away from helping. It is just the nature of the game.

You’ve probably heard of Aaron Judge, right?

The Yankees’ phenom with the power of Ruth and the size of, well, no one before, was a first-round draft pick. In 2013. It took him three years of minor league apprenticeship before he made his debut in New York.

The best the Mariners ever had, Ken Griffey, Jr.? He played a year and a half in the minors before beginning his Hall of Fame march in the Kingdome.

And yet it’s not a stretch to say this draft will determine the M’s not-too-distant future.

In reality, it’s the first in which Jerry Dipoto’s fingerprints are spread throughout.

The general manager, who replaced Jack Zduriencik in September of 2015, has finished rebuilding the scouting and evaluation parts of the front office.

Tom McNamara, who has been in charge of that element since 2009, was kicked upstairs during the offseason, replaced by Scott Hunter.

And Dipoto has to be expecting more from Hunter’s picks.

The draft is what fills up the farm system, which is every organization’s fuel source.

Whether it be through players who work their way up the ranks to help the big league club, or talent that helps the general manager make deals to fill holes at the top, the players whose careers will begin sometime in the next week have to be chosen well.

That hasn’t been the case since 2009. At least not in Seattle.

McNamara’s first draft class, however, did include a few players that filled both of the above-mentioned criteria.

Dustin Ackley. Nick Franklin. Kyle Seager. James Jones. Only one a star, sure, but at least they supplied trade fodder.

There have been names that still resonate positively in succeeding years, whether it be James Paxton (2010), or Mike Zunino or Edwin Diaz (both 2012). But there haven’t been enough.

And that’s the problem.

The M’s minor league system isn’t well stocked. Most who rank these sort of things have the Mariners in the bottom third, with many of their top prospects players who joined the system via trade.

That’s not the be-all or end-all of course, but it is one way of judging how McNamara’s drafts turned out.

Now it’s Hunter’s turn.

Whether he, and his overseer, Dipoto, will have better results is not something that will be answered this week, or next or even in the next year. That comes later, after most have even forgotten who was picked.

It’s only then will we realize just how big this week was.

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