Just Find This Interesting

Dave · June 6, 2013 at 11:15 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

If you ask Tom McNamara, he’ll tell you he doesn’t have a philosophy on the draft. He just takes whoever he thinks is the best player on the board. Every scouting director says this.

But, of course, the best player on your board is determined in part by your philosophy. These aren’t mutually exclusive things. If you believe that pitching is 90% of the game, you’re going to have the best pitchers higher on your draft board than a guy who thinks that you win by hitting home runs. The best player available to each team is, to some extent, determined by how they evaluate various abilities and what kind of risk tolerance they have.

Mac has now been the Mariners scouting director for five drafts. In 2010, they didn’t really have a first round pick, as their first selection came 43rd overall, the pick they used to take Taijuan Walker. However, in 2009 (#2), 2011 (#2), 2012 (#3), and now 2013 (#12), Mac and his staff have been in a position to pick fairly high in the draft. And all four picks seem to have one trait in common; proximity to the Majors.

At #2 overall in 2009, they took Dustin Ackley, a polished college bat who was considered the safest bet to become a big leaguer in the entire draft. He wasn’t ever a super high upside guy, but the floor was supposed to be very high. It hasn’t quite worked out that way yet, but Ackley was a premium draft prospect because he was a pretty sure bet to make the big leagues.

At #2 overall in 2011, they took Danny Hultzen, a polished college arm who was considered the safest bet to become a big leaguer in the entire draft. Baseball America even used this exact term — “safest bet” — in their write-up on him heading into that draft. Like with Ackley, Hultzen has proven to be a little further away than first thought, but he was drafted on the idea that he would get to the majors quickly, with his high floor canceling out his lower ceiling.

At #3 overall in 2012, they took Mike Zunino, a polished college bat who was considered the safest bet to become a big leaguer in the entire draft. In their write-up on Zunino, BA said he projected to be “above average”, noting that he wasn’t as exciting as recent first round college players like Buster Posey or Matt Wieters, but was a really good prospect even without that upside. While catchers often take a bit longer to get to the big leagues, the Mariners have been very aggressive with Zunino, and he’s probably going to make his big league debut at some point later this year.

A #12 overall today, they took D.J. Peterson, a polished college bat who was considered one of the safest bets to become a big leaguer in the entire draft. That title probably belongs to Colin Moran, who went #6 overall, but Moran had been tied to the Mariners earlier in the draft season before it became clear he wouldn’t fall that far. In Peterson, the Mariners drafted another guy with a mature approach and good hitting skills but a bit less upside than other picks in that same range, as he isn’t considered a defensive asset and there is some question as to how much power he’ll hit for outside of the hitter’s haven of his college park in New Mexico.

This isn’t to say that McNamara only likes these kinds of players. After all, he’s also drafted Nick Franklin, Steve Baron, and Taijuan Walker fairly high, and the team has taken their fair share of shots on raw toolsy guys in later rounds. But, four times McNamara has had a fairly high first round pick, and four times McNamara has taken a high floor/moderate upside college guy.

Based on an n of four, it seems like Mac might like these kinds of players more than most other scouting directors in baseball. There are certainly teams that prioritize upside over all else, and some scouts much prefer to go for the home run even if it means they’ll end up with more busts overall. So far, it seems like the Mariners draft board under McNamara has been pushed a bit more by polish and proximity to the big leagues than it has been by pure upside. Or, maybe a better way of saying it is that at the top of the draft board — and relative to other current scouting directors — Mac may place a larger emphasis on present skills over potential.

Despite Ackley’s current problems and Hultzen’s command issues and now shoulder tenderness, I think I’m probably in agreement with this philosophy to a large degree. At the top of the draft, I think it’s more important to not screw up than it is to get a slightly better long term reward. For me, I think it might make sense to be a little more present value oriented with the high picks and save the lottery picks for later, which is basically what the Mariners have done under McNamara. None of this should read as a criticism, and Mac’s overall draft track record is quite strong, even if the top picks aren’t necessarily helping the Mariners win games right now.

But, as we look back at his five drafts, I do think the evidence is starting to lean towards a trend. You can only draft so many polished college guys in a row before you admit that you have a preference for polished college guys.


26 Responses to “Just Find This Interesting”

  1. Klatz on June 6th, 2013 11:41 pm

    I’m not sure you can make too much of a draft strategy just looking at the first pick. For one, both Ackley and Zunino were pretty much a consensus (Ackley more than Zunino) among draft watchers; if I recall correctly. The surprises were Hultzen and Walker.

    I think the problem with saying they prefer polished, close to majors over upside is that the first 5 or picks usually have some converging consensus.

    Ackley and Zunino were #2 and #3 (if I remember correctly) on most boards.

    I’d say most of the evidence in support comes from the Hultzen pick.

  2. DarkKnight1680 on June 6th, 2013 11:43 pm

    I would have to agree, they do seem to lean that way. Although, depending on if you believe pitchers can really ever be as safe as hitters, you could make the case that Rendon was the safer pick over Hultzen.

    On the other hand, with the exception of Hultzen, I think you could say that Ackley, Zunino, and Peterson all fall into the BPA category as well. There wasn’t a serious challenger for #2 in 2009, only Appel and his signability concerns were ranked above Zunino once Buxton was gone, and Peterson was often mocked in the 10-14 range. WHile some may have liked Shipley or Renfroe better (though I don’t really see why with Renfroe), the case could be made that the college OPS leader in 2013 and runner-up in 2012 was the best guy out there.

  3. Westside guy on June 7th, 2013 12:06 am

    The cynic in me believes that while McNamara indeed picks these sorts of “safe bet” guys; then the organization gets hold of them and manages to screw them up somehow – maybe by trying to “fix” things that don’t need fixing.

    I’m trying not to listen to that guy, but he’s hard to ignore right now. However he’s kind of a downer in social situations.

  4. Woodcutta on June 7th, 2013 1:20 am

    Hitters may be safer bets than pitchers in general but Rendon was injured at the time and was going to miss significant time that year. Hultzen had no injury history and was deemed by many a scout as the safer bet to make it sooner to the majors. The reason I would rather the M’s selected Renfroe instead of Peterson is that Renfroe not only can play defense but helps that glaring lack of depth at OF in the organization. It is also frustrating the M’s were so close to getting Strasburg, Harper, and/or Buxton. Getting Wilson in the second round does soften my attitude towards not drafting Renfroe but they still could have drafted both Renfroe and Wilson and hope one of them becomes a decent ML OF.

  5. maqman on June 7th, 2013 1:30 am

    Whatever Mac’s motivational factors may be, and I’m sure there is no single overarching consideration, I like his choices.

  6. PackBob on June 7th, 2013 1:32 am

    Every pick seems a risk, with deciding how much risk is involved being pretty risky.

    For the #2, #2, #3 picks, and even the #12 pick, it would be useful to know who the contenders were for the Mariners’ attention. Every year it seems like there are just a few guys rated far above everyone else, and if a team more or less agrees with the general consensus, there aren’t a lot of choice to be had. I could see it just happening to work out this way, although I also like the approach if it’s the M’s way.

  7. gag harbor on June 7th, 2013 3:25 am

    It’s a bit like playing “not to lose” though.

    I can’t help but think Mac is being directed to operate this way due to the predicament that the team is just so bad that they need help from the draft as soon as possible. Unfortunately, it’s not exactly ending up much of a help.

    On the other hand, every expert seems to think the M’s have a stocked up farm system (just not one that is providing much-needed talent to the big club right now). Not sure this front office can wait much longer for help to arrive.

  8. Milendriel on June 7th, 2013 3:38 am

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this has more than a little bit to do with the fact Felix’s career is ticking away without a a single playoff appearance.

  9. Breadbaker on June 7th, 2013 4:00 am

    Given that the M’s last position player draftee to make the All-Star Game as a Mariner was Jose Lopez in 2006 (and that comes with a big asterisk), it’s pretty clear they haven’t hit a lot of home runs. Kyle Seager (for whom the organization does deserve a lot of credit) may well break that string someday, but probably not this year.

    Westy’s point about how development has not been a stellar subject and Woodcutta’s about how the organization simply lacks even replacement level talent at some positions are both well-taken. Neither, I think, can properly laid at McNamara’s feet. But both need to have been fixed ages ago.

  10. Rusty on June 7th, 2013 6:16 am

    This the ages old consideration for almost every employer in almost every industry… experience v potential. Hire a person who can hit the ground running or hire a person who can develop into one of your organization’s top performers after several years of training and tutorship.

  11. DarkKnight1680 on June 7th, 2013 7:38 am

    Renfroe certainly has the defensive edge, but if you take what they say about his bat you could be talking about Carlos Peguero. Renfroe has had one good 150AB stretch in his entire college career, and for a guy with a less than stellar approach, that can easily be a string of good luck. Peterson has been one of the 3 best hitters in the college ranks for 2 straight seasons.

    Guys with a limited track record, a lot of “swing and miss” in their game and big power are guys you take out of HS. Once they’ve had 3 years in college, they should be more developed or you’re looking at a project. While the Ms need outfielders in the high minors, I think Renfroe would be more of a Kivlehan-level project and would not be here quickly. By that time, the whole OF situation could have changed. You can’t go for need there.

  12. stevemotivateir on June 7th, 2013 7:49 am

    Klatz and Westy already made the points I wanted to bring up. Adding to them, I can’t help but wonder if McNamara has been under any pressure to focus on guys that the organization feels they can put on fast-track?

    That kind of feeds off Dave’s point as well, regarding the higher picks over the last four drafts.

    I think McNamara’s done a fine job here. The only pick that really made me scratch my head (that I can think of at this moment, anyway), was Baron.

  13. bluemoonking on June 7th, 2013 8:04 am

    I like the points made here. I am disappointed that the first pick was not an outfielder but I believe that you have to go with the best player available.

    One of the reasons to go with a college guy is sign ability and leverage. Plus, where would Zunino be if he did not go to college… double A maybe?

    The real draft is today. This is when you find out what kind of scouting system you really have.

  14. Steve Nelson on June 7th, 2013 8:31 am

    @Breadbaker on June 7th, 2013 4:00 am

    Given that the M’s last position player draftee to make the All-Star Game as a Mariner was Jose Lopez in 2006 (and that comes with a big asterisk), it’s pretty clear they haven’t hit a lot of home runs.

    The Mariners did not draft Lopez. He was signed as an amateur free agent. He was a product of the international player development group, not the scouting group.

  15. diderot on June 7th, 2013 8:51 am

    “The Mariners did not draft Lopez. He was signed as an amateur free agent. He was a product of the international player development group, not the scouting group.”

    Which is the side of the coin that never gets enough attention.
    There are a lot of quality players in MLB who did not come via the draft.
    From Latin America, we’ve had Felix and… ?
    Who am I forgetting?

  16. rowlandice on June 7th, 2013 9:04 am

    Another question – is this pick going to have greater value to the M’s going forward than signing Bourn or Swisher?

  17. Choo on June 7th, 2013 9:22 am

    Anybody else getting a strong Mat Gamel vibe from D.J. Peterson? I don’t know enough about Peterson to say whether or not that is accurate, for better or worse, but the total package looks, plays and projects rather similar.

    As for Austin Wilson, with the lack of homers, minor elbow injury, and stigma of the “Stanford swing,” he looks like he has a lot projectability left despite his physical maturity. I don’t know enough about him to make any claims, but if he can make a couple of mechanical adjustments to his swing and moderately handle breaking balls, he could turn out to be an absolute steal 49th overall.

  18. Choo on June 7th, 2013 9:40 am

    “From Latin America, we’ve had Felix and… ?
    Who am I forgetting?”

    Currently: Erasmo Ramirez, Carlos Peguero, Carlos Triunfel, Yoervis Medina, Ji-Man Choi, Julio Morban, and many more in the lower levels . . .

    And quite a few non-prospect prospects – the Gabriel Noriegas and Leury Bonillas in the system.

  19. stevemotivateir on June 7th, 2013 10:33 am

    The international scouting under Guerrero and Engle did a good job. Lopez didn’t turn out to be an elite player, or even a really good player, but he had a couple of decent seasons (2006 and 2008).

    Felix, Choo, Cabrera, and Pineda all came from that era as well.

  20. 62Dodgers on June 7th, 2013 11:12 am

    Based on how Dave thinks he drafts, just for fun who does McNamara pick and who would you pick: Ken Griffey Jr. or Steven Strasberg? Or between Mike Trout and Strasberg? Both times I take the hitter, as he can win for us every day in many different ways instead of pitching every 5 days. I think McNamara takes the pitcher as the safer bet. Maybe that is why Mariners haven’t picked any great players in the draft in the last few years.

  21. Eastside Crank on June 7th, 2013 12:02 pm

    I looked at the Peterson pick and thought the same thing, that the Mariners were making a “safe” pick instead of a foundation building one. My issue with the first round picks has been that there is no organizational philosophy about what the Mariners should look like. Should they be a running team that stresses athletic ability, should they stress speed and defense in their outfielders, are they going to put men on base and then rely on a power oriented heart of the order? Instead the team has been a hodgepodge of players who usually have major holes in their game. Having had the luxury of picking near the top of the draft for several years now, one might have expected the Mariners to have found one or two elite players. Having an organizational philosophy about what a winning team looks like would make it easier to identify potential draft picks.

  22. eman on June 7th, 2013 12:25 pm

    @62Dodgers, something to think about when you say:

    “Both times I take the hitter, as he can win for us every day in many different ways instead of pitching every 5 days.”

    A pitcher is involved in every plate appearance for 6-7 innings (hopefully) every 5 days, while the hitter gets 4-5 plate appearances in a game and usually 0-2 non routine defensive plays. Its an incomplete analysis to say that a hitter has more impact because they play every day.

    I still take the hitter, but I do so because of the scary pitcher prospect failure rate (often injury related). Let’s not devalue pitching.

  23. Steve Nelson on June 7th, 2013 12:50 pm

    eman on June 7th, 2013 12:25 pm

    I still take the hitter, but I do so because of the scary pitcher prospect failure rate (often injury related). Let’s not devalue pitching.

    Teams value hitting over pitching. Elite hitters get bigger contracts than do elite pitchers.

    And that isn’t due to risk of injury. Injury risk is compensated for by offering shorter contracts at higher annual value. Even with teams offering pitchers shorter contracts, elite pitchers are still, overall, paid less than elite position players.

  24. eman on June 7th, 2013 2:25 pm

    Steve, I would be careful to distinguish what teams value and what the market dictates. Just because pitchers get less money than hitters, does not mean that teams value hitting higher. The pitcher market is driven down by the fact that pitchers have a higher attrition rate, and there are really no warning signs that dictate when a pitcher is headed towards injury. This affects contracts at all length scales. It is true that pitchers and hitters have different markets, but that does not necessarily say that teams value hitting more than pitching on the field.

    Also, when we look at the contracts, we see fairly similar trends with just different length scales. In terms of average annual value, we have essentially seen a similar max around $25 million for both pitchers and hitters (Felix, Greinke, Verlander, Pujols, Hamilton all ended up around that number). The main difference is that for hitters, the market has set a max elite contract length around 10 years, and for pitchers the market has set that max contract length around 7 years. Do you really think that a systematic difference that basically only affects length of contract is due to teams valuing one higher, or to the way that injury concerns have grown the two markets separately.

  25. bookbook on June 7th, 2013 8:14 pm

    It’s funny. I agree with the philosophy in a vacuum. However, if anyone should be swinging for the fences to try and add that championship-caliber spark to a farm system full of fine supporting pieces, it’s the 2013 Mariners.

    In fairness, there are other ways to get such a piece: Free Agency (Ha), Trades (Double Ha), etc

  26. Kazinski on June 7th, 2013 10:27 pm

    Sounds like McNamara would have picked Jeff Clement too.

    Yeah, I know. That wasn’t fair.

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