We don’t know if the Mariners drafted well. Hell, the draft isn’t even over yet, although the important bits are. But, we don’t know if the Mariners did well, and in a sense, we never will. This might be the most important point: player careers represent solitary player-career outcomes. For each player, we get an n of 1, and complicating matters to an impossible extent is that there’s drafting and there’s player development, and they both combine to make a player product. Take Jeff Clement. Who could forget Jeff Clement? Clement didn’t work out. Did he bust because he was a bad pick? Did he bust because he was developed poorly? Did he bust because of simple bad luck, like, say, because of a series of injuries? How much of that was the Mariners’ fault? How much of that was the fault of the Mariners people who scouted and drafted him?
If it weren’t for Clement, the Mariners would’ve drafted Troy Tulowitzki. Tulowitzki, as it happens, currently leads the majors in WAR. Was Tulo destined for this, or has Colorado done him a lot of good? What would the Mariners have made with the same ball of clay? Maybe you feel like I’m over-thinking this, but given how much dialogue is exchanged over the amateur draft, it’s critical to realize to limits of our knowledge. We’re not literally clueless, but we’re damn close. The Mariners drafted players yesterday, and today, and they’ll draft more tomorrow, and those players will have futures, and we’ll never be able to say with certainty whether or not the draft was genuinely a good one.
I mean, there’s Dustin Ackley. He’s got a career WAR just an inch higher than Tulowitzki’s 2014 WAR. Everybody in the world loved Ackley at the time. Was that actually a bad pick, or did the Mariners develop Ackley poorly, or did Ackley just mess himself up somehow? If the whole process were to repeat 100 times, how many times would Ackley end up the disappointment he is today? We’re about at the point where we can stop pretending he’s going to figure stuff out tomorrow or the next day. He’s 26 and he doesn’t do the two things that were supposed to be automatic.
The Mariners have a very bright, dedicated scouting staff. The same could be said of pretty much every other team, and each organization has its good and bad apples. The Mariners know a hell of a lot more about each of these players than we do, as they’ve been personally scouted for weeks or months or years, and as many of them have been personally engaged with. It’s kind of exciting to know that the Mariners have someone who believes strongly in literally everyone getting selected. It generates a lot of fan confidence. Just about every player selected by every team has someone who believes strongly in his skills. Most players are drafted with conviction. Most players ultimately go nowhere. It’s not a whole event built around lies, but it is founded upon focusing on upside while pretending the downside isn’t there. Every pick is a long shot, but the scout that internalizes the probabilities is the scout that lies awake, questioning the necessity of making his 5am flight to Merced. Scouts need to be believers in order to stay scouts.
Let’s call everything equal. Everything isn’t equal, but we don’t know how. What’s great about the draft is that it brings talent into the Mariners organization. And, because the Mariners were bad last year, they ought to add more talent to the organization than most of the other teams. If you don’t really know anything, you have to assume talent follows assigned bonus pools, and the Mariners have one of the bigger ones of those. So, the Mariners’ system is taking a step forward. It’s not a step being taken in isolation — everyone in baseball gets better. But the Mariners should get more better relative to most of the rest of the league. In theory they lose ground to the Astros and a few others, but you can’t always get what you want. And we didn’t really want the kind of season that would’ve left the Mariners picking first on Thursday anyway.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting amped about the actual players. Alex Jackson is talented enough to have been selected sixth overall in the country. It’s easy to imagine him as a big-leaguer. Gareth Morgan has enchanting power potential. Austin Cousino could be a long-term center fielder. Everyone that gets drafted has strengths, and everyone that gets drafted early has particularly promising tools. Analyze away; go nuts. Talk about Jackson as an outfielder vs. Jackson as a third baseman. Talk about Morgan vs. Giancarlo Stanton. This whole endeavor is a distraction, so you can focus on whatever you want. Don’t ever let anyone criticize you for your interests. It’s good to just be interested.
But, really, this isn’t about the particular players, so much as it’s about just having new players. That’s the exciting part, the part that panders to the side of every fan who loves making trades in fantasy baseball. The draft means change, change in an uncertain and potentially really good way, and personnel change is an addiction. We can tire of the same players, but every year, around this time, there’s a wave of new players, some of them possibilities to vault into the organization’s top ten prospects. They arrive right when certain other players might be disappointing. June is kind of prospect high tide. It’s always coming, so the cupboard’s never bare. Or, the sand is never without its seashells, or something. Every single year, no matter what, the draft allows us to be more consumed by the baseball hobby we’ve chosen and stuck with. And much like spring training, as fans are concerned, the draft is all upside. There are never clearly visible mistakes. There are always potential All-Stars and regulars.
Talented baseball players are being selected by the Mariners. Many of them will sign. Some of them are among the very most talented baseball players to be entering the professional ranks. We’ll never know how well this drafting went, because starting tomorrow the progress is out of the scouts’ hands. They’ll all get started on preparing for June 2015. It’s going to be up to the coaches, and it’s going to be up to the players. If the Mariners just went to the grocery store, now someone needs to blend the ingredients, because you don’t want to serve a raw potato.
According to the order of things, the Mariners should come out of this a little more talented than a lot of their competition. Reality never quite follows the order of things, but, good luck determining why. That Alex Jackson sure can hit, though, probably.