The Seattle Mariners have been attacking the rebuilding of the big league club and farm system by making hay in the Major League Draft under General Manager Jack Zduriencik and Scouting Director Tom McNamara. This event is what "The Plan" is all about.
I recently spoke to three industry experts -- Scout.com's Frankie Piliere and Baseball America's Conor Glassey, both of whom you are likely quite familiar with, and President of Rijo Athletics Jose Rijo-Berger, a former minor league player and professional scout that runs the top facility in Washington on his property in Woodinville -- to get their take on different aspects of the upcoming draft with a tilt towards the Mariners.
SeattleClubhouse: Nick Williams, Trey Williams and Victor Roache are just a few of the names that were much more prominent early in the year that have fallen off as the college and high school seasons have progressed. Roache, obviously, because of the injury he suffered. Where do you see these three coming off the board and perhaps end up being big steals for clubs in the 2nd or 3rd rounds?
Frankie Piliere: I think Trey Williams still goes somewhere in the supplemental round. Roache is very difficult to get a feel for given his injury, but I've talked to teams out there who I think will still take a shot in the top two rounds. Nick Williams, I think, has slipped further than that and could be more like the third round.
SC: Power-starved Mariners' fan question here: Who are some of the power bats that aren't looking like first round guys at this point but that you think could still be impact bats at the big league level?
FP: I like Peter O'Brien, a senior catcher out of Miami. I was a big fan headed into last year's draft as well. He's got a chance to catch and he's got a lot of power. Jesse Winker is a high school kid with a lot of power from the left side as well.
SC: All right, last one here and it is a tricky hypothetical question: If you were the Scouting Director for a team that had a Top-3 pick, which top talent would you have the most hesitations about and why?
FP: As good as I think he could be, I know the risks with Byron Buxton. He's a guy who didn't hit for a ton of power in high school and you're hoping that changes. Most scouts think that will come but there's still a lot of projecting you are doing with him.
SC: Awesome stuff as always, Frankie. I appreciate your time and hard work on the draft and all year round at Scouting Baseball on Scout.com
SeattleClubhouse: Going by what you're hearing and what your own eyes have seen, if Houston, Minnesota and Seattle all go Best Player Available, money and other issues be damned, how does the Top-3 shake out in the draft?
Conor Glassey: This year, unlike the last few years, there isn't a clear-cut, defined No. 1 pick. Georgia prep outfielder Byron Buxton is obviously in the discussion, as are college right-handers Mark Appel and Kevin Gausman, as well as Florida catcher Mike Zunino and high school shortstop Carlos Correa from Puerto Rico. I think Buxton and one of those college arms will go off the board to Houston and Minnesota in some order, which will leave the Mariners their choice of Zunino and Correa. There have been rumors about the M's being linked to a pitcher with the third pick (Andrew Heaney, Marcus Stroman and Max Fried are the names I've heard), but I think they'll take a bat and I think it will be Correa, who has superstar potential.
SC: Byron Buxton has been touted as the top position talent in this draft, but fellow high school outfielder Albert Almora has been climbing up the draft boards quickly of late: how far apart are those two in overall talent and what skills really stand out with each of them?
CG: You're right, Almora has been climbing boards. And for good reason. . . he's a stud. There isn't a lot of separation between Buxton and Almora. On the BA 500 we have Buxton No. 1 and Almora No. 7. I think they're going to be pretty similar players, it's just that Buxton's tools are a little louder. He's a better runner with more bat speed and a stronger arm. Even without Buxton's blazing speed, Almora is an elite center fielder. Buxton also projects to hit for more power, but Almora will likely be the better pure hitter. And, while Almora's tools aren't as loud, he has all kinds of polish. Having been on a handful of national teams for USA Baseball, he has plenty of big-game experience and doesn't get rattled under pressure. I think it's a pretty easy bet that Almora is the first high school position player from this year's class to make the big leagues.
SC: This draft seems to be pretty high school-heavy at the upper end, with Correa, Buxton, Almora, Harvard-Westlake pitchers Max Fried and the not-too-badly-injured Lucas Giolito, Lance McCullers, Jr., Joey Gallo and Courtney Hawkins all looking like high first round talents. Who out of this group is the biggest wildcard or risk in your opinion?
CG: The biggest wild card is obviously Giolito because of his injury. On one hand you can say, 'Oh, well it's just an elbow injury. Giolito didn't even need Tommy John surgery and even if he did, the success rate of fixing those is nearly 100 percent. Look at Stephen Strasburg!' But on the other hand, you're talking about a guy who probably still wants $3-4 million, which not a lot of teams can even fit into their budget if they're going to stick to the recommended slots, and is only throwing off flat ground a week before the draft. It's a big risk for a team to use most of their bonus pool on a high scool right-hander who isn't healthy. Then again, it could definitely make sense for certain teams who couldn't have dreamed of getting Giolito if he stayed healthy.
I think, of those guys, Joey Gallo is the biggest wild card in terms of the gap between his floor and his ceiling. The power is the best in the high school class, but there are big questions about how much he'll be able to tap into that power because of how much he'll make contact. But Gallo has the fallback plan of going to the mound, where he's already touched 98 mph.
SC: Can you touch on the draft profile that Tom McNamara and the Mariners have under Jack Zduriencik. They seem to pull off a surprise, out of nowhere pick each draft, but so far that seems to be working pretty well for them.
CG: Tom McNamara and the Mariners scouts have done a tremendous job over the past three years. McNamara has gotten impact guys at the top of the draft like Dustin Ackley, Nick Franklin, Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen and he's selected big leaguers or top prospects after that, as well: Kyle Seager, Vinnie Catricala, James Paxton and Stephen Pryor, among others. Mariners' scouts love working for Mac and he is respected throughout the industry.
SC: Of course Mariners' fans have their eyes and ears on Kyle Seager's little brother, Corey, as a possible target after the M's first pick. But it looks like Seager's stock is also on the rise and Baseball America actually has him in their Top-20 now – not much chance he's available when the M's have their 2nd pick at 64. Who are some of the higher ceiling talents that you figure to be around when that pick rolls around for Seattle?
CG: Seager is a lot bigger than his brother, but he has got the same hitting genes. He has a fluid left-handed swing with power potential and will be an excellent defender at third base. We have him projected as a mid-first-round pick, and he'll likely have to go in the first round if a team wants to sign him away from South Carolina.
As far as some guys M's fans should hope to get at 64, I'll throw out a few names of guys I really like in that range: California high school right-hander Paul Blackburn, Buffalo catcher Tom Murphy, California junior college pitcher Derick Velasquez and Monmouth right-hander Pat Light.
SC: Catcher Clint Coulter of Union High School in Washington is reportedly one of five draft-eligible players that Major League Baseball has invited to be on hand in the MLB Network studios for the draft. Who are the other talents out of Washington State that figure to go in the higher rounds?
CG: Yes, Clint Coulter will be at MLB Network for the draft, as will Baseball America executive editor Jim Callis. Coulter is the best prospect in Washington, but there are several other interesting players in the state who project to be high picks, like Bellevue JC right-hander Adrian Sampson, West High right-hander Mitchell Gueller, Camas High catcher Austin Barr (who probably won't be picked this high because of his strong commitment to Stanford), Centralia High outfielder Andrew Pullin, as well as two guys at University of Washington: right-hander Aaron West and third baseman Jake Lamb. Those are just seven of the 24 players we listed as potential draft picks in the state, most of which have scouting reports, as well. Again, that list can be viewed here.
SC: With four of the first 126 picks in this year's draft, do you think that the Mariners could have a Top-5-to-8 system heading into 2013?
CG: Coming into this season, we ranked the Mariners sixth-overall in our organizational talent rankings. While the team will likely lose Jesus Montero, Danny Hultzen, Chance Ruffin, Tom Wilhelmsen and Alex Liddi, they'll be in good shape with the high draft picks and because they're always players on the international market. Obviously there are things that happen that could affect the rankings like trades or injuries. But, to me, Hultzen is kind of the key to how high they'll rank heading into next year. If he gets 50+ innings in the big leagues, he won't be eligible for our list. If he doesn't, he'll still be in there and will make it look a lot stronger. That also proves that the rankings are just a snapshot of an organization at the time, but the main point is that no matter where the Mariners rank heading into next season, the team is on the rise and has plenty of young talent rising through the system.
SC: Great depth and insight, Conor. I really appreciate you taking a break away from Baseball America draft work during this crazy busy time of year to chat with me a bit.
SeattleClubhouse: Washington state has a pretty good amount of talent that could be taken in the MLB draft this year. Who are some of the local kids that have come through your training complex that figure to be among the lucky ones selected to enter professional baseball? And maybe some names that you haven't had yourself as well.
Jose Rijo-Berger: First off would be Dylan LaVelle, an infielder from Lake Stevens. He's been training with us since he was about 11-years-old. Then there is outfielder Theo Alexander from Lake Washington. Those are the two high school kids that have been training with us that I think will go pretty high this year. Being that this is my first year not scouting, I've primarily been focusing on the kids that come through my program, so I don't have a great feel on the rest of the crop in the state and exactly where their draft stock is right now, but I'd say that this is a solid year for the state overall.
SC: Let's touch on your time scouting. You were scouting with the Brewers for seven years and worked with Jack Zduriencik during that time, obviously. What type of profile did they value or how did he approach the draft each year?
JR: Well, I think that each draft is unique and each year teams' needs and wants are a little different. You have different situations with draft budget, pitching and positional needs. Every year pitching is a priority with almost every organization -- you've got to have arms. In terms of what they look for, there are a lot of different factors that go into those decisions. I know that there certain organizations that look for hard throwers, like the Colorado Rockies. They always want guys that can throw hard first, whereas the Mariners look more for guys who know how to pitch.
SC: As a former scout with the Brewers, what types of skills or abilities did you look for to set the true prospects apart from the guys that were just your good high school baseball players?
JR: Elite bat speed is number one for hitters. You can have a nice free swing, but if it is slow it just doesn't matter. But as for things that aren't on the scouting sheet, aren't in the typical projections and aren't in your tools and whatnot but that is very important is the mental toughness -- how they act when things aren't going well. That's something that, as a scout, you need to take some time and get to know them. And a lot of times at the high school level it's hard to get to know those kids. So it's really a challenge to get a good hold on that, but it is very important. Some very talented players get drafted and get into pro ball, get away from family or see some struggles, and if they don't have the mental toughness, the chances of them making it are slim to none. Because it is a long road to the big leagues and it is not an easy road.
SC: What types of things do you do at Rijo Athletics to help the talented high school kids like Dylan and Theo to address not only their baseball skills but the mental toughness and other non-graded skills?
JR: Well, we try and teach them good character first and foremost. How to be a good teammate and a good friend. Believe it or not, even at the highest level, that is very important. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you are a jerk and people don't like you then you aren't going to make it very far in this game. So we teach them to have good character, and within that we teach a lot of discipline and structure. A lot of time it seems like kids these days just have too much freedom and not enough structure. We also teach them how to compete, so that when they're on that mound or in the batter's box they aren't worrying about their mechanics or worrying about their swing, they're just focusing on competing -- that "Me vs. You" mentality. Weather you are playing at the highest level in professional baseball or if you are just playing in little league, you need to have that mental toughness, that tenacity, and you need to want to compete if you're going to be successful. That's more important than having the perfect swing. I played with some guys in pro ball that when you see their swings in the cage, it was ugly. But when the bell rings and they were out there competing they would find a way to get it done, and that's what we try and teach at Rijo Athletics.
SC: Thanks so much for taking the time and filling us in on some top players and top traits, Jose.
You can follow Frankie Piliere on Twitter for news on the draft and minor and major leagues on Twitter at @FrankiePiliere.
Conor Glassey is one of the most important cogs in the machine that is Baseball America. You can follow Conor -- who is from Washington and still a Mariners fan -- on Twitter at @conorglassey.
Rijo Athletics trains baseball and softball players of all ages in Washington State. If you or your child is interested in getting top-notch instruction from ex-pros and collegiate athletes, contact Rijo for the free skills evaluation and to talk to Jose about what Rijo Athletics can do for you.