The 2013 MLB First Year Player Draft -- the Rule 4 Draft, by definition -- kicks off on Thursday. The event that MLB is trying to make of the 1st round will be televised on MLB Network and eight of the best amateur baseball players in the country will be on hand in studio. The Seattle Mariners don't figure to get a crack at any of those eight as they are picking outside of the Top-3 this season for just the second time in the Jack Zduriencik era. Zduriencik and his Scouting Director Tom McNamara are at the forefront of the Mariners' rebuilding plans. That plan has been under scrutiny of late as several top prospects -- including those like Dustin Ackley -- acquired through the draft haven't performed as planned. In year five and with draft five, the Zduriencik/McNamara duo gets another crack at adding impact talent in 2013.
Late last month McNamara told the Seattle Times that picking 12th is a bit of a different dynamic: "When you pick 12, you don't know who's coming your way, but you're not down in the 20s where guys are totally out of reach," he said. "We have a pretty good idea, but there are always surprises. When you get to 12, if the top three guys on that board are all gone, then the fourth guy on the board better be a guy you like, and a guy you want." And on the overall strength of the draft and the club's focus this season, McNamara told SeattleClubhouse, "This is another good crop of players, both locally and nationally, and we are excited to get in that draft room and get this process started. Our group of scouts have covered the country and we are looking to putting the pieces of the puzzle together identifying the best players possible."
So who will that guy be in Round 1? How will the draft shake out in front of them? Which talents will they have a crack at with the 12th pick? Which direction will they go? Are there local kids in the mix at 12 , and how about in the later rounds for the Mariners? We attempt to cover those questions and more from all the angles in getting input from our in-house Scout.com draft expert Kiley McDaniel,Baseball America's Conor Glassey and President of Rijo Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals Scout Jose Rijo-Berger.
SeattleClubhouse: What would you say is the greatest area of strength of this draft and the greatest area of depth in this draft?
Kiley McDaniel: A strength would be high school catching with four of them in my top 45 players and one with a chance to go in the top 5 in Reese McGuire. Prep catchers don't have a great track record of developing relative to other positions, but I'd think one or two of these four will end up as a solid regular. There's also some solid depth to the college left-hander group, despite not having one that looks likely to go in the top 20 picks.
SC: Of the players that are looking like they could be available in the 10-15 range, which one do you see as having the highest ceiling and how about the biggest risk?
KM: Shortstop J.P. Crawford and right-handed pitcher Phil Bickford, two LA-area prep talents, are likely the biggest risks in that range and both have pretty high ceilings as above average regulars. Crawford has some questions on his bat but has everything else you're looking for while Bickford has been up to 98 with a projectable frame and good command but has raw off-speed pitches. The highest ceilings belong to Crawford and Trey Ball, who is a 6-foot-6 prep lefty that sits in the low 90's with above average off-speed stuff and projection to dream for more.
SC: Do you think that the Mariners, Jack Zduriencik and Tom McNamara are feeling enough pressure in this draft that it could cause them to skip over a high school talent or a pitcher to possibly reach for the best college hitter closest to being an impact guy at the big league level at 12?
KM: I think they're both aware of the pressure on the organization but I think they also both know that none of their picks this year will likely impact their job security. They've had years to build a winner and haven't and the quick return on whoever they pick or pass on shouldn't move the needle much in that regard.
SC: Ryne Stanek was thought of being a high 1st round guy heading into this season but he's dropped some lately. The Mariners of course drafted Stanek in Round 3 out of high school but couldn't get him signed. Are you hearing them connected to him at all this draft, and does that type of thing typically tarnish a prospect/team relationship?
KM: It usually doesn't, I have heard them connected and I actually projected the M's to take Stanek in my latest mock draft. The player has to sign a consent to redraft card, but most teams get those signed days after picking the player as a formality. The Mariners have been scouting J.P. Crawford heavily and I think they'll take him if he's available, but I have him going 10th to Toronto right now. Bickford also has some helium and could be the choice over Stanek.
SC: A couple of the draft prospects with the biggest offensive ceiling are both shorter (6-foot) players who project as first basemen in Dominic Smith and D.J. Peterson. Is there hesitation around power hitters that are shorter in stature like that with power projections?
KM: Not for me. I can see why the average fan would see the height/weight or, in Peterson's case (6'0", 220 pounds according to some) a picture and be alarmed for a top half of the first round pick. Smith is one of the younger players in the high school class, hits consistently with wood bats and has a very loose athletic swing with feel for the barrel. Peterson isn't a long speed athlete but is an eye-hand coordination, short area quickness athlete with good burst and strength. He looks physically like some guys that top out at Triple-A but his swing is much more similar to Billy Butler or even Jeff Bagwell.
SC: Are you hearing any hot names associated with the Mariners at 49 or later at this point?
KM: I know they have some interest in Tampa area prep third baseman Tucker Neuhaus at that pick and he's a bit of a mystery to scouts after an injury-plagued spring. He profiles as an above average everyday third baseman if it all works out but he emerged late in the summer and only played a handful of games this spring. It looks like he'll go somewhere in the second round. I also know the M's have some interest in San Francisco area prep lefty Matt Krook but it's looking less likely he gets to 49 and the rumor is he'll want $1.5 million.
SC: Lastly, a lot has been made of the perceived anti-redhead biases in baseball in relationship to Clint Frazier's draft position, but are you noticing any biases towards any specific, shall we say, gender neutral named players in this draft, Kiley?
KM: Kohl Stewart is named after a discount clothes retailer but I haven't heard a scout bring that up yet. The redhead thing is ridiculous and scouts always bring it up but I don't think, or rather hope, it isn't actually impacting decisions.
SC: Thanks for your time, Kiley. You cover this stuff with dizzying frequency day-to-day. When does Mock 1.0 for 2014 come out now?
KM: Probably around May 1, 2014. Lots of coverage of that class already up on the site and much more coming in the next few weeks.
SeattleClubhouse: It seems like this year's first round is a lot more volatile than seasons past, Conor. Do you think that the movement among the top players points to the overall depth or lack of depth at the top of the draft?
Conor Glassey: You're right; this year's first round does seem more volatile than previous years. I think there's about 12 to 15 consensus first-round locks and after that it really starts to spread out. Honestly, I could see anyone from the 16 to 45 range in Baseball America's Top 500 prospect rankings going in the first round, and even a few high-upside high school players ranked further down than that.
SC: The mocks appear to indicate that the Mariners -- still looking to develop quality big league hitters that can produce and lead an offense at the major league level -- could have their choice of a number of guys that could fit that mold when they pick at No. 12. Out of New Mexico's D.J. Peterson, Aaron Judge of Fresno State, Mississippi State's Hunter Renfroe and Dominic Smith of Serra High in California, who do you think has the highest ceiling and who is the biggest risk?
CG: I think the answer for both is Aaron Judge. His upside is tremendous. Physically, he gets compared to NBA star Blake Griffin. He is an excellent athlete who was more recruited in high school as a football player. If he hits his projections, he's a profile right fielder who could be a .270 hitter with 40 home runs. But there's a lot of risk there, as well. His long arms give him a lot of leverage, but also holes for pitchers to exploit. The home runs will come with strikeouts. I really like D.J. Peterson, too, and he ranks ahead of Judge because he's a safer bet to reach his ceiling. I had one scout tell me this spring that Peterson is the best amateur hitter he's seen in 25 years of coaching and scouting. The question is where he's going to wind up defensively, but the pure hitting ability and power are both legit. Renfroe is also exciting. He has cooled off some lately, but put up great numbers in the SEC this spring. I had a scout compare his build and hitting ability to Paul Goldschmidt (with more athleticism).
SC: The Mariners have been pretty conservative and college-focused with their high picks with Zduriencik and McNamara at the helm but looked to high school kids when they picked lower in the draft in both 2009 (after Ackley) and 2010. What's your take on the benefit of drafting high school talent and exposing them to professional instruction at an earlier age against taking college players?
CG: There's a give and take. While I'm all about getting as much information as possible on players -- and that's easier at the college level with longer track records, better statistical analysis and competitive summer leagues -- in the end it's all about lining up the draft board based on tools while also factoring in health, makeup and probability. Personally, I don't have a preference to either college or high school players. There are studs and duds from both segments, as Baseball America's Matt Eddy recently detailed. I do like the idea of getting high school players into a system to give them proper guidance and teaching, but at the same time they also have to be ready for the day-to-day professional grind.
SC: On that note, you have this year's crop of talent in Washington State listed as a "Banner year", with five players placing in the top-250 and 10 in the Baseball America Top-500 overall. Are there any in-state talents that are getting heavy looks from Seattle that you've heard of?
CG: It is a good year in Washington. The state should have two first-round picks for only the third time since the draft became a once-a-year event in 1987. Prep catcher Reese McGuire could be in play for the Mariners at 12, though I actually expect him to be off the board by that point and, if he is there, I would think that there would be other players there who would be more preferable to the Mariners. As much as I love Gonzaga left-hander Marco Gonzales, he's not in play for the Mariners as he would be an overdraft at 12, but won't be available when they pick again at 49. I have heard the Mariners loosely linked to Pierce CC right-hander Elliot Morris.
SC: McNamara is often tied to guys labeled as "baseball rats" or "scrappers" -- guys that get the most out of somewhat average abilities because of their baseball IQ, like a Nick Franklin, Brad Miller and even Jack Marder. Do you see anyone in this draft in that mold that could be on McNamara's radar?
CG: You're right; McNamara likes baseball rats and values toughness. I'm not sure he'll get to the Mariners' second-round pick, but a player who would definitely fit that mold would be Arizona prep shortstop Riley Unroe -- a toolsy, switch-hitting shortstop with major league bloodlines (his father Tim spent parts of five years in the big leagues) and experience with Team USA, just like Franklin and Miller. Canadian prep catcher Tyler O'Neill, Florida prep catcher Chris Okey, Florida prep shortstop Christian Arroyo and Vanderbilt second baseman Tony Kemp also fit the mold of tough baseball rats. I have also heard the Mariners specifically linked to Utah prep shortstop Taylor Snyder, as his father Cory is a hitting coach for Double-A Jackson.
SC: Whoever the pick is at 12, that player figures to come in and fit in the Top-10 for the Mariners somewhere. But the organization seems to be losing some steam with the performances and graduations of some prospects. Is this still a Top-10 system in your eyes?
CG: Yes, I do still think they're Top-10 -- I think they're still Top-5. Sure, Mike Zunino, James Paxton and Brandon Maurer have struggled a little bit. But on the flip side, Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen have been great and Victor Sanchez has been impressive as one of the youngest players in low Class A. For position players, Nick Franklin was on fire for Tacoma before being called up to the big leagues, Miller is hitting well and there's some interesting depth with guys like Julio Morban, Jabari Blash and Chris Taylor all performing well. But the high ranking is more about the guys at the top, and few teams can match the Mariners' top four in Zunino, Walker, Hultzen and Franklin. Adding the 12th pick in the draft will help, as well, as he should slot somewhere into that Top-5.
SC: Great stuff as always, Conor. Thanks for your time and knowledgeable input.
CG: Thanks for having me, Rick!
SeattleClubhouse: As we touched on above, a good looking crop of talent in Washington state this year. Who are some of the top draft eligible kids that have been working with you and your staff at Rijo Athletics that figure to hear their name's called during the three day draft?
Jose Rijo-Berger: Well the biggest name is Reese McGuire. Reese came to a tournament with us down in Las Vegas. That was a great tournament for us and for him, but he hasn't done a lot with us. Shortstop Trever Morrsion, third baseman Dylan LaVelle and catcher Chandler Tracy have done a ton with us. Trever has been with us since he was a sophomore and has been coming two to three times a week and has really improved all around. His hitting has advanced so much that he is hitting off of 105 mph off of our ProBatter system. Dylan has been working with us regularly since he was 11-years-old and he's a great kid and a very good ballplayer. Chandler is from Olympia but he came up to us over Christmas Break, over Summer vacation and at other points, too. He's an older kid because he had a two-year mission but he is a solid catcher and a true physical specimen.
SC: What is it that you see in kids as a scout that are the primary tools that you look for to stand out and set the true prospects and future professionals 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.
And velocity is obviously something that has a ton of value, but having a short memory is a huge thing for a pitcher. If you mess up three, four or five pitches in a row you're going to be out of the game. So they need to be able to forget about mistakes that were made, wipe that slate clean and start over with every hitter. And, again, velocity is a big thing but you truly need to have two solid pitches and at least a third pitch that is passable to keep hitters off-balance. You have to be able to master and locate the first two and then show the third or else you aren't going to get very far.
SC: You have that unique background of being a former professional player, having played in the New York Mets organization. What was the biggest eye-opener or "wow" moment for you on or off the field once you broke into pro ball?
JR: For me I thought that it was going to be the talent level, but the eye-opener was that about from Double-A or so, about 80% of the guys that play there and above could play in the big leagues. So much of it is opportunity -- opportunity born out of playing time, injury or just having the organization really like you. And then taking advantage of that opportunity and performing when you get the chance so that you can stick.
The other thing that ties in there is that there are a ton of talented baseball players, but the ones that make it have a way to keep it fun. From kids that I played with, that I scouted, that we drafted, the good ones were the ones who consistently kept the game fun and shrugged off any rough games. If you dwell on the mistakes or the missed changes then you can let that 0 for 4 become an 0 for 15 or 0 for 20. I was given the advice a long time ago as a player that on your day off, take a day off. Don't pick up a baseball, don't look at a baseball. Take a mental break so that when it's time to get back at it you can get back at it 100% and enjoy the game.
SC: That is one of the things you touched on your book, which I loved and learned a lot from, by the way. The pressures that are put on our young amateur athletes these days -- all the way down to Little League -- can drive kids away from the sports that they really love and are good at. You talked about keeping the game fun for your kid as a parent and making it about playing the game right and focusing on attitude instead of performance. And that really rings true all the way into the big leagues, doesn't it?
JR: Absolutely. That is something that is essential to success in young athletes, and it is something that I do every day with my own son. We tell him every day before a game that, no matter what, dad and mom and -- as we are religious -- Jesus are always proud of your performance if your attitude reflects positively and you are focused on being good friend and teammate. Not dwelling on a bad play or game or individual result, but focus on attitude and effort. I feel that is important whether it is little league or the big leagues. Good character guys always have longer careers because they are good guys, good clubhouse guys. And they often end up extending their careers in the game as managers, coaches, hitting coaches and so forth. Teams need that.
Thinking back to my playing days, Benny Agbayani is really the player that stands out in my mind that fits that mold.
SC: Can you give the readers an idea of the types of things that you do at Rijo Athletics to help the talented high school kids like Morrison and LaVelle to address and advance not only their baseball skills but the mental toughness and other non-graded tools that are so critical to on-field success at the higher levels?
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. They've got to be mentally tough, but also be on the same page as the other people around you -– teammates, coaches. You want to be the player that people hate playing against but love playing with. If you are a player that drives his teammates to work together and to get the most out of every bit of talent as a team then you are going to be the type of player that people hate playing against but that every player loves playing with. 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. Whether 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: And that plan and program has proven exceptionally successful for you and your staff and players at Rijo in regards to the MLB Draft.
JR: Absolutely. We've been very fortunate and have had a huge number of players who have come through our program be drafted, and I think that that number will grow by between five and 12 players in the 2013 Draft.
SC: That is great, Jose. Thanks so much for your time. Keep up the great work and best of luck to you and your pupils on draft day.
JR: I appreciate that Rick. Any time.
Scout.com's Kiley McDaniel covers the draft year-round at @kileymcd. Kiley already has some reports on the 2014 draft on his site, by the way.
Conor Glassey is one of the most important cogs in the "covering everything baseball" machine that is Baseball America. You can follow Conor -- who is from Washington and still a Mariners fan – to get his most recent take on everything happening in the game on Twitter at @conorglassey.
Jose Rijo-Berger owns and operates Rijo Athletics in Woodinville. Jose and his staff offer top-notch training for baseball and softball players of all ages in Washington State. If you or your child is interested in getting quality, focused instruction from former professional and collegiate athletes, contact Rijo for the free skills evaluation and to talk to Jose about what Rijo Athletics can do for you or your athlete. You can also follow Jose -- author of a best-selling book, Creating Winning Relationships Through Sports -- on Twitter at @joserijoberger.