Mariners 2005 Draft Report Card

M's First Rounder Jeff Clement

Baseball is a game won with strength up the middle - catching, pitching, second base and shortstop out to centerfield. So, the M's started from the back. BackSTOP, that is.

But depth is always a goal of clubs trying to make the best of 50 rounds of the First Year Player's Draft.

Considering the Mariners did not have a second or third round choice, stemming from the free agent pickups in Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre, the front office did an extremely solid job of stocking the organization with a balance of pitching and position players, as well as college players and high school kids at crucial positions around the diamond.

With voids in the pitching department in the middle of the minor league system, Seattle added southpaw Justin Thomas and right-hander Stephen Kahn, who each could see time in Wisconsin this summer if contracts are ironed out in time.

Kahn possesses a low-to-mid-90s fastball that suits the bullpen well, but the club ultimately will see how he responds to professional instruction as a starter in an effort to improve his control.

Thomas doesn't have the velocity of Kahn, but does reach the upper 80s with consistency. The left-hander uses a circle change to get his strikeouts and force ground balls. Both Kahn and Thomas could move pretty quickly through the system, possibly even quicker than Thomas Oldham, the M's eighth round pick in 2003 who is currently in the San Antonio Missions rotation in his second full season of pro ball.

Mixing it up, the Mariners selected Lance Lynn in the sixth round, a high school right-hander from Brownsburgh High School in Indiana, before going back to the college ranks to take left-handers Robert Rohrbaugh from Clemson University and David Asher from Florida International.

Aside from Kahn, the most intriguing selections may be in the 11th and 12th rounds when the Mariners selected a college ace and an athletic outfielder from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy.

Brian Contreras, 17, is a switch-hitting center fielder with the phyiscal tools of a first round pick. Equipped with plus speed and a smooth stroke from both sides of the plate, the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Contreras is a raw athlete, but at the baseball academy in Puerto Rico, Baseball 101 is the most important subject taught.

Expect to hear the name Brian Contreras quite a bit as he moves through the system, starting in the rookie leagues as early as this month.

St. John's ace Anthony Varvaro could have been drafted as high as the second round if it weren't for the Tommy John surgery that will sideline the right-hander for the next 8-12 months. Varvaro is a max-effort pitcher who's delivery might be tinkered with to minimize the torque to his elbow in the future. With a fastball sitting in the 91-94 mph range, Varvaro is also a candidate to pitch out of the bullpen, but his sharp-breaking curve ball and cutting action on his heater make for a tough customer to start ballgames.

The Mariners top pick, No. 3 overall, was University of Southern California catcher Jeff Clement. Clement is an offense-first catcher but vastly improved his defense in his three years in Troy.

Clement's left-handed bat has bigtime power potential and should carry the 21-year-old through the system fairly quickly. If his defense continues to improve, Clement will stay on the fast track and see the big leagues within three seasons - if not sooner.

The Mariners catching guru, Roger Hansen, will undoubtedly be working closely with Clement as soon as he signs and reports for his new job as pofessional catcher.

Should Clement sign as early as anticipated, expect the backstop to begin his career as high as Advanced-A Inland Empire with the 66ers.

Vice President of Scouting Bob Fontaine is a true believer in high-reward type players and Clement fits this description. Clement has all-star talent and an approach to the game that clubs want in their catchers.

Since Fontaine was brought on by G.M. Bill Bavasi, along with new Assistant V.P. Jim Fitzgerald, Director of Player Development Frank Mattox, Greg Hunter, Director of Minor League Operations, Scouting Director Ken Compton and his scouting staff, the Mariners have taken an organization void of rewarding draft picks and promising talent at several premium defensive positions, such as catcher and center field, and turned those weaknesses into a major strength.

Two winters ago, the M's catching situation in the minors was as bare as a Mexican Sphynx, without a big leaguer anywhere above Class A ball.

Just 18 months later, and with the aid of the healing right shoulder of a former first round draft pick, the Mariners are sitting pretty behind the dish.

Rene Rivera, 21, the lone healthy holdover from the catching talent pool, is opening eyes this season, including his current call-up to the big leagues.

Ryan Christianson, 24, is getting healthier everyday as he hits in the cleanup spot for the Tacoma Rainiers, sporting a .310 average in 30 starts.

Last year's fourth-round pick, Rob Johnson, is tearing the cover off the ball in the Midwest League, hitting .304 and leading the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in home runs with eight, and RBI with 36.

Johnson, 21, is probably due a promotion sometime in the second half of the season.

Adding Clement to the mix makes catching a strength of the organization after it was nothing short of a disaster just 12 months ago.


Report Card:

Impact:
Adding a potential all-star is enough to earn the club a "C" grade all by itself. But Clement is more than just a talented hitter – he's a left-handed hitter. Further more, he's a left-handed hitter with power. At the Safe, Clement is the ideal bat to fit somewhere in the middle of the lineup. The fact that he's a catcher that could be just a few years away from the big leagues is a bonus that the M's couldn't pass on at No. 3.

Taking Justin Thomas in the fourth was a low-risk selection, as Thomas should find no problems competing in the middle levels of the system, and Stephen Kahn in the fifth round was a mid-risk, high-reward pick. At the very least, Kahn should turn into a useful relief prospect. If he pans out as a starter, he reminds some of Clint Nageotte, the M's fifth round pick in 1999.
Grade: B

Depth:
This is where the Mariners made their mark. Pitchers Thomas, Kahn, 7th round left-hander Robert RohrBaugh and 8th round southpaw David Asher provide the system with much-needed depth to join 2004 draftees Aaron Trolia, Mumba Rivera and Mark Lowe. Twelfth rounder Anthony Varvaro should be back to help in 2006.
Grade: B+

Overall:
After years of filling holes in the system with international signings, the Seattle Mariners seem to have a staff in place that understands how important the First Year Player's Draft can be. They also seem to have the right decision-makers calling the shots as Bavasi trusts Fontaine who trusts his scouts to do their job.

Now, the international free agent pool can act as more of a supplement than a necessary target to spread talent evenly throughout the organization.

Imagine if the club had produced solid drafts from 1998-2003 and complimented those choices with the likes of Chris Snelling, Jose Lopez, Shin-soo Choo and Felix Hernandez.

The farm system would be stacked with blue-chip talent and the depth might just be endless.

The past two season the club has done the job on draft day, having an even better year this year than last.

The return on some of these picks won't be noticable immediately, but the depth provided by the club after drafting experienced college pitching and taking chances on a few high school kids with bigtime upside is a welcomed addition to an organization that has been void of such depth for many years.

Oh, and Jeff Clement was a great pick. Can't wait to see him hitting rockets into the seats in right field at the Safe. What kind of a hitter is he? He's the kind of hitter that will hit rockets into the seats in right field at the Safe. Think 'Jorge Posada-Jason Varitek'... and then some. The Clement selection get's an A+.
Seattle Mariners 2005 Draft Grade: B+

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