UPDATE 7:16 P.M.: Well, in a draft regarded as brimming with pitchers but light on bats, the Mariners went 5-for-5 in chosing hitters. With their last pick today — third round, No. 82 overall — they took infielder Kyle Seager, Ackley’s teammate at the University of North Carolina. At least he’ll have someone to hang out with in Peoria.
UPDATE 6:30 P.M.:The M’s went with power with their No. 51 pick, taking Rich Poythress, a first baseman from University of Georgia ranked as the No. 33 prospect by Baseball America.
UPDATE 6 p.m.: At No. 33, the Mariners picked high school catcher Steven Baron from Miami’s John Ferguson High School. Props to Dave Cameron of USS Mariner, who sniffed this out a few days ago. Apparently, they had cut a pre-draft deal.
And I’m going to slow down on the blogging now because I have that pesky newspaper story to write.
UPDATE: Here’s Baseball America’s scouting report on Nick Franklin:
An Auburn recruit, Franklin is the latest in a line of Lake Brantley High baseball stars that has included Jason Varitek, Felipe Lopez and brothers Rickie and Jemile Weeks. Franklin, who helped lead last year’s team to a state 6-A title, has surpassed them all in terms of performance, hitting 10 homers this spring to lead Lake Brantley back to the state playoffs. A switch-hitter, Franklin has shown bat speed to catch up to good fastballs and uses the whole field. Scouts don’t expect him to hit for even average power with wood, but he should have enough strength in his wiry frame to keep pitchers honest. Scouts have made comparisons to players such as Aaron Hill or Lopez offensively, though he has less power. He’s an above-average runner with fast-twitch athleticism and the ability to stay at shortstop as a pro, which makes him likely to go out in the first two rounds. Franklin has infield actions, solid footwork that needs polish and more than enough arm strength for shortstop, as it grades above-average. Franklin’s makeup resembles Hill’s more than Lopez’s, which is a strong positive.
UPDATE 5:15 P.M.: The Mariners just took Nicholas Franklin,a high school shortstop from Lake Brantley High School in Florida. More on this after we do a conference call with Ackley. They passed on Tanner Scheppers.
UPDATE 5:10 P.M.: We’re getting Ackley on a conference call in moments — right about the same time the Mariners pick. So if I’m late on the update, it’s because I’m talking to Ackley.
UPDATE 5:05 P.M. The White Sox take OF Jared Mitchell of LSU at 23, the Angels went with Texas high school outfielder Randal Grichuk at No. 24 and New Jersey high school outfielder Michael Trout at No. 25.
UPDATE 5 P.M.: The Mariners are not going to get Kyle Gibson. The Missouri pitcher was taken No. 22 by the Twins, who weren’t scared off by his stress fracture. Tanner Scheppers is looking more realistic. I know some folks don’t want to mess with a guy that had shoulder problems, but he appears to be healthy now, and he’s rated by many as the second-best arm behind Strasburg. If I were a Mariner fan, I’d be excited by the prospect of landing Scheppers.
UPDATE 4:52 P.M.: UNC teammates Dustin Ackley and Alex White were just interviewed from Chapel Hill by Harold Reynolds on MLB Network. The Mariners’ PR staff is working diligently to get Ackley on a conference call with the Seattle media, and I’m fairly confident it will happen before the night is through.
Here’s what Ackley said to Reynolds:
“I was very surprised. Going No. 2 overall is a surprise to anyone, I’m very fortunate they picked me and took chance on me. Now I’ll play in the College World Series and go from there.
“I don’t feel like the draft has been a distraction. We’ve been focused on getting to Omaha. We finally got there, and I’m looking forward to playing.”
UPDATE 4:45 P.M.: The Jays, at No. 20, select RHP Chad Jenkins from Kenesaw State University in Georgia. This is getting interesting for the Mariners. They have a chance to get a player at No. 27 that is rated much higher but dropped because of financial issues.
UPDATE 4:40 P.M.: Shelby Miller, a high-school righty that some analysts believed the Mariners had their eye on, just went to the Cardinals at No. 19. Consider that last year there were just two high-school pitchers taken in the entire first round. Miller is the seventh prep pitcher so far, by my count.
UPDATE 4:36 P.M.: Another high-school lefty taken at No. 18, Chad James from Oklahoma by the Marlins at No. 18.
UPDATE 4:30 P.M. Arizona had back-to-back picks at 16 and 17,and went with high school (Florida) third baseman Bobby Borchering and Notre Dame outfielder A.J. Pollock
Scheppers and Missouri’s Kyle Gibson still unpicked..Gibson, diagnosed recently with a stress fracture in his forearm, would be an interesting dilemma for the Mariners. He was rated as Baseball America’s No. 4 prospect before the injury and could be a steal at No. 27.
UPDATE 4:21 P.M.: The Indians at No. 15 took Dustin Ackley’s UNC teammate, right-handed pitcher Alex White.
UPDATE 4:17 P.M. The A’s at No. 13 went with USC shortstop Grant Green, whose stock has dropped this season, and the Rangers at No. 14 took Texas high school lefty Matthew Purke.
UPDATE 4:07 P.M.: Cross Aaron Crow off the list — the Royals just picked him at No. 12. Crow was the guy chosen by the Nationals last year at No. 9 overall, but didn’t sign because of a contract impasse, and thus went back into the draft. He’s been pitching for the independent Fort Worth Cats. The Mariners liked him a lot — but not as much as Ackley.
I wonder if Tanner Scheppers will still be there at No. 27.
UPDATE 4:03 P.M.:OK, high school lefty Tyler Matzek just went (see item below) to the Rockies at No. 11, after the Nationals selected Stanford reliever Drew Storen.
UPDATE 3:56 P.M.:Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara was raving last week about the high-school pitching in the draft. Other teams obviously feel the same way. The Tigers, at No. 9, took Missouri high-school right-hander Jacob Turner That’s three high school arms out of the first nine picks, and the highest-rated guy, Tyler Matzek, a lefty from California, is still out there. Must be money issues..
UPDATE 3:50 P.M. A few picks have gone by while I wrote up Ackley. At No. 3, the Padres went with Georgia high school outfielder Donovan Tate; At No. 4, the Pirates went with Boston College catcher Jorge Sanchez; at No. 5, the Orioles went with California high school right-handed pitcher Matthew Hopgood; at No. 6, the Giants went with George high school right-handed pitcher Zach Wheeler; at No. 7, the Braves went with Vanderbilt left-handed pitcher Michael Minor; and at No. 8, the Reds went with Arizona State right-handed pitcher Michael Leake.
Still unpicked: Aaron Crow and Tanner Scheppers, two pitchers that could interest the Mariners at No. 27.
UPDATE 3:30: Jack Zduriencik just spoke about Ackley on MLB Network (he’s physically about 20 feet away from me, behind a curtain, but we don’t get a crack at Jack Z. until after the first round).
Here are his quotes:
“We’re very excited about this. We think this kid is the best hitter in the draft. As we sat in the room and Tom McNamara and his staff evaluated players from around the country, we thought this guy will be here in a short period of time and help this organization as we try to establish a winner in Seattle.”
Zduriencik made it clear that the Mariners view Ackley as an outfielder.
“He’s played outfield in the past,” he said. “The only reason he played first base was because of Tommy John surgery a year ago. We were fortunate enough to see him play outfield in the few games he did. He takes balls off the bat during BP. He’s an athletic kid who can run, and he’s got a great swing.”
And on how fast Ackley could get to Seattle: “It’s tough to project, but he’s not going to be that far away. I don’t like putting labels or time frames on kids, because each kid reacts differently when they get into professional basball, but we think it will be a short period of time before he’s a big-leaguer.”.
UPDATE 3:20 P.M.: The Mariners go with Dustin Ackley, the best bat in the draft. Applause rang out from the war room, which is situated just behind where the media is set up. It’s hard to argue with this pick. The Mariners have a need for a big bat,and though Ackley is not what you would call a “slugger,” he has the potential, scouts say, to win batting titles, and also to be a 20-homer guy. And if he does, indeed, convert to outfield, his potential value is immense. This is a guy being compared to the likes of Wade Boggs, Todd Helton and George Brett. That’s some serious upside.
UPDATE 3:15 P.M.: It’s official: St. Stephen Strasburg goes to the Nationals with the No. 1 overall pick. Good luck signing him, fellas. Mr. Boras is on Line 2.
The Mariners are on the clock. If it’s not Dustin Ackley, I’ll be shocked. Shocked, I tell you.
UPDATE 2:57 P.M.: SI.com has team-by-team draft rankings for their record over the past decade. The bad news is that the Mariners rank No. 27 out of 30. But the better news is that the Milwaukee Brewers rank No. 1. Their drafts were master-minded by current Mariners’ GM Jack Zduriencik, and one of his top assistants was their current scouting director, Tom McNamara.
UPDATE 2:50 P.M.: Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong just walked into the Mariners’ “war room.” Chuck noted that the first player drafted in his presidency was Bill Swift. All indications are that Dustin Ackley is the man.
UPDATE 2:43 P.M. (Just arrived at Safeco Field to set up in the work room). Here’s one more mock draft, this one from Jason Churchill at Prospect Insider.com. He has the M’s taking Ackley No. 2, and Indiana RHP Eric Arnett at No. 27
UPDATE 1:45 PM.: For a good look at the epic negotiating challenge facing the Nationals after they pick Strasburg, read this story in the Washington Post.
Scott Boras will be trying to set new standards for incoming amateurs, apparently using Daisuke Matsuzaka as the standard. And the Nationals will be carrying the flag for all of MLB in holding the line.
The way I see it, both sides have tremendous leverage. Here’s what I mean. The Nationals are already an after-thought in Washington D.C., on the way to the recording the worst record in baseball again this season. Last year, they picked Aaron Crow with the No. 9 overall pick and didn’t sign him. The credibility of the franchise is on the line. If they don’t sign Strasburg, they would become a laughing stock. That means Strasburg has tremendous negotiating leverage.
However, Strasburg is not a free agent. He will be property of the Washington Nationals. If he wants to pitch in pro baseball right away, he has to sign with the Nationals. Yes, Boras could pull some fast ones. He could take him to Japan. He could have him play in independent ball and go back in the draft next year. But I can’t imagine Strasburg wants to do either one of those. As hard as he throws, who’s to say Strasburg won’t hurt his arm and become far less marketable. It is to his great advantage to sign with the Nationals and begin his career. That means the Nationals have tremendous negotiating leverage, too.
I’d say Boras has the upper hand, simply because the Nationals such external pressure to sign him. But I’d imagine that Strasburg will get awfully antsy to pitch once August rolls around, and there’s still no contract. I look for Strasburg to sign at the Aug. 17 deadline, for something less than $40 million — but far more than anyone has ever signed for.
UPDATE 1:17 P.M.: MLB.com’s well-connected Jonathan Mayo just released his mock draft, and he has the Mariners taking Ackley. But more interestingly, he has them taking Tanner Scheppers with the No. 27 pick. Some teams still have concerns about Scheppers’ shoulder injury, which wiped out his season last year for Fresno State. But if healthy, he might be the No. 2 arm behind Strasburg, and if the Mariners could land him at No. 27, that would a tremendous pick, in my opinion.
UPDATE, 1:05 P.M.: Baseball America’s mock draft had the Mariners taking Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez with their other first-round pick, No. 27 overall. But ESPN’s Keith Law is reporting, definitively, that the Pirates have struck a pre-draft deal with Sanchez and are taking him with the No. 4 overall pick.
Also, it is now being reported, by SI.com and Baseball America, that the date for getting draft picks signed has been extended two days, until Aug. 17, by commissioner Bud Selig because Aug. 15 falls on a Saturday.
It’s just about three hours from the first pick, and do I still think the Mariners will go for offense?
Exactly. Or, to put another way. Ex-Ackley. As in, Dustin Ackley, North Carolina slugger.
The only thing that could change that, apparently, is if Scott Boras — Ackley’s advisor, cue the scary music — gives off vibes of asking for an outlandish signing bonus. But the Mariners have worked with Boras before (Josh Fields, last year’s No. 1, is a Boras man, and Jack Zduriencik got that done, eventually), and I don’t expect money will sidetrack them from Ackley. But if it does, then they’ll almost certainly go with a pitcher — Aaron Crow, Tanner Scheppers or Tyler Matzek, I’d guess.
I think there’s a decent chance they’ll go with a bat with their second pick today, No. 27 overall (thank you, Raul Ibanez). They could also go with a high school arm, or a college arm. How’s that for narrowing it down? Predicting the No. 27 pick is an inexact science, and I’m not going to even pretend to be a guru.
Tim Hevly of the Mariners just reminded us that this is the third time the M’s have had two picks in the first round. The first two instances didn’t work out so well.
In 1989, they went with high school pitcher Roger Sakeld with the third overall pick, and and another high-school pitcher, Scott Burrell, with the 26th overall pick (compensation from Oakland for signing Mike Moore). Burrell never made the majors (though he did win an NBA championship with the Chicago Bulls); in fact, he never even signed with the Mariners. He did sign the following year with the Toronto Blue Jays, but made his mark as a basketball player at the University of Connecticut and in the NBA, and is now assistant basketball coach at Quinnipiac University in his hometown of Hamden, Conn. Sakeld had promise until arm problems wiped out his career. He finished with a 10-10 record and 5.61 ERA in 45 games (34 starts) for the Mariners and Reds from 1993-96.
In 1983, the Mariners selected pitcher Darrel Akerfelds with the No. 7 overall pick, and catcher Terry Bell No. 17 overall (compensation from the White Sox for signing Floyd Bannister. Akerfelds made it to the majors, but not with the Mariners, who traded Akerfelds with Bill Caudill to Oakland in November of 1983 for Dave Beard and Bob Kearney. Akerfelds pitched 125 games (all but 13 in relief) for Oakland, Cleveland, Texas and Philadelphia, going 9-10 with a 5.08 ERA. As for Terry Bell, he played nine games in the big leagues (for the Royals and Braves), got four at-bats, and never got a hit.
The Mariners fervently hope they get more out of their Class of 2009, but as this story I wrote today (with this sidebar) about the greatest draft in Washington state history, 10 years ago, attests, there is no guarantee. There were 10 players from the state taken in the first two rounds, and only one became a big-league regular — Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit of Moses Lake.