(Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara holds court with the media before today’s game. That’s the back of my head (the best way to photograph me) to the left of Angie Mentink. Photo by Ben VanHouten, Seattle Mariners.)
Tom McNamara answered questions about the draft tonight in an informal session prior to the game, as he has done the week prior to the draft in all three of his seasons as scouting director. And while McNamara is cooperative and enthusiastic, he didn’t give any inkling of who the Mariners might take with the the No. 2 overall pick next Monday.
But he did have some interesting comments. Asked if he has had a chance to see Anthony Rendon play in the field this year, McNamara said he had. The Rice third baseman, who went into this season as the consensus pick to go No. 1 overall, has had his status diminished by an early-season shoulder strain that has limited him primarily to DH duties.
“In the beginning of the year, I was in there against Stanford,” McNamara said. “It was a weekend series. He played third base. We’ve seen him in the summer. Team USA, before he got hurt. We saw him a lot last year. Almost like (Dustin) Ackley, who had the Tommy John (surgery) going into his junior year, so he played first base. He played a little center field, but he didn’t throw much. We took him because he was a good hitter, obviously.
“But we’ve seen Anthony play a lot of third base. We’re comfortable with what we’ve seen.”
I asked McNamara if he was concerned about Rendon’s health. It’s believed Rendon’s camp has yet to release his medical records to interested teams.
“That’s to be determined,” he said. “We’re doing our due diligence, getting all our facts. We’re talking about a lot of different players here.”
I asked McNamara if he knew now who the Mariners final two choices were. If so, they would be assured of getting the player they want, regardless of what the Pirates do with the No. 1 overall pick.
“We’re preparing ourselves,” he replied. “We have at least four or five guys. You just want to make sure you’re in position to take the right guy. We’re doing a lot of research. We’ve seen all the players. We’ve gotten to know them. We’re talking to their agents, their coaches, etc, etc.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve narrowed it down to two guys. We’re keeping it open. We feel good.”
Asked if he was confident the Mariners would get a player they like, McNamara replied, “Very confident. It’s a good year. I know a lot of scouting directors don’t usually say that. They usually say it’s kind of down year. They put themselves in postion. But it’s a good year. There’s a lot of good players. I’m pretty excited about bringing the right player to this franchise.”
McNamara noted that it is a balanced year, with lots of high-end talent at the college and high school level, and both pitching and position players. Unlike the past two years, when Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper were clear-cut choices to go No. 1 overall, taking the mystery out of draft day, this year there seems to be genuine uncertainty among analysts about who will go at the top.
Here’s how McNamara answered when asked about how the Mariners weigh college vs. high school players:
“The college guys are closer, obviously. But when you take a high school guy and hit on a high school guy, it’s a great feeling. It’s a young kid, and three or four years later, you see fans walking around with their jersey on in the home park… You can build your club around those high school players. Then you have the quick-to-the-big-league college players. We’re picking two. We’re in a good spot to take a good player. That’s all I can tell you.”
I asked McNamara about the new college bat that was introduced this year, designed to act like a wooden bat. The bottom line is that collegiate homers are down about 40 percent, and offensive numbers are lower across the board. Does that make it harder to evaluate hitters?
“It’s given scouts a little more extra sleep time. The games aren’t five or six hours long anymore. The good hitters still hit. That’s the one thing I can say about the new bats. If you ask a lot of the college players about the new bats, you might get some different answers. A couple of guys said, ‘I’d rather use the wood.’ We’d rather see them use the wood because it makes our decision making a lot easier. But the good ones, they can still hit. You can’t tell the difference with the good hitters.”
Here are some other comments from McNamara:
On what he learned from scouting Dustin Ackley, taken No. 2 overall by the Mariners in 2009: “In the beginning of Dustin’s junior year, we had three or four guys we were targeting. We just stayed on him, and he got hot at the right time. We saw him do a lot of good things on the field. The other guys out there were pretty good, too. But we found ourselves at Chapel Hill a lot that year. I was on a first name basis with the people in the diner. It was pretty odd.”
On whether anyone has emerged similarly this year: “This year, we’re jumping around a lot more, but then we’re staying in certain spots here and there. It’s one of those year when the eighth or 12th or 15th guy could be one of the better guys in the draft. It’s pretty well balanced.”
On whether he’s seen the top four or five prospects in person: “A lot. I can’t tip our hand and tell you who we’ve seen the most, but we’ve seen a lot of the top guys. With the pitchers, the No. 1s pitch Friday night, and a lot of time the No. 2s are pretty good, too, and they pitch on Saturdays. You can see the college position players during the week, and you can see the top college pitchers pitch on Friday night. Sometimes it gets a little crazy. The top college pitchers go on Friday, and the top high school pitchers go on Friday night. The weather, a lot of different things go into it.
“Sometimes it’s fate – you’re at the right park at the right time, and sometimes you’re at the wrong park. Right out of the gate this year, the first guy I went to see, he came up with an injury throwing in the bullpen. ‘Oh, man. I missed on this guy.’ But the next week, it rained somewhere else, and I got to see another player. You try not to burn too much daylight out there. You try to see as much as you can in a short period of time. You come in here and put it all on the board, roll up your sleeves, and do everything you can to take the best player.”
More on the college/high school dilemma: “If we think a high school player is the best guy for our pick No. 2, we’re going to take a high school guy. If we think it’s a college guy, we’ll take a college guy.
“Sometimes when you talk a high school guy, everyone says, ‘Whoa, we’ve got to wait a little on this guy’ It’s not easy. But when that player clicks and he turns into a superstar, it gives you more confidence to do it again….Sometimes, the high school guys get there and they’re stars.”
On whether he tries to handicap what the Pirates are going to do with the first overall pick: “I’m like you guys: I read the blogs. I look to see, who are we picking today? Sometimes, I’m like, ‘Wow, these guys are right on what we’re doing.’ Other days, ‘Wow, we don’t even have this guy on our radar.’
“They pick first. We pick second. I have no idea what they’re doing or what they’re thinking. Picking two this year, it’s a good spot to be in.”
On whether he’s seen UCLA pitcher Gerrit Cole: “I’ve seen all of the guys. I hope I’ve seen all of the guys, or I’ll have to answer to Jack (Zduriencik). I can’t really comment on the guys, but we’ve done our homework. We’ve gone and seen all these guys as much as humanly possible. Plus our area scouts and cross-checkers. We’ve been flying all over the place. We’ve spent a lot of time in the offseason getting to know players. We’re ready. We’re ready to go.”
On whether the Mariners have given some players personal workouts:
“I wouldn’t say personal workouts. In fall, we go to practices. You can get a lot done at a practice, because there’s not a lot of pressure there. You get to talk to the player or the coaches. Before the season starts, you get to meet a lot of the players. You talk to them, you get one-on-one time. They’re just regular normal kids. They just have more talent than everyone else. It’s a very good experience. The coaches are all welcoming.”
On the Mariners draft board: “The board will lead us into who we’re going to take. That’s what we’re doing right now: Setting up the board and ranking players. It sounds simple; we think it’s best formula.”
On whether they’re looking into the signability of the potential top picks: “Yes, of course. We’re making a lot of phone calls right now. It starts to make a lot more sense. Jack used to say all the time, ‘You’ve got to get out, and you got to come in.’ You’re out seeing games for three months, then you come in and put it all on the board. We’ve got name plates of every player. You sit back and look at all the players. You say, ‘I like this guy more than this guy, this guy is a little too high.’ You’re not going to get it right every time, but we’re trying.”