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Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

April 17, 2012 at 11:16 AM

Will No. 1 draft talent Byron Buxton fall to the Mariners at No. 3?

With MLB today releasing the official order of selection for the first-year player draft, which begins on June 4 — less than two months away — it seems like the perfect day to kick off a little draft talk. Besides, why should the NFL have all the fun when it comes to draft speculation?

You can find the draft order here. The Mariners pick No. 3 overall, which we already knew, by virtue of their third-worst record of 67-95 in 2011, which ranked behind only Houston (56-106) and Minnesota (63-99). It will be the latest in a series of Top 5 draft picks by the Mariners. After whiffing on Jeff Clement* (No. 3 in 2005), they picked Brandon Morrow No. 5 in 2006, Dustin Ackley No. 2 in 2009, and Danny Hultzen No. 2 in 2011.

(*Clement, his career sidetracked by knee injuries and poor performances in the big leagues, is still kicking. He’s off to a .389 start in 11 games for Pittsburgh’s Triple-A team in Indianapolis).

As you can see, after picking third, the Mariners have to wait awhile until they make their second-round pick, which is No. 64 overall. That’s because there are 29 picks in a compensation round between the first and second round for teams that lost ranked free agents (the Mariners didn’t have any).

The Mariners’ only compensatory pick comes after the third round because they didn’t sign their third-round pick last year, Arizona high schooler Kevin Cron (now a freshman at TCU). That pick will be No. 126 overall, so the Mariners’ first five picks will be No. 3, No. 64 (2nd round), No. 98 (third round), No. 126 (compensation) and No. 131 (fourth round).

This is regarded as an average to below-average draft in terms of overall and front-line talent (compared to last year’s highly regarded draft). I think the chances are extremely strong the Mariners will go with an offensive player (but, then again, I thought that last year, and they crossed up all of us by passing on Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon to take Hultzen). It appears the strength of the draft lies in the high school players. And a lot of analysts think they have a decent shot to land the player that is the consensus pick as the No. 1 talent in the draft, outfielder Byron Buxton of Appling County High School in Baxley, Georgia.

Buxton, listed as 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, is ranked No. 1 by both Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law, drawing comparisons to the Upton brothers as well as Eric Davis. There is some concern that the competition he faces in rural Georgia isn’t very good, but he’s such a physical specimen — a five-tool standout, according to ESPN, while Law ranks him as an 80 runner and thrower (the maximum ranking) “with big future power” — that he’s become the consensus top-ranked prospect.

Check out the video above that shows off his arm and power — especially his final blast in the Under Armour All America HR Derby at Wrigley Field.

Yet Jim Callis of Baseball America noted in a recent blog that there’ s no guarantee Houston will take Buxton with the top pick, because they’re looking for someone who can help them more quickly than a high school kid from a town of 4,400.

Callis adds, “The Twins, who own the No. 2 selection, have a surplus of athletic outfielders and a desperate need for pitching. That may mean that the Mariners, who have plenty of arms, can snap up Buxton at No. 3.”

Let’s say the Mariners did get Buxton. How long would it take for him to get to the big leagues? Impossible to predict, of course, but let’s use the Uptons as examples, since their names were invoked. B.J. Upton was the No. 2 overall pick by Tampa Bay in 2002 out of high school. He made it up to the majors for 45 games in 2004, and was playing every day by 2006. Justin Upton was the No. 1 pick in the talent-laden 2005 draft, also out of high school. He made it up to the majors for 43 games in 2007, and was a regular by 2008. For those two, it didn’t take long to make an impact. If Buxton is head and shoulders the top pick, I can’t imagine Houston — desperate for impact players — passing on him. But if there’s a dominant college pitcher who steps up, perhaps that would lure them.

It’s way too early to come to any definitive conclusions, of course. I have a feeling this list will fluctuate over time because of performance and injury as the college and prep seasons progress. Already, Lucas Giolito of Harvard-Westlake HS in Studio City, Ca., who throws 100 mph, has suffered an elbow injury that throws his Top 5 status into question. Stanford pitcher Mark Appel, expected to be No. 1 going into the season, hasn’t had a dominating year and has fallen a bit. That could change. Other names getting some buzz are Florida catcher Mike Zunino (whose dad, Greg, I went to college with at Cal, making me feel very old), right-handed pitcher Kyle Zimmer of the University of San Francisco, shortstop Carlos Correa of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy in Gurabo, Puerto Rico (a name to tuck away, because scouts love his potential. At 6-4, 190, might not stay at shortstop), another shortstop, Deven Marrero of Arizona State, and RHP Kevin Gausman of LSU.

We’ll have much more on the draft as it approaches, but this is one to whet the appetite.

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