(Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara, right, and Jack Zduriencik with last year’s No. 1 pick, Danny Hultzen, after he signed a contract in August).
Here is today’s Mariner minor-league report.
Tom McNamara, the Mariners’ scouting director, met with the media one week ago today at Safeco Field, his last press availability before the MLB draft kicks off on Monday.
McNamara gave little indication who the Mariners will select with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft. No surprise there; the M’s confounded most analysts last year by going with Danny Hultzen over Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon. But McNamara did offer some interesting thoughts on organizational philosophy and the mechanics of scouting.
I’ll have a draft story in Sunday’s Seattle Times that looks back at the Mariners’ successes and failures in recent years. In Monday’s paper I’ll have a preview of this year’s draft. Hope you enjoy this interview:
How many times have you seen the top group: A lot. I don’t want to tip our hand, but the top five guys, we’ve seen a lot. They’re all spread out all over the United States. It makes it fun. I think it’s a good group of top guys this year. You have some high school athletes, pitchers, college guys. It’s been fun. Looking forward to June 4.
How do you feel about cutting the number of rounds from 50 to 40: I’m old school. I wish it was 70 rounds. You might find a guy in the 55th round. I was a non-drafted free agent as a player. Maybe I would have been drafted if there was a hundred rounds.
Has your process of evaluating top guys become more efficient: That’s a good question. The toughest part of picking high is, you have your group of guys you think is going to be in the mix, and then that group after those five guys — our second pick is 64th. We have to eliminate a large of guys we don’t think is going to be there in the second round. That’s tough. Because sometimes they fall, but we spend most of the summer, the fall, the spring seeing these guys, so we all have a pretty good feel if there’s a surprise guy that falls to us at 64. It’s happened before.
You’ve got to get the first guy right, so you’ve got to see them a lot. Our scouts are all over the place. They’re at college tournaments right now. We’re in the draft room right now, and we have a couple of college games on in the background. We’re ready to go.
Whoever you pick, will you have seen him a lot: I hope so. I think so. The position players you have to go in and see more than the pitchers. The good college pitchers pitch on Friday night. And then the high school pitchers, you don’t know when they’re going. When they pitch on Friday night, that’s a problem, because you have to decide, am I going to see the high school guy, or the college guy? But the position players, you can go in and see a center fielder, and he plays two or three days in a row, and he doesn’t have one ball hit to him. Or the other coach has him intentionally walked three or four times. You need to go back. I believe you have to see the top guys as much as humanly possible. And our guys have.
Have the changes to the college bats given more predictability to what players will do with wooden bats: The only thing I can say about the new bats, the good hitters, they hit. It really doesn’t make much of a difference. That’s why we’ve got to get to BP. The sound of the ball coming off the bat. The guys that can really hit, it has a different sound. You guys see that here in BP. There’s a difference. There is. The college games are a lot quicker. They used to be four and a half, five hours. Now it’s like, wow, two hours and 15 minutes, I can go see another game afterwards. The good ones stand out, though.
It does help (the new bats). I’ve talked to a lot of college players in the last couple of the years. They’ve told me before the season, I’m a better hitter with wood. That’s why we go to the Cape. That’s why we go to all these college leagues and the high school players in showcases. I agree with some of them.
Has organizational philosophy changed as the talent level in farm system increases: Not really. I still believe in picking the best guy, whether it’s a hitter or a pitcher. The day you draft for need, and you pass on that guy you really think should be the guy you take, it will come back and haunt you. The guy will go out and be a Cy Young winner, and you might have a part-time extra player in the big leagues. Everyone is going to ask you, why didn’t you take the other guy? Take the best player.
We go in for two weeks before the draft, and each name on that board is really important. There might be one name here and one name there, and that one guy you put over a certain guy could be an All-Star. We try to do as much background research as possible. As I said before, we have all our scouts right now at the college conference tournaments. And the high school season, some of them are still going on. It’s amazing. It’s almost June, and they’re still playing.
Is college pitching the strength of the draft: It’s funny. There’s always college pitching, but there are some good high school position players this year. If you take a high school position player, obviously you have to wait a little. But when it clicks in, it does something to the whole organization, and you get a special one. Obviously, you have control of the player, and I think the fans identify with that a lot. You take a high school guy, and the fans can grow with that kid. When he gets to the big leagues and becomes a star, it’s a great thing.
College vs. high school: If we think the best player at No. 3 is a high school player, we’ll take the high school player. If we think it’s a college position player, we’ll take the college position player. If we think it’s a high school pitcher, a college pitcher – we’ll just take the best guy.
Have you seen anything from teams in front of you to tip their hand: You know, I haven’t seen those guys in a while. But we’ve seen a lot of each other the last couple of months. You play some games, but we’re picking No. 3. Houston and Minnesota picks ahead of us. We need to line it up to where we have our top five guys. I say five because you always want to be in position in case someone gets hurt or there’s a signability change, you just want to be prepared for anything.
Can you predict who they’re going to take: You know, that’s a good question. I’ve been asked that a million times from guys who work in the organization, friends, family. I have an idea, but I’ve been wrong before about the teams ahead of us and who they’re picking. I’ll have my fingers crossed under the desk.
Last year, were you locked in on Hultzen all along: It’s funny, Jack called me, I was scouting somewhere out on the road. He said, ‘Where are you?’ I said, ‘I’m in Charlottesville.’ Then the next Friday he called me and said, ‘Where are you?’ I said, ‘I’m in Raleigh-Durham.’ It just worked out that way. I saw Hultzen four times last year. Four Friday nights in a row, but I matched him up against the No. 1 of the other team he was facing. I saw him good, I saw him with his back against the wall, I saw him in bad weather, I saw him pitch down 4-0 after the first inning. I saw him every way you could see a guy. There were a lot of good players last year. The guy we picked is the guy we wanted, but there were a lot of good players. Last year was loaded.
Do you feel vindicated with the success he’s had: You know what’s funny, I don’t know if you guys are going to believe this. I haven’t really had time – I send him a text now and then – keep up the good work, stay positive, that stuff – but we have to focus on the 2012 draft. After the draft, after we sign all these guys, I’ll go out and see some of our minor-league players. I’m looking forward to it. But when you’re locked into 2012, that’s all you think about. It’s pretty sad.
There’s a good selection. We’re going to do everything we can to make a good pick.
Out of the top 5, how many has Jack Zduriencik seen: He’s seen at least six guys, off the top of my head. Actually, he’s seen more than that, because we matched up a couple of teams where there were three or four guys from each team. He saw a lot of guys that are in consideration at three in the country, but he also saw some players that could be second or third round guys. He has a pretty good idea who we’re looking at and where we’re going. He’s seen a lot of guys.
Corey Seager: He’s a lot bigger than Kyle, that’s all I’m going to say. He looks just like him, too. When I went to see him, I walked right up to him before the game and said, ‘I can’t believe how big you are.’ He’s a good-looking player. It’s kind of neat going in there knowing his brother is a major-league player, a guy we drafted. It’s kind of a neat feeling. I ran into somebody at – I hate to admit this – a Denny’s. The guy had a Mariners hat on. It’s kind of rare. There probably aren’t many Mariner fans in the Carolinas. It’s pretty neat, though. Good bloodlines. His father played baseball at Fairleigh Dickinson, Kyle’s a big leaguer, his brother’s got a heck of a career ahead of him.
What about the other Seager brother at UNC Charlotte: It’s kind of funny, we sent out a red alert to our scout in the Carolinas, Garrett Ball. He said, ‘Calm down. He’s only a sophomore. He’s not eligible for the draft.’ Those are the kinds of things you think about as you’re traveling around the country.
How many scouts at the top guys: It’s funny – at the beginning a lot. Then guys peel off. I think teams look at certain players and say, ‘We know where we’re picking. With this guy, it’s probably a waste of our time.’ Then at the end of the year, you know who’s really on a player when you see three representatives. There’s always a guy who sneaks in there, like, I got to make sure in case anything happens. That’s what we do.