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

March 25, 2013 at 5:36 PM

Brandon Maurer could salvage Mariners’ heretofore weak 2008 draft

Brandon Maurer works in a spring game. Photo by Associated Press

Brandon Maurer works in a spring game. Photo by Associated Press

By just about any measure, the Mariners’ 2008 draft — the final one of the Bill Bavasi/Bob Fontaine regime — has been regarded as pretty much of a train wreck. Here it is, in all its glory, 50 rounds worth, from Josh Fields to Walker Kelly. Please hold your applause until the end.

It’s now nearly five years later, and not one player from that draft has made the major leagues for the Mariners (or for any other team, for that matter). That includes No. 1 pick Josh Fields, a right-handed pitcher out of the University of Georgia (No. 20 overall), who was traded to Boston as a throw-in in the Erik Bedard trade, and is now a Rule 5 selection of the Houston Astros. I’ve told the frustrating adjunct to the Josh Fields tale before, but here’s the short version: The Mariners didn’t sign Fields until February of 2009, by which time Jack Zduriencik had replaced Bavasi. Had they let Fields walk, the Mariners would have gotten a compensatory pick in the 2009 draft, just ahead of the Angels, who used the No. 25 overall pick to select an outfielder from New Jersey named Mike Trout. There’s long been scuttlebutt that the Mariners were onto Trout; we’ll never know if they would have grabbed him, but it’s a great “what if” scenario from that draft.

Just eight of their selections from the 2008 draft, in fact, are still in the Mariners organization. It’s not like there was a ton of talent available at No. 20, but among the players who got chosen elsewhere in the first five rounds were Craig Kimbrel, Brandon Crawford, Daniel Hudson, Jason Kipnis, Vance Worley, Tyson Ross and Anthony Gose.

Still, it’s a truism of player development that sometimes you have to be patient. And now the Mariners appear on the verge of reaping their first benefit from the 2008 draft, in the form of right-handed pitcher Brandon Maurer. He was an unheralded 23rd-round selection out of Orange Lutheran High School in Orange, Ca. — overshadowed by teammate Gerrit Cole, who was taken in the first round by the Yankees (No. 28 overall) in ’08, but never signed. Cole instead went to UCLA and worked his way up to the No. 1 overall draft position in 2011, taken by Pittsburgh.

Cole was recently sent down to the minors, but chances are he will be up before too long. And it sure looks like Maurer, at age 22, is making a successful bid to crack the Mariners’ season-opening rotation. He worked five shutout innings today against the Reds with seven strikeouts and now has a 0.90 ERA this spring. Though manager Eric Wedge was non-committal about the final two rotation berths, for which Blake Beavan and Jeremy Bonderman are also competing (Erasmo Ramirez appears all but out of the running, as Geoff reports), Maurer has done all he can to state his case. It has been an amazing ascent for Maurer, who if selected will have reached the big leagues quicker than his more heralded teammates at Double-A Jackson last year, Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. Maurer, in fact, was named the Southern League Pitcher of the Year last season ahead of all three after going 9-2 with a 3.20 ERA in 24 starts. This spring, he has displayed the stuff and the poise to justify a rotation berth despite no major-league experience. He’s had a better spring, in fact, than Michael Pineda did two years ago, when Pineda made a similar jump after splitting the previous year at Double-A and Triple-A. Pineda worked 17 innings in the 2011 Cactus League with a 2.12 ERA, giving up 14 hits in 17 innings with six walks and 15 strikouts. Opponents hit .222. Maurer has worked 20 innings with that 0.90 ERA, giving up 19 hits with six walks and 22 strikeouts. Opponents are hitting .260.

Maurer’s emergence could significantly alter the perception of the 2008 draft. And it’s possible the Mariners might still get more help from the ’08 draft. Lefty reliever Bobby LaFromboise, their eighth-round pick, is now on the 40-man roster and was impressive last year (1.36 ERA in 47 games between Jackson and Tacoma, with just 45 hits allowed in 66.1 innings, with 70 strikeouts).

Others still in the system from the ’08 draft are outfielder Dennis Raben (second round), who has been hit hard by injuries and played last year at Class A High Desert; RHP Steve Hensley (fourth round), who made it up to Tacoma last year; RHP Jarrett Burgess (sixth round), who was drafted as an outfielder and spent last season transitioning to the mound; infielder Nate Tenbrink (seventh round), who hit .377 in 44 games for High Desert in 2010 to earn a Double-A promotion but has been slowed since by a concussion and other injuries; RHP Taylor Stanton (26th round), who pitched for High Desert and Jackson last year; and infielder Scott Savastano (28th round), who played 72 games for Tacoma last year, hitting .259.

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