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January 23, 2009 at 4:58 PM

Tom McNamara on the M’s crucial 2009 draft

So many people were on the podium at Thursday’s luncheon that a few got short shrift. Considering the Mariners have so many high draft picks — as many as five of the first 45 or so picks, if Josh Fields doesn’t sign — I thought you might like to hear more of what Tom McNamara, the M’s new scouting director, had to say.
McNamara, who worked with Jack Zduriencik in Milwaukee (he’s credited with scouting and signing Prince Fielder), started by calling this “the most important draft in the history of the Mariner franchise.” Even for a franchise that drafted Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez (both of whom were first round, No. 1 overall picks), I don’t think that’s hyperbole. They have a golden opportunity to build the foundation of a championship-caliber team if they hit on a majority of the high picks and pick up a few later-round nuggets. It’s not unreasonable to expect a superstar-caliber player with the No. 2 overall pick, but that’s no guarantee, either. There have been a lot of spectacular flameouts high in the draft.
McNamara is well aware of the challenge and seems to be eager to tackle it. He said his message to his scouts as they left last weekend’s organizational meetings in Seattle was: “Let’s go where the players are.”
Here are the rest of his comments:
“Obviously, we need to hit on the high guys, because we have a lot of high picks. But there’s also 8th round, 12th round, 25th round guys out there that can become good major-league players. My job here is to bring the people of Seattle, Jack, Chuck (Armstrong), everyone, the most talented players out there. We’re going to be looking for players with obviously, talent, tools, good statistics, but character. A winning character.
“I was here in 1988 as a player…I played in Bellingham. I signed out of Dominican College in New York. I had the same bonus as Mickey Mantle. I signed for $500. I would have signed for 100 bucks. I played one year for Bellingham, went to spring training and was released. Three years later, I was lucky enough to get a scouting job in the Mariners’ organization. I started in 1994, did the Northeast area, and I was here right up until 2000, and left to go work for Jack in Florida.
“The first time I came here, when I saw Chuck Armstrong, the first thing that popped into my head, he invited myself and my father, who was a New York City fireman, to Yankee Stadium. We sat in a booth upstairs and we were lucky to be part of that ’95 Yankee-Mariner series, which was pretty special. Hopefully, our scouting staff can bring those kind of players back here to Seattle, and we can be playing in October.
On how he judges character as a scout: “We have all our scouts do in-home visits. Getting information on players is important. Getting to know the players is important. We’re trying to sell a product, and getting to know the product is what we do. Not only the parents, but the coaches, the agents, teachers in school. I had an old scout tell me once, when you go into some of the towns, it’s not a bad idea to stop in at the Elks Club, or the American Legion. Those guys know everybody. It’s amazing. They can tell you about this kid, and sometimes they can tell you about someone you don’t even know about. Just getting as much information…What I try to tell our scouts — and I’ve learned this from guys I’ve worked for — how do they handle failure, and how do they handle adversity. Sometimes you can see that on the field, and there’s things that happen to families and people off the field you can really learn a lot from.”
On how he ranks talent versus character: “Obviously, talent is No. 1. I grew up in New York, and I remember George Young was the GM of the Giants when Bill Parcells was the coach. I remember the draft came around, he always used to say, our philosophy is to pick the most talented player in each slot. That’s my intention. Getting a super talented player with winning character is not easy, but that’s what we’re looking to do.”
On the talent pool for the 2009 draft: “I would say, gun to my head, it’s more pitching-oriented this year, but that can change. As an area scout for 14, 15 years, going into drafts, you could hear the buzz. It was either going to be a great draft, a mediocre draft. Sometimes drafts pick up steam midseason, and there’s surprises, and disappointments. So I would say right now, it’s pitching dominated, but that could change. Guys get better.”
On whether he prefers high school or college players: “We went over that in the meetings. We’ve done a lot of research in the last couple of weeks preparing our guys for the meetings. If you look at the World Series this year, the Phillies against Tampa Bay, you saw a lot of high school draft picks, and a lot of college draft picks. If the high school guy is the most talented guy, and we think that’s the way to go, we’ll go that way. I believe the final four teams in the playoffs this year, I think there were 13 high school starting pitchers. I could be off one or two, but it was pretty close. But when you pick real high, the high school guy, he better be special. If you’re picking one, two or three, he better be special.”
On whether it’s overwhelming to have so many high picks: “I think it’s a challenge, and anyone who has been scouting for more than two or three years, when you have a lot of picks, your juices start to flow. Every day counts, every day is important. We’re going to have as many eyes on as many players as is humanly possible. Anyone that has been in amateur scouting, the more picks the better. But I can tell you, hopefully, in the next two years, we’re not going to be picking as high. But now we have to take advantage of it.”



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