Mariners had eye on Cougs' Ard for long time

SEATTLE – Seattle Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara told this weekend that his baseball club has had its eye on Washington State first baseman Taylor Ard for years. A local kid with a polished hitting repertoire is the kind you hate to lose to someone else, he said. That's especially true for a club that's spent nearly a decade trying to find a middle-of-the-order thumper.

"He's a big, physical guy," McNamara said of the Vancouver, Wash., product. "He's got plate discipline. He knows how to work the count, and he's got power."

Ard, drafted last week in the seventh round, signed a minor-league contract -- including a signing bonus near $150,000 -- with Mariners Saturday night at Safeco Field. Pending the outcome of a physical today, he'll report to the Mariners' short-season Class A team in Everett and be in the lineup Friday when the Aaquasox open against the Tri-City Dust Devils.

McNamara said the Mariners' interest in the two-time all-conference first baseman dates back to well before his first-hand view of Ard taking star Stanford right-hander Mark Appel deep in Palo Alto earlier this season.

"We've seen a lot of him over the last three years," McNamara said. "We've seen him in the summer in Cape Cod, we've seen him in college, he came to our pre-draft workout … he is a real confident kid."

Perhaps weary of repeating the mistake his predecessor made when bypassing Tim Lincecum in the first round of the 2006 MLB Draft, McNamara said he's mindful of trying to keep local talent close to home. After six rounds of drafting last week, McNamara said he couldn't wait any longer before scooping up Ard.

"He's a local kid. We were ‘hey we don't want to lose track of this guy,'" McNamara said. "We don't want another team to take him. It's tough. It's the toughest part of the job is when you're sitting in that room and you pick high then you don't pick again till the later round and all of a sudden the local guys you've watched all spring start getting taken by other clubs."

"You don't realize until you're in that room how much distance there is between the first three picks and the 25th and 40th pick so."

Ard said Saturday that the work he turned in this past season erased any lingering doubts about making the leap to the professional ranks with one year of college eligibility left. He had been drafted twice before – in the 25th round by Boston last year and in the 33rd by Florida in 2010 – but opted to stay put.

"Playing against the best competition, I feel pitching wise in the country, in the Pac-12 helps you feel comfortable making that transition to pro ball and not really having to feel overwhelmed once you get there," Ard said.

The Prairie High School graduate hit .332 for the Cougars in the just-concluded season. He belted 12 home runs and drove in 50 RBI. He posted a .989 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) and walked more times than he struck out (25 to 24). That's a Sabermetric winner

Ard said he knew the Mariners were interested not long after the Cougars completed their 28-28 season, and envisions himself scaling the ranks until he earns a spot with Seattle in two to three years.

"Being from Washington, being a Mariners fan growing up, it's a big deal," he said. "I'm really excited to start in Everett with their short season, work my way up and hopefully make the big club," Ard said.

The prized pitching prospect in WSU's incoming recruiting class, Mitch Gueller of W.F. West High in Chehalis, told CF.C Sunday that he's agreed to terms with the Phillies on a professional contract that includes a $940,000 signing bonus. Gueller said he "probably" would have come to WSU if he had been drafted in the second round or lower. However, the Phillies selected him in the compensation round between the first and second rounds.

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