M's Have Top Options in June Draft

The M's are in a familiar but forgotten position in the June Draft - near the top. Choosing in the top five for the first time in 10 years, the M's have decisions to make, options to chose from and a chance to land an impact player. Which one is destined for Mariner Blue?

When the month of June rolls around, the M's will have nearly 60 games under their belt, and two months of showing off their new offensive lineup.

Whether the results are a mirror image of 2004 or a promising turnaround toward the future of the franchise, the Mariners will make a selection in the First Year Player's Draft that will take place earlier in the process than the club has chosen since 1995, when Seattle selected outfielder Jose Cruz, Jr.

After making Woodinville High School star Matt Tuiasosopo their top pick a year ago, the M's will have the opportunity to add another potential blue-chip talent to their farm system.

From multi-tooled raw talents such as Justin Upton and Cameron Maybin to the polished college stars in Alex Gordon and Mike Pelfrey, the Emerald City Nine are in a great position.

At least they got something positive from losing 99 games last season.

Justin Upton, SS/OF, 6-2/190- Great Bridge HS, Chesapeake, Va.

At the moment, Justin Upton is clearly the top prospect in the draft. The younger brother of former second overall pick B.J. Upton, Justin has shown more polish and upside than B.J. He is the best prep hitter in the class and showed it by hitting .569-8-23 with 30 stolen bases as a junior. Scouts are divided when it comes to his defense. He may be able to handle shortstop but many feel that he will ultimately become a gold glove caliber center fielder. Upton is a true five-tool player and won't need much time in the minors.

If, for some reason, Upton is still on the board when the M's No. 3 spot is up, they probably wouldn't be able to pass up the best overall talent. Wether he is seen as a shortstop or a center fielder, Upton's athleticism and 30-30 offensive ceiling make him ideal for all 30 clubs. The Mariners do not have road blocks for either position up the middle and fitting a talent like Upton into the system is a no-brainer.

Alex Gordon, 3B, 6-1/210- Nebraska

Like Upton with the prep class, Alex Gordon is clearly the top choice in the college ranks. The lefty rates near the top in both power and overall hitting ability as is shown by his .365-18-75 line as a sophomore last season. He maintained his power to all fields when he switched to a wood bat for Team USA; a good sign for the future. Defensively, he has been able to handle anything hit his way. If he can make the necessary adjustments as he shifts to pro ball, he can be a gold glove contender. Gordon is your prototypical third baseman and could shoot through the minors.

With the signing of Adrian Beltre, the Mariners may be a little lighter on Gordon than they might have been had they not solved the riddle at the hot corner for the next five seasons. Gordon's only possible deficiency, however, could be his staying power as a defensive third baseman. Scouts differ on his ability to move laterally and charge slow rollers. If Gordon's final destination is the outfield or as a first baseman, Seattle becomes more of a real possibility. With his polished game just a year or so from the majors, Gordon isn't likely to be a third baseman in the Seattle system.

Cameron Maybin, OF, 6-3/200- T.C. Roberson HS, Asheville, N.C.

Cameron Maybin is one of the most intriguing players in the draft. A pure athlete, Maybin is still very raw although he has drawn comparisons to Ken Griffey Jr. He hit .536-8-41 during his junior season and was named the MVP at the Connie Mack World Series. A switch hitter, Maybin may have to pick one side of the plate and concentrate solely on that. Maybin has all of the tools to stick in center field and while he may take longer to develop, he has the highest overall ceiling of any player in the draft.

Maybin's power potential is what makes him number one on some boards and the M's might be one of them. If he is available when the M's come up, he too, will be tough to pass up. It's unlikely that he will stick in center field if he continues to bulk up physically but his power translates to any position and he fits nicely in either corner of the outfield. Let's see, Ichiro's contract is up following the 2007 season and Maybin is a talent that could move quickly through the system. Three years for the kid to develop, and the M's have a new right fielder with unlimited offensive abilities. Sounds like a good plan.

Mike Pelfrey, RHP, 6-7/215- Wichita State

At 6-7, Mike Pelfrey does exactly what you would expect from him. His fastball can reach the upper-90s and he can overpower hitters with it. He adds a circle change and a power curve which keeps hitters off balance. Unlike most flamethrowers, Pelfrey also has excellent command of his pitches. The former teammate of the Mariners' 12th round pick in 2004, Steve Uhlmansiek, Pelfrey posted a line of 11-2, 2.18, 115.1 IP/125 SO in his junior season. Pelfrey is clearly the top pitcher in the class and only an injury or high bonus demands should drop him down.

If Upton and Maybin go first and second and the Mariners decide that Gordon isn't a good fit due to positional issues, Pelfrey could be an option. For Pelfrey to make such a jump, he must repeat the success he had as a junior and polish the only weakness he has – consistency with his pitches.

Tyler Greene, SS, 6-2/190- Georgia Tech

A second round pick out of high school by the Braves, Tyler Greene is the total package. He is an outstanding defensive shortstop and a solid hitter. Although he hit just .273-7-52 for Georgia Tech last season, the athletic infielder followed it up with a .296 average in the Cape Cod League, where he was voted the circuit's top prospect. If Greene can continue improving his offensive numbers, the doubts will begin to disappear and his stock could soar.

Unless Greene sprouts 30-homer power overnight, there isn't much chance he jumps up into the top three or four picks, barring a financial eruption with the top group. The Mariners have shortstops in their system with similar or superior physical abilities and will ride those players out until they are convinced they need a new shortstop prospect.

Jeff Clement, C, 6-1/210- Southern California

Jeff Clement has always been known as an offensive catcher as shown by the lefty's .293-10-43 line last year. Some questioned his ability to stay behind the plate long term but he worked hard to quell those doubts and showed improved agility and quickness behind the plate while playing for Team USA. Combine his imrpved defense with the power display he put on with the wood bat and you have yourself a top-flight catcher. He will cement his place near the top of the draft with a repeat of his 2004 season at the plate.

If there was ever a year in which the M's would greatly benefit from having multiple first rounders, it's 2005. Clement would give Seattle a top option behind the dish, one that could be ready for big-league action by 2006. With the third pick in the draft, the Mariners won't be reaching quite that far down.

Luke Hochevar, RHP, 6-4/200- Tennessee

At 6-4, Luke Hochevar is similar to Mike Pelfrey in that they both can touch the upper-90's on the radar gun. Hochevar mixes his fastball with a curveball, slider, and change-up that all rate at average or better. He battled some freak injuries which limited him to nine starts last season but a stellar showing this season could push him ahead of Pelfrey on some teams' draft boards.

Crazier things have happened, and they happened a year ago. When nobody thought Stephen Drew and Jered Weaver would fall past the fifth slot and not a soul saw Chris Nelson and Matt Bush being drafted above the 8-10 spots, all of the above occurred and the rest of the round went haywire. History would have to repeat itself, in some form, for Hochevar to end up as high as No. 3, for the M's to take.

Wade Townsend, RHP, 6-4/227-Rice

After a strange saga which led to his re-entry to the draft, Wade Townsend is back and will likely be a top-10 pick again. Townsend is viewed as a dominating closer down the road but has the ability to stick in the rotation. His fastball has varied between 89 and 95 and his curve has so much break that at times, he has trouble commanding it. His last season in college he posted a line of 12-0, 1.80, 120 IP/148 K and could be putting up similar numbers in the high minors later this year.

Townsend is the wildcard in this year's draft. The eighth overall selection in last year's draft, Townsend could be seen by many as the top pitcher available. The Rice product could catch the eye of the M's if they decide Alex Gordon is not the best value.

Troy Tulowitzki, SS, 6-3/200- Long Beach State

Troy Tulowitzki and Greene are similar players in the field. Both are excellent athletes with good hands a strong arm. Tulowitzki rates lower on the list because even though he hit .317-7-44, he doesn't have the same offensive upside. He has been compared to Bobby Crosby and could become a similar player minus some power.

John Mayberry Jr., 1B/OF- Stanford

The first round draft choice of the Mariners in 2002, John Mayberry Jr. may be the best pure athlete in the college class. He has the potential to be a true five-tool player but he may need extra developmental time. He is raw but has comparable offensive upside to anyone in the class, including Alex Gordon. The right-hander hit .333-16-62 for Stanford last season and if he can show improved polish, could sneak up on the top 5.

Mayberry is unlikely to skyrocket high enough to be an option for Seattle again, and there is always the chance that Mayberry decides to remain in school for his final year of eligibility.

Others to Watch:
Justin Bristow, SS/RHP, 6-3/203- Mills Godwin HS, Richmond, Va.
Stephen Head, 1B/LHP, 6-2/220- Mississippi
Mark McCormick, RHP, 6-2/195- Baylor
Sean O'Sullivan, RHP/OF, 6-2/194- Valhalla HS, El Cajon, Calif.
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, 6-2/212- Virginia

Ian Levin can be reached for comments, questions, rants or raves at IanLevin@InsidethePark.com

Jason A. Churchill contributed to this report

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