M's Draft Philosophy: From 3rd to 30th

Later this morning, the Seattle Mariners will make the third selection in the 2005 First Year Player's Draft – the highest the club has chosen since drafting Jose Cruz, Jr in 1995.

As the Mariners rebuild a franchise that was once known as a league-wide model for consistent winning and good business practices, the lack of recognition by the front office to retool the roster after the 2002 season set the team back beyond 2005.

This isn't the NFL, but the way to continue a youth movement in Major League Baseball is through the channels of the amateur baseball player. And like their football counterparts, baseball teams can't continuously miss on draft picks and expect to stay competitive, year-in and year-out.

After "missing" on 2002 first round pick John Mayberry, Jr., who opted for college to play at Stanford, and perhaps reaching for 2001 first round pick Michael Garciaparra, the Mariners head into the 2005 draft with a different goal – Don't miss.

"When ya pick this high, you've got to be right," said Mariners Assistant V.P. of Scouting Jim Fitzgerald. "We want to be right on all of them, but there is a bit more emphasis on getting this one. We want to nail the pick."

Drafting third overall means your team wasn't very good the previous year, and the Mariners are more than aware that rebuilding the team can be greatly aided by a strong draft. But picking third isn't something they want to see happen.

"We're excited to be picking third," said Fitzgerald. "But in another light, we'd rather be picking 30th. That's always our main goal, that is everyone's goal here, to win the whole thing and always pick 30th."

The M's V.P. of Scouting is Bob Fontaine, formerly of the Anaheim Angels and a big reason why the Halos won the 2002 World Series, thanks in part to the scouting department put together by Fontaine, and former Angels GM Bill Bavasi. It's Fontaine's job to coordinate the final decision on who will be the newest Seattle Mariner.

Fontaine has a track record of leaning toward the high-reward players in the draft over the "safe" picks but rarely flinches at high school players. When asked what the team philosophy is for this or any draft, Fitzgerald, Fontaine's right-hand man, responded with an unsurprising answer.

"Our philosophy is that we have no philosophy," said Fitzgerald.

No, the Mariners don't have a scheme to phase out the possibility of drafting a high school player due to the higher risk they may present.

"We don't eliminate a large part of the draft," said Fitzgerald. "If a high school player is our guy then that's the way it is."

No, the Mariners do not fear the money a player may demand, but will they sprint from the agent of darkness, Scott Boras?

"No. A player's agent will play no role in which guys we look at."

Unlike the NFL and the NBA, most major league clubs do not draft for team need, instead taking the best player available when their turn comes.

The M's are no different.

"The needs of the big-league club really don't play into it," said Fitzgerald. "We talk about a player and we ask ourselves, ‘will this guy be playing at Safeco Field in five years?'"

The Mariners will undoubtedly take the player they have graded highest on their draft board, but they haven't come to any conclusions on that of yet – using as much time as possible to come up with the right choice.

"We don't know yet," said Fitzgerald. "Not yet. Too many things can happen in the next several hours. Arizona and Kansas City can call and let us know who they will be taking and that would help clear things up for us, but we'll know at about 10:05 tomorrow morning, because that's when we have to know."

So if the Mariners are not afraid of Scott Boras, not scared away by the idea of high school player and will draft the best player available, then what is the most important aspect of deciding between a player such as Cameron Maybin, the five-tool prep star with great raw power, speed and plus physical skills, and Troy Tulowitzki, a polished shortstop with a plus bat, who may be ready for the majors three years before any high school kid might be?

"What's huge is signability," said Fitzgerald. "Getting a good idea if he will sign is huge. Our scouts have to build a good relationship with the people in the player's camp and get a good feeling about it one way or the other."

The M's began brainstorming four weeks ago in Peoria and are now down to the final minutes before the process does it's job. After countless hours of watching video, grouping players, talking to their scouts in all three regions, and re-discussing players with national crosscheckers, eleven men will saddle the leather chairs at the Mariners offices and come to one final decision.

Will it be Long Beach State shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, North Carolina prep star Cameron Maybin, Wichitah State right-hander Mike Pelfrey or USC catcher Jeff Clement?

Or will one of the top two players in the draft fall to third pick and give Seattle an option they probably didn't plan on?

"We're prepared for anything," Fitzgerald said of the possibility that Arizona or Kansas City throws a wrench into the draft. "But we have a pretty good idea of who is going to be there (at No.3).

"We have it narrowed down to a small group and we'll go from there."

Fitzgerald wouldn't reveal the final few for the public knowledge but did give a hint as to who they may not be drafting.

"We want to nail all our picks," said Fitzgerald. "With the third pick, this is not going to be a project."

For the Mariners, nailing the third overall pick in this year's draft is just one step toward accomplishing the main objective of the Mariners unoffical draft philosophy – "From Third to 30th."

Stay tuned.

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