Friday May 31, 2019

The Sad History of the Mariners First-Round Draft Picks This Century

Read ‘em and weep. 

In honor of MLB draft day next Monday, a bit of trivia. This century, 28 of the 30 Major League teams have managed to draft a player in the first round who has gone on to become an All-Star at some point in their career—either for that team or another team.

Any guesses as to the two teams that haven’t done this? Yes, Mariners fans, one of them is our Seattle Mariners. The other is the San Diego Padres. No wonder we’re natural rivals.

The blame on our end can begin with Hall-of-Fame GM Pat Gillick, who, during his tenure, kept giving up first-round picks as compensation for signing high-quality free agents like John Olerud, Jeff Nelson and, OK, Greg Colbrunn. Indeed, in four of the first five years of the century, the Ms didn’t have a first-round pick. And the one year we did, we went with John Mayberry Jr. ... who didn’t sign with us.

That’s the first part of the M's story of first-round failure. The second part is more heart-wrenching, since there’s no compensation in the form of a John Olerud. It’s just a tale of incompetence.

First, you’ve got to admire the talent in the 2005 draft. All but one of the top seven picks became All-Stars—including Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun and Troy Tulowitzki. The one pick who didn’t become an All-Star was, of course, ours: Jeff Clement, who went third overall. He retired in 2012 with a career .218/.277/.371 slash line and negative WAR.

Was 2006 worse? With the fifth overall pick, we went with Brandon Morrow, who, yes, is having a resurgent career in his 30s in the NL. Since 2015, he’s appeared in 103 games, tossed 123 innings, and has a 2.04 ERA with a 112-28 strikeout-walk ratio. He’s now the Cubs closer with 22 saves this season. He might even become an All-Star and relieve us of this ignominy. So how is this pick worse? Because of who was chosen immediately after him, meaning who the M's passed on: Clayton Kershaw (7th), Tim Lincecum (10th) and Max Scherzer (11th).

And the hits kept coming. In 2007, we chose Phillippe Aumont. In 2010, we traded him and in 2015 he retired with negative WAR. In 2008, we grabbed Josh Fields. In 2011, we traded him and from 2017-18 he pitched well for the Dodgers; after being cut by two teams this spring he’s currently with the Rangers triple-A club.

With the second overall pick in 2009, we went with Dustin Ackley. Twenty-three picks later, the Angels nabbed a guy named Mike Trout. Etc.

The third part of the story, what’s happened this decade, is a work in progress, since it takes a while to develop talent, then it takes a while for that talent to be recognized. But some teams have already managed to do this. Here's a comparison between the Houston Astros' first-round picks this decade and ours. All-Stars are highlighted—as if they needed to be:

2010 D. DeShields Jr. 4.4 n/a * 0
2011 George Springer 21.1 Danny Hultzen 0
2012 Carlos Correa 20 Mike Zunino 7.8
2013 Mark Appel 0 D.J. Peterson 0
2014 Brady Aiken 0 Alex Jackson -0.3
2015 Alex Bregman 15.3 n/a ** 0
TOTAL   60.8   7.5

* Lost first-round pick for signing Chone Figgins ***
** Lost first-round pick for signing Nelson Cruz
*** You heard me: Chone Figgins

None of our picks are in the Mariners organizaiton anymore, while Springer, Correa and Bregman are the heart of the World Champion Houston Astros. By ESPN’s recent rankings, they are the 37th, 27th, and sixth best players in baseball.

So which team has picked the most first-round All-Stars this century? That would be the Kansas City Royals, with six, including Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, all of whom helped that benighted franchise to a pennant in 2014 and a World Series title in 2015. Next up is the San Francisco Giants with five, including Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner, all of whom helped that franchise, which hadn't won a World Series since The “Say Hey” Kid was running down fly balls in the Polo Grounds, win three titles in five years.

My tabulation of first-round All-Stars, by the way, doesn’t include supplemental first-rounders—the guys beyond the first 30. If it did, yes, hallelujah, the Mariners would have picked an All-Star. Ready? Adam Jones in 2003. Who of course never played for us.

One hopes we’re doing better with Jerry DiPoto—rather than Bill Bavasi or Jack Zduriencik—as GM. Wasn’t he, after all, with the Angels when they drafted Mike Trout in 2009? Actually, no. He didn’t join that club until fall 2011, and, under his tenure, the team lost its first-round picks in both 2012 and 2013 by signing, respectively, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Then they went with Sean Newcomb in 2014 (3.7 WAR after 2+ years with the Braves) and Taylor Ward in 2015 (negative WAR after limited action with the Angels). Then DiPoto got the boot, and in September 2015 we got him. He's now in the process of rebuilding our team.

How have his first-rounders done so far? It’s early:

  • 2016: OF Kyle Lewis is with AA Arkansas, where he’s hitting .211/.316/.325
  • 2017: 1B Evan White is with AA Arkansas, where he’s hitting .234/.323/.324
  • 2018: RHP Logan Gilbert was the opening day starter for West Virginia Power before being promoted to A+ Modest Nuts, where he’s 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA

For those interested, here are this century's first-round All-Stars and the teams that chose them:

Royals 6 Zack Greinke, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Aaron Crow
Astros 5 Jason Castro, Mike Foltynewicz, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman
D-Backs 5 Carlos Quentin, Justin Upton, Max Scherzer, A.J. Pollock, Trevor Bauer
Giants 5 Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, Joe Panik
Brewers 4 Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Ryan Braun, Jeremy Jeffress
Nationals 4 Chad Cordero, Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper
Reds 4 Jay Bruce, Devin Mesoraco, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal
Angels 3 Joe Saunders, Jered Weaver, Mike Trout
Athletics 3 Nick Swisher, Sonny Gray, Addison Russell
Cubs 3 Mark Prior, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant
Dodgers 3 Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager
Marlins 3 Adrian Gonzalez, Christian Yelich, Jose Fernandez
Mets 3 Scott Kazmir, Matt Harvey, Michael Conforto
Orioles 3 Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, Manny Machado
Phillies 3 Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Aaron Nola
Pirates 3 Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Gerrit Cole
Blue Jays 2 Aaron Hill, Ricky Romero
Braves 2 Adam Wainwright, Jason Heyward
Cards 2 Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha
Indians 2 Drew Pomeranz, Francisco Lindor
Rangers 2 Mark Teixeira, Justin Smoak
Rays 2 Evan Longoria, David Price
Tigers 2 Justin Verlander, Andrew Miller
Twins 2 Joe Mauer, Glen Perkins, 
Red Sox 1 Jacoby Ellsbury
Rockies 1 Troy Tulowitzki
White Sox 1 Chris Sale
Yankees 1 Phil Hughes
Mariners 0  
Padres 0  

Monday, the Mariners get the 20th overall pick. In 2020, it’ll be much, much higher.

Posted at 07:41 AM on Friday May 31, 2019 in category Seattle Mariners  
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Twitter: @ErikLundegaard