Mariners seek impact with top pick
Team will be selecting 20th in First-Year Player Draft
SEATTLE -- Bob Fontaine travels thousands of miles each year and spends more nights in hotels than at his home. But days like Thursday and Friday make it all worthwhile.The Mariners' scouting director takes center stage at Safeco Field the next two days, selecting the players that could become lineup fixtures down the road. His first selection will come around noon PT on Thursday during the Major League's First-Year Player Draft. Thanks to an 88-win season in 2007, the Mariners will select 20th in the first round, the latest they have drafted a player since 2004, when their first pick -- Woodinville High School infielder Matt Tuiasosopo -- came in the third round.
"I think if you do it right, you can get a prime-time player anywhere, but I think certainly at 20, you don't settle for less just because you're at 20," Fontaine said. "You have to still look for impact, and you have to look for somebody you think can make an impact on your big league club."Sporting his trademark bushy mustache, Fontaine sat in the first-base dugout answering media questions about the two-day event. MLB.com will broadcast every pick of the Draft. Coverage on the first day begins at 11 a.m. PT with a simulcast of ESPN2's national broadcast of the first round and compensation picks. The remaining rounds on Day 1 will be shown exclusively on MLB.com with live analysis from Draft headquarters in Orlando, Fla., by MiLB.com Draft expert Jonathan Mayo. Coverage will begin at 11:30 a.m. PT on Friday and continue through the 50th round, if necessary. Fontaine believes this is one of the most unpredictable Drafts in years and there's no way of knowing who could be available when Seattle makes its first selection. "When you draft in the top five, you can get about eight names early and you can hang with them all year," he said. "When you draft 20th, you might start with 35 names. You narrow it down and then, realistically, you should get one guy in your top 16. "I think this is going to be fun, because we think if enough things happen in front of us that we weren't expecting, we can even go farther into this draft with players we didn't think we'd get." Look for the Mariners to select more pitchers during the early rounds, as an organization never has enough good arms. The farm system needs to be replenished, partly because three Minor League pitchers were included in the five players the Mariners sent to the Orioles for left-handed pitcher Erik Bedard. Seattle also is looking for left-handed hitters with power, preferably from the college level. "There is depth at the higher level," Fontaine said. "When you can look at this Draft, you can start getting excited farther into it, at an earlier time. In the past, it was like, 'Uh oh, this has to break and that has to break.' We think [in] this one, there are enough players that we could have three or four rounds where we're in real good shape." The Mariners have done exceedingly well with their most recent first-round choices, which include catcher Jeff Clement (2005), relief pitcher Brandon Morrow ('06) and starting pitcher Phillippe Aumont ('07). Clement and Morrow already have reached the big leagues, though Clement has bounced back and forth more than Morrow, a mainstay in the bullpen for the past two seasons. Aumont, meanwhile, is pitching well at Class A Wisconsin, where he was selected to the Midwest League All-Star team on Tuesday. Several Draft experts, including Fontaine, were surprised that Aumont lasted until the 11th overall selection. "I still think he will go in the top three last year," Fontaine said, laughing. "If it was today, I'd tell you the same thing."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.