As I've said before, leading up to the draft, I had three different posts I had been spending my evenings writing up with the expectations that one of the three top hitters was going to end up with the Mariners. On draft day, Dave and I both had Anthony Rendon posts queued up in the USSM servers, which both promptly went to the trash. But for those weird and alternate timelines, I still have analysis, which I was just sitting on until some people expressed interest.
A few things would probably be appropriate to point out before I dump a bunch of text in here. One is that I don't intend for this to be the kind of agonizing that would be typical for "Oh man, we should have picked that guy!" The draft is less than a month old, players haven't signed, hindsight seems stupid at this moment. These are more for entertainment than anything else at the moment.
The second is that these are close to, but not entirely complete and were never meant to be read side-by-side. I had intended to do a little more video analysis on draft day, but I had to switch gears entirely as everyone now knows. What's funny about this is that all the picks went the rationalization wringer of "this pick makes sense in the McNamara/Zduriencik scheme because of x", which is silly because all the picks could seemingly go through the same scrutiny and come out golden, and because, as I later pointed out at USSM, our preconceived notions of what McNamara likes to do with the draft are probably a lot of hooey.
Third is that I still don't know who I would have picked #2, and haven't voted on the front page. It got to the point where I was satisfied with any of the possible hitter picks, maybe liking Rendon a little better but seeing Lindor from a standpoint of pure practicality, and I've come to terms with Hultzen and now have no problem with him being the guy. Honestly, if not for the risk involved with high school pitchers, I really thought Bundy was neat.
Anthony Rendon is Our New #1 Prospect
I can't say I entirely believed that this was going to happen, but the Pirates were linked strongly with pitching in the past few months. PNC plays as a slight pitcher's park and Pittsburgh seems to believe that the way to contention is for them to build an incredible rotation and worry about the lineup later. It's a risky maneuver, but there have been teams that have some success with it (Padres, Mariners please). Their shift in priorities (and Rendon's injuries, likely) mean our gain.
I've spent a lot of the past few years splitting hairs when talking about our third base prospects. It's something that's easier to do when the group by and large isn't especially good. Things like Liddi's defensive stiffness becomes meaningful relative to Tenbrink's inconsistency, or perhaps you get to talking about strikeout differences when Liddi, Tenbrink, Catricala, and Mario Martinez all K'd upwards of a hundred times last year and Morla would have given the opportunity. It's kind of fun because when all the options seem more or less equal, you can look at each intensely for any signs of a developing advantage and try to predict who might end up winning the horse race. Or snail race. Or fruit race. Really, any race will do.
Rendon doesn't allow for that kind of discussion. Batting eye, swing mechanics, useable power, range, arm strength, all these discussions are going to start with Rendon and stall there until whoever initiated them decides that maybe it's a good time to go back to examining things on a granular level, just for conversation's sake. Longoria and Zimmerman comps have been thrown out there with some regularity, though I think that with Rendon's size, build, and plate discipline, David Wright may be a better comp, and David Wright is a very fine player.
The major concern for a lot of people would probably be the fact that he's been injured lately and you don't want to be spending a pick on a guy that seems busted. I'm not really in that camp because both of the ankle injuries were freak things that went down, and the shoulder issue was reportedly a strain of a muscle near the rotator cuff. That it wasn't in any way involved with the labrum is more than a relief, but the fact that the cuff itself seems to be undamaged and the issue appears to be purely muscular means that it's something that will likely get fixed on its own in time or would require minimal work. I don't anticipate Rendon signing too far before the deadline, so we could realistically be looking at another scenario like Ackley where the debut is pushed to the Arizona Fall League. By then, Rendon should have had enough time off to be okay, but even if they did sit him until spring training, the fact that he's not learning a new position means that he could be ready by the middle of next year, if it came to it.
And there you have it. Anthony Rendon: probably our number one prospect. Commence rosterbating over a possible Rendon/Franklin/Ackley/Smoak infield in 3-2-1…
Bubba Starling is Our New #1 Prospect
Well, this is a thing! Of all the outcomes I'd considered, this fell among the least likely, but then again, I had been reading various reports from the past few months where Starling mentioned talking to Mariners scouts. Usually that doesn't happen. Usually there's a guy with blowdarts in the stands to make sure that doesn't happen. But when you pick second overall, you can afford to be less clandestine about things. I don't think the Pirates would draft our guy simply to screw us over, though it seems as though we should be natural rivals.
The physical talents of Bubba Starling are well known. He runs fast, he can hit the ball a really long distance, he has an arm honed by years of playing quarterback. They bat from different sides of the plate, but as far as ceiling goes, the Josh Hamilton comps seem close to valid. The sticky wicket is that he does have the commitment to Nebraska, and as others have mentioned, a good Cornhuskers quarterback is practically a local deity. Regardless of whether or not the NFL exists when he gets out, he'd still be a two-way player, so he could essentially both have cake and eat cake.
Of course, this is the current administration we're talking about. On a lot of scouting matters, it was easier to question the people involved for the conclusions they made and the decisions they led to. As far as the draft goes, I don't have any huge complaints with them so far. In order for the Mariners to feel confident enough to draft Starling, they needed to believe not only that he'd sign but that he'd also be able to transition to baseball without too many issues. Zduriencik hasn't been shy about his love for Starling, so I think that we're probably in pretty good shape here given Z's draft record.
Another consideration, however important, is that the Mariners don't really have any good center field prospect anyway, unless you're convinced that Ackley is not a second baseman and will inevitably end up there. We have corner outfielders more than we have third basemen. Chavez, Halman, Peguero, Shaffer, Pimentel, Blash, Morban, Castillo, Palma, but none of those guys would really project to be a true centerfielder. Starling could give us the defense needed to hold the position down, and hit thirty dingers at the same time. The ability to build around him makes certain things a lot easier. Plus he's totally better than Mike Trout, guys.
Francisco Lindor is Our New #1 Prospect
This has been a strange trip.
We started hearing Lindor linked to the M's last year, but as the M's were in the midst of a scramble for a really high pick at the time, and Lindor was projected to go somewhere around twenty, we didn't think much of it. Spring had us paying attention to who would come out on top in the tussle between Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon, and while Francisco Lindor was improving his offensive stock, enough to get some rumors of top five or even number one selection, again, not much press was spent on it. It didn't help that Lindor's high school season ended pretty early, which has left him working out on his own doing whatever he does. People tend to forget about the players they aren't looking at most recently.
But then sometime last week, Lindor started gaining momentum again. He worked out at Safeco, somewhat standard practice for prep players, put on a show, spent some time talking to important people, and went on his way. Suddenly, McNamara's number one on the board didn't really seem so improbable. A few days later, he's popped second overall.
People are going to have a lot of different reactions to this. I know right off the bat that this will be loved by some and hated by everyone who has been saying for years now that we need a power bat. In the best case scenario, this is likely to cause an interesting ripple effect throughout the system. Everyone loves the glove on Lindor, so it's hard to see him as anything other than the likely shortstop of the future. That means Nick Franklin moves over to the other side of the second base bag and Ackley goes to the outfield, left or center depending on Guti's long-term health. This puts the team overall in a better position defensively because Ackley and Franklin were not without their issues, and run prevention is a big part of our game anyway.
For the offense, the big bat crowd will continue to throw a hissy fit, not really realizing how good a position it puts us in. Shortstop is not so much an offensive position anymore, at least not like it was ten years ago. Lindor seems to be a guy that could end up with home runs in the teens, and that's really not bad at all from the position. The twenty-two qualifying shortstops from last season over at FanGraphs averaged eleven home runs for the season. Lindor probably will never be a Tulo-like contributor, but he could be one of the better contributors on the board. Since Franklin and Ackley would be filling positions elsewhere, and likely providing good production for those spots, that means that our resources in free agency could be directed primarily to getting that bat at another position. Lindor would only seem unimpressive if we were relying on him to provide our power, but as a complementary piece on that front, he's pretty amazing.
When comes right down to it, this probably isn't the pick that I really wanted, but I'm fine with it. It doesn't take a real genius to draft a player at a position of need. That's how we ended up with Jeff Clement at #3 instead of Troy Tulowitzki, because hey, we already had YuBet. However, it takes a good amount of confidence to draft a player at a position that's not a huge need and stick with it. I'm way more confident with the current scouting department's level of research than I was with the previous couple of groups, so I'm willing to give them credit for likely knowing something not yet apparent to us. After exhaustively looking at all of the available candidates, they decided Lindor was their man. That's good enough for me.