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Inside the Draft Room: The Kyle Lewis Story

What the M’s new video tells us about the draft room and the meaning of life.

Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara (right) starred in the Mariners’ Mic’d Up video on the draft room.

Those of you reading this probably know how bad the Mariners’ first-round picks have been in recent years. In fact, the most successful M’s first-rounder from Jack Zduriencik’s tenure, per bWAR, is... Dustin Ackley!

Of course, the team has succeeded in later rounds, with Mariners regulars like Kyle Seager and James Paxton coming after the first round. Not all early picks have been failures, either — Taijuan Walker still looks like a great first-round selection.

The video below, recently released by the Mariners, supplies some more confidence in the team’s methods by giving fans an insight into the draft room - a place that I’ve been in each of the last two years. It’s absolutely worth a watch.

For three weeks or so leading up to the draft, the Mariners turn part of the Ellis Pavilion into an epic draft room, replete with huge screens to show videos of prospects and large white boards full of magnets with prospect names on them. My job the last two years in the draft room, as Intern Extraordinaire, was to remove a player’s name from the board once he was picked.

I think a lot of fans have the impression that the general manager runs the show in the draft room, since at the end of the day he gets credit, for better or for worse, for the results. Yet this video really shows that it’s the scouting director — Tom McNamara — pulling the strings. Now, the GM surely approves a team’s strategy in the draft and gives the OK on top-level picks, especially top 10 selections. But the scouting director has much more input in the lower levels since there are just so many players to scout.

Here, we hear McNamara talking all the time, whether it’s to a scout or a front office exec. It’s McNamara who sits in the middle of the room. It’s McNamara whom the camera focuses on when Kyle Lewis is announced on MLB Network, and it’s McNamara who even phones in that name, as well as all draftee’s name, on the MLB conference call to make each pick.

At the end of the day, it’s his show.

But he does say something illuminating and potentially damaging. Just after the two-minute mark, McNamara says “We’re taking Lewis ... Three million, it’s a done deal.”

Now, teams aren’t supposed to officially negotiate with players before they’re picked, lest the prospects lose their college eligibility and cause the teams some grief along the way. But every team does it in order to stay compliant with baseball’s bonus pool rules that assign slot values to each pick. It just so happened that Lewis signed for slot value, which was just over $3 million.

I doubt this could get the Mariners convicted in a court of law, but it’s interesting that it wasn’t edited out.

The video also shows perhaps my favorite tradition: congratulating the scouting director and the responsible area scout after each pick. The draft is what they’ve been working toward for a year now, and to see their labor come to fruition is a special moment.

Finally, the last thing that came to mind when I saw this is how it symbolizes the gulf between the Jack Z regime and Jerry Dipoto’s methods.

We’ve already seen multiple team-produced videos like this one -- for instance, the Control the Zone video that debuted in December. Fun fact: you can even spot yours truly in this video at the 1:48 mark! I definitely need a haircut.

This latest draft video follows Jerry Dipoto’s Reddit Ask Me Anything from a few weeks ago, where he interacted directly with fans and was fairly open about team strategy and how the front office evaluates players.

This stands in stark contrast to the team from years past, where fun videos and direct interaction was rare (Lookout Landing meet-up’s aside).

It’s entirely possible that much of this is due to the new addition to the Mariners’ digital marketing team, Colin O’Keefe, whom we all know and love dearly. The official M’s account actually said on Reddit that adding him “freed us up to expand into other places.” And, from a fan’s perspective, it’s really great to see how open and interactive the team has been.

So here’s to more of these videos, here’s to the Dipoto regime continuing to be open, and here’s to Kyle Lewis playing in a major league game some day.