While the Seattle Mariners haven’t been putting out the results on the field this season, the recently completed amateur baseball draft once again gives some hope that young prospects can turn it around in the future. The jewel of the class is infielder D.J. Peterson, the Mariners’ first-round choice and the 12th overall pick out of the University of New Mexico.
Although many first-round picks have played in Tacoma, only a few are still with the organization at any level. They include infielder Dustin Ackley (2009), pitcher Taijuan Walker (2010), pitcher Danny Hultzen, the second overall pick in the 2011 draft, catcher Mike Zunino (2012) and Peterson (2013.) Peterson was one of the few picks who was signed soon after being drafted.
Ackley was back in Tacoma recently to work on learning a second position, in the outfield. He returned to Seattle on June 26, but injured a thumb while diving for a ball in the outfield a couple of days later and is currently day-to-day. Hultzen spent two months in Arizona this spring rehabbing a strained left rotator cuff. He returned to Tacoma one June 25 and started the game on June 27 when he pitched six scoreless innings for a 2-0 win over Las Vegas.
Zunino began the season with Tacoma. After 47 games here he was promoted to Seattle on June 11 and got his first start on June 12. In his first eight games with the Mariners he has hit one home run, and thrown out 25 percent of would-be base stealers.
Tom McNamara, Mariners’ Director of Amateur Scouting, says Zunino is “a tough kid who comes from a good baseball family,” adding he is “a dependable, sturdy receiver with an accurate Major League arm and strong leadership qualities. Like (Kyle) Seager he will scuffle in the beginning but he has the strength, aptitude, eye-hand coordination and mental toughness to figure it out.” As far as his offense goes, McNamara says Zunino has extra-base strength in his swing.
Walker began the season in Double-A. He just got promoted to Triple-A on June 22. His first start with the Rainiers was June 25 when he earned a 1-0 win over Fresno. Pitching six innings, he gave up four hits while walking two. He also won his second start July 1, working five innings in a 4-1 win over the Colorado Springs Sky Sox and striking out eight, walking two, and giving up two hits but no runs.
Peterson can play either first or third base. He started his professional career with the Everett AquaSox on June 19, and hit his first home run on Saturday, June 22, accounting for all the runs in Everett’s 3-1 win over Hillsboro. On Sunday, June 23, he outdid that by hitting his second home run, a grand slam, which figured prominently in Everett’s 6-5 comeback win over Hillsboro. The eventual walk-off run was driven in by Kyle Seager’s younger brother Justin, also part of this year’s draft class. Peterson has been solid so far with the AquaSox, hitting three homers and driving in 16 runs in his first 12 games as of July 2.
McNamara said that Peterson’s bat is his best tool, adding he is “one of the top college bats in this year’s draft. We always liked his short-to-the-ball explosive swing. We are excited to have a player with his talent and character in the Seattle organization.”
Preparing for each year’s draft begins long before the three-day event in early June. Scouting reports come in for months, even years, from all over the country. Players are evaluated for their skills or tools, as well as how they would fit into the system. Of course the player the Mariners figure to pick first could be gone by the time their turn comes. Then it’s back to plan B or maybe C.
As soon as the draft is over, the signing process begins. Signing bonuses are involved. If players (and their agents and lawyers) do not feel the initial offers are what the players deserve, this process can go on for many weeks. The signing deadline now is in mid-July. Sometimes the two sides cannot come to terms; then the player can choose not to sign, return to school, and go back into the draft the following year. So far this year the Mariners have signed all but eight of their 40 picks.
After he was drafted, Ackley did not sign with the Mariners until 15 minutes before the deadline on August 17, 2009, so his only professional playing time that year was in the Arizona Fall League. However, he said that because his college season with the University of North Carolina was extended by playing in the College World Series, it was good to get some time off before he began his professional career.
Ackley played 52 games in Tacoma at the end of 2010 and started the 2011 season here. He was called up to the Mariners on June 16, 2011, just a little over two years from the date he was drafted.
He was in the Mariners’ starting lineup on June 17, his first Major League game. Playing second base and batting sixth, he got a single in his first at-bat. During the three-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies, he also hit his first Major League homerun and triple.
Walker was drafted out of Yucaipa High School in Southern California. He pitched at the rookie level in Peoria, AZ, in 2010, and began this year playing for single A Clinton, Iowa. In 14 games there he had a record of 4-4 and an ERA of 2.84.
Draft picks are signed for seven years with the organization, but can be traded before that period is up. Hopefully Zunino, Peterson, Walker and the other recent draft picks are players who won’t be seen succeeding in other teams’ uniforms for many years to come.