The 2014 MLB draft is scheduled to get underway at 7:00 pm EST this evening. For the third straight year, the Houston Astros hold the top selection spot and will likely draft a pitcher. For the third time in the last four years, their AL West rival, the Seattle Mariners, hold a top ten pick. The Mariners will be on the clock in the sixth slot and should be consulting their scouts more heavily for a position player in this year’s first round, as opposed to a pitcher.
Seattle has depth at pitching. In April, four of their top five prospects were considered pitchers. Taijuan Walker, currently ranked the Mariners No. 1 prospect by MLB.com, was chosen 43rd overall in the 2010 draft. He has had mixed results in his minor league rehab starts so far in 2014, but the important thing is he says he feels healthy. Walker should get called up sometime this month presumably.
SP James Paxton is ranked the No. 3 prospect for the Mariners by MLB.com, and fans in the Pacific Northwest know the story with him. He was great for two starts in early April, and then a lat injury and multiple setbacks have left the club wondering if he will have any meaningful impact for the Mariners again in 2014.
LHP Danny Hultzen (2nd overall, 2011) is recovering from shoulder surgery and will miss the entirety of 2014. RHP Edwin Diaz, LHP Luiz Gohara and RHP Victor Sanchez round out the top six prospects presently in the Mariners organization, with the exception of 3B D.J. Peterson, who is ranked No. 2 in the Mariners system.
Peterson was chosen 12th overall by the club in last year’s draft and appears to be advancing quickly. Now 22, he played two seasons for the University of New Mexico before hitting .293 with seven HRs and 20 RBIs last year in low Class-A for the Clinton LumberKings. Across 214 ABs so far in 2014 for high Class-A Desert Mavericks, Peterson carries a fairly robust .308/.361/.547 slash line, with 11 HRs and 55 RBIs. He might get a chance to swing the bat in Double-A later this summer and is projected to be in The Show by 2016.
All that said, there is an abundance of top ranked pitching prospects in this year’s draft for a team like the Mariners to get distracted over. The safe pick for Seattle would be to select Alex Jackson if he is available. Jackson is a catcher with the athleticism and arm to play the outfield if need be. He will already be calling the Pacific Northwest home for at least two years, as the high school product from San Diego, Ca. committed to study and play ball at the University of Oregon.
Jackson’s standout tool is the pop in his right-handed bat. Scouts like his power but also believe he has the ability to hit .280 on a major league roster if he can shorten up his swing. The 18-year-old stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 215-pounds, so his physique is mature and already seems ready for the rigors of a 162 game MLB campaign.
Catcher Greg Zunino is the Mariners’ 3rd overall pick from the 2012 draft out of the University of Florida, and he has already reached the pros. It’s difficult to speculate but feasible to think that Cano (signed through 2023) will still be producing for the Mariners by the time Peterson’s bat reaches the big leagues. Combined with the continued development of Zunino (FA 2020), Jackson could complement all three of the aforementioned players as a right fielder or designated hitter in the lineup.
Another bat in the Mariners’ system that is noteworthy of some attention belongs to 20-year-old outfielder Gabriel Guerrero. He is the nephew of nine-time All-Star Vladimir Guerrero. Gabriel is currently playing with Peterson for the Mavericks and is hitting .324 with 44 runs, 7 HRs, 42 RBIs and 10 steals through 58 games.
The state of the Mariners’ future pitching looks stable, with a number of current contributors still under the age of 30. Felix Hernandez, 28, is signed through 2019. Paxton and Walker are also under club control for the foreseeable future. Now is the time for the Mariners to draft and develop some more position players in their system, starting by selecting Alex Jackson sixth overall in the 2014 MLB Draft.