Seattle Mariners: The Biggest Draft Busts in M's History
It's been a long month of May for the Seattle Mariners.
Just when it appeared the M's had finally turned the corner earlier this month by nearly sweeping the Yankees during a three-game series in New York and nearly reaching .500 with a record of 20-21, the wheels fell off.
It all started innocently enough in Cleveland with a few tough losses to the Indians. But it continued to spiral downwards with a dreadful two-game set in Los Angeles followed by two more losses at home against Texas before the M's finally gutted out a win in 13 innings against the Rangers on Sunday.
Still with eight straight losses, the damage has been done. The Mariners are now in fourth place and seven games under .500 as we approach the month of June.
Making matters worse is the fact that the M's on Monday demoted 2009 first-round pick Dustin Ackley (Associated Press via seattlepi.com), drafted No. 2 overall, to Triple-A Tacoma on Monday and replaced him with another '09 first-round pick, Nick Franklin.
Perhaps it's too soon to consider this season lost, but I'd be lying if told you I wasn't already looking forward to seeing whom the M's will draft next week when the MLB draft gets underway.
This year with the No. 12 pick I'd imagine the team will look for a polished hitter, but it's hard to say in what direction general manager Jack Zduriencik will go. The M's have so many needs, both long-term and short-term.
For fans, at this point we can only hope that the team finds another Ken Griffey Jr. or Alex Rodriguez, but in the same breath I'd imagine most of us would simply settle for a solid everyday player along the lines of a Dave Henderson or Tino Martinez.
Unfortunately, odds are the M's are just as likely to end up with a total bust with their first pick.
Players that came with high hopes that would have, could have and perhaps should have made a positive impact with the Mariners, but for a whole host of reasons simply didn't.
So with the MLB draft just around the corner, I figured it might be worthwhile to take a trip down memory lane to review the Mariners' five biggest draft busts in team history.
Where to begin?
Before we start with our top five busts, I figured it might be worthwhile to go over a few honorable mentions that largely fall under two categories.
First, there are the players that got away, who either refused to sign with the M’s or were traded away before reaching the majors.
In 1989 and 2002, both pitcher Scott Burrell at No. 26 and first baseman John Mayberry Jr. at No. 28 refused to sign with Seattle.
For the multi-talented Burrell, the Mariners' desire to have him skip college proved problematic enough for him to pass up on their offer.
Of course things turned out okay for him. He decided to play basketball at UConn under Jim Calhoun, became the first athlete to be a first-round pick in two major professional sports after the Charlotte Hornets drafted him in 1993 with the No. 20 pick and even won an NBA championship with the Chicago Bulls in 1998.
As for John Mayberry Jr., after opting to attend Stanford instead of signing with the M's in 2002, his professional career has mostly been a disappointment while playing as a reserve outfielder with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Could either have had better luck with the Mariners?
Hard to say, but one particular player I like to think may have been the M's starting catcher for the better part of a decade was instead traded away in one of the most lopsided deals in major league history.
For most Mariner fans, the mere mention of the name Heathcliff Slocumb brings chills down their spines.
In fairness to Slocumb, it's not entirely his fault, so much as the fact that Jason Varitek, the No. 14 pick in 1994 along with pitcher Derek Lowe, would eventually help serve as significant contributors to the Red Sox following their trade to Boston in 1997.
While Lowe turned out to be a solid major league starter, 'Tek turned out to be one of the best all-around catchers in baseball for more than a decade with the Sox. They won two World Series with him behind the plate.
Would he have matched that kind of success in Seattle?
Perhaps, but at the very least the M's may have avoided drafting two other players on this list if he did.
Roger Salkeld, 1989, No. 3 Pick
After drafting Ken Griffey Jr. and Tino Martinez with the team's first-round picks over two consecutive years in 1987 and 1988, the M's had hoped they would luck out again with high school pitcher Roger Salkeld with the No. 3 pick in 1989.
Things early on looked good as Salkeld made his way through the minors, but injuries soon began to plague him. By the time he reached Seattle, he wasn't as effective.
Salkeld's stat line amounted to a career record of 10-10 with a 5.61 ERA and 141 strikeouts over 45 games in the majors split across three seasons.
Making matters worse is not so much the fact that fellow first-round pick Scott Burrell didn't sign with the M's, but more that future All-Stars Frank Thomas, Charles Johnson, Mo Vaughn and Chuck Knoblauch were all drafted between Salkeld at No. 3 and Burrell at No. 26 in '89.
Let's also remember the fact that the M's continued to burn first-round picks on the likes of outfielder Marc Newfield and pitchers Aaron Estes and Ron Villone over the three years that followed before getting Alex Rodriguez with the No. 1 pick in 1993.
Ryan Anderson, 1997, No. 19 Pick
Following the Mariners' selections of Jason Varitek in 1994, Jose Cruz Jr. in 1995 and Gil Meche in 1996, you could argue that the team has had a fairly poor track record with its first-round picks ever since.
Beyond the fact that Varitek and Cruz both found success elsewhere and Meche, while decent, was often injured, I wouldn't go so far as calling any of them busts.
In 1997, with the No. 19 pick, the Mariners drafted 6'10" left-handed pitcher Ryan Anderson, better known as the "Little Unit" after having drawn comparisons to ace "Big Unit" Randy Johnson.
Coming out of high school, Anderson looked like the real deal. While working through the M's farm system, he was time and again ranked the team's best prospect by Baseball America.
Perhaps that's what makes Anderson's story so vexing, especially when you read Baseball America's write-up on him dating back to 2002:
The Mariners aren’t going to take any chances with Anderson. He’ll report early to spring training. He won’t be in the running for a rotation spot and may open the year in Double-A San Antonio, where the climate is warmer than in Triple-A Tacoma. He’ll be kept on tight pitch counts wherever he goes. His future is still bright, though he won’t have much if any major league impact before 2003.
The fact is, he never made any major league impact before, during or after 2003.
All of the hype mixed with injuries, not to mention a lack of maturity, makes Anderson perhaps one of the biggest busts in team history.
Ryan Christianson, 1999, No. 11 Pick
Two years after drafting Ryan Anderson, the Mariners drafted another high school player, catcher Ryan Christianson.
Christianson, like Anderson, got off to a promising start with the organization, but he too over time suffered several injuries and never made it to the majors.
Particularly frustrating with Christianson is the fact that he ended up getting suspended for testing positive for a banned substance, as recorded by the Seattle Times back in April of 2005:
"I was very surprised, because I didn't know I was taking anything on the ban list," he said last night. "This is a big shock. I didn't want to be one of the guys to be looked down upon."
Christianson said he had been taking over-the-counter supplements that he believed included creatine, glutomine, glucosamine and some proteins. He said he had taken them for about a month before spring training and continued to take them during training to make himself stronger and to recover more quickly after workouts. He said he was tested several weeks ago.
Christianson said he never checked the list of banned drugs. "It's my mistake for not knowing what's on the ban list," he said.
Christianson said he supports the drug policy and is leery of taking any supplements now. "You won't even see me eat a PowerBar."
He didn't argue with his suspension. "The rules are the rules and I didn't follow them."
From that point forward, things only got worse for Christianson. Later that spring, the M's decided to use the No. 3 pick to draft another catcher.
Jeff Clement, 2005, No. 3 Pick
In 2005, with Dan Wilson inching towards retirement, Ryan Christianson getting suspended and Jason Varitek being named captain of the Boston Red Sox, the Mariners decided to once again roll the dice on a catcher with their first-round pick.
With the No. 3 pick, Jeff Clement out of the University of Southern California was supposed to be the real deal as the kind of power-hitting catcher that every team dreams of having.
Of course it would only figure that Clement, upon arriving in Seattle, fell well short of expectations after performing well at Triple-A Tacoma.
In fact, Clement fell so far short at the major league level that the team tried to convert him to a 1B/DH down in the minors before the team gave up and traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates in July 2009.
The parallels between Clement and current M's prospect Jesus Montero are almost eerie, so much so that at this point one can only hope that last year's No. 3 pick Mike Zunino can break through and finally solve the team's jinx at catcher.
Oh and one last point, take a look at the rest of the 2005 first round (ESPN).
Tell me which one of those players could have been of greater help to the Mariners the better part of the past decade instead of Clement.
The list reads like an All-Star team with the likes of Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitski, Andrew McCutchen, Jay Bruce and Jacoby Ellsbury, to name a few.
Perhaps we should be thankful that Bill Bavasi didn't draft John Mayberry Jr. again?
Al Chambers, 1979, No. 1 Pick
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There have been four times the Seattle Mariners had the No. 1 pick in their history, and two of the four times the team hit the jackpot.
In 1987 with Ken Griffey Jr. and in 1993 with Alex Rodriguez, the M's found two potential Hall of Fame players.
But in 1979, the M's whiffed with their very first No. 1 selection overall.
In 57 games spread across three seasons (ESPN) in the major leagues, outfielder Al Chambers hit .208 with two home runs and 11 RBI.
That was it for Chambers, 120 at-bats with no freak incidents or accidents.
Of course scouting isn't a science, but it's hard to believe that the team's scouting department at the time could be so far off when you had any choice of player in the country.
At the same time, if you look at the entire '79 first round (ESPN), you begin to realize that the M's were likely doomed regardless of whom they decided to choose. The best player out of the entire group was probably outfielder Andy Van Slyke.
Still, it makes you wonder what will happen next week when the No. 12 pick rolls around. In my opinion, this franchise hasn't made a solid and proven choice in Round 1 in nearly two decades.
Will the M's strike out, homer or merely single?
Time will tell, but let's hope the player the Mariners do choose stays as far away from this list as possible.