Sometimes you have to make sacrifices in order to achieve a greater good. That's what we're going to call the Mariners' 2010 season, a sacrifice.
Their atrocious 61-101 record earned them the second overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft. This high pick will be invaluable to the progression of the team, especially since a lot of their starters in the field will need replacing within the next few years.
The big question for their first pick is: hitter or pitcher? That decision largely depends on who the Pirates take.
Seeing as Pittsburgh added Pedro Alvarez this year at third base and lack a true ace in their rotation, Gerritt Cole seems like the logical choice. Cole is the most dominant pitcher in NCAA baseball right now, and his stats show it, even without solid run support from his fellow Bruins.
After a couple years working up to major league status, Cole could become a priceless asset to the rebuilding Pittsburgh team.
With Cole gone, the Mariners best bet is to draft third baseman Anthony Rendon from Rice. Rendon has been phenomenal since high school. In his freshman year at Rice, he hit .388 with 20 home runs and 72 runs batted in while winning a long list of awards including Baseball America's Freshman of the Year.
Last year, as a sophomore, he not only won the Dick Howser Player of the Year Award as decided by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, but also got a holiday named after him; June 29, 2010 was officially "Anthony Rendon Day" in Houston.
Who should the Mariners take, if they have the choice?
Rendon has been called the second best college hitter of the decade, only behind Dustin Ackley, who the Mariners currently have in their farm system. Some analysts say that if Rendon goes to the Mariners, both he and Ackley could be in the majors by 2013, which is just what Seattle needs.
They have relatively strong base for pitching, with Felix, Pineda, Fister, and Vargas all in their mid 20's, so they won't miss Cole too much.
If Ackely and Rendon do come up in 2013, and if Gutierrez works out whatever problem he has with his stomach, and if Ichiro isn't too harshly affected by age, and if Felix hasn't become fed up with losing and left, and if Smoak, Pineda and Saunders all develop nicely, and if Bradley doesn't go to jail, then the Mariners have a great shot at the AL West title...
I make it sound futile, but all of those "ifs" are realistic. Rendon (if drafted) and Ackley should significantly help with the Mariners' hitting woes, Gutierrez has shown signs of improvement in health since last year, Ichiro stretches religiously, Jack Zduriencik said he has no intention of trading the King, all of the young guys look pretty good, and Bradley seems to have worked out his attitude issues.
Now, assuming they have a shot at the division title in 2013, they should build the rest of their draft around that. As I said previously, their pitching is looking pretty good and all of the starters, with the exception of Bedard, could have a few more great years. The bullpen has also been looking solid, and those guys are relatively young too.
That leaves the hitters/fielders. With Ichiro, Gutierrez (hopefully), Bradley, Langerhans, and Saunders, the outfield should be set. Smoak, Ackley, and Rendon at first, second, and third base would make up an awesome infield. Shortstop is questionable, but less important given the other three. That leaves catcher.
Seattle should draft a catcher second round (or technically third, since they don't have any supplemental picks). I'm no expert on college baseball, but from the stats and scouting reports I've looked at, it looks like James McMann might be the best catcher that will be available at 63rd. McMann is currently at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
The M's have picks in order for the rest of the draft. They should look for a shortstop who would be ready by 2013 with their third pick. With newly acquired C, 3B, and SS to add to 2B Dustin Ackley, Seattle's hitting would be officially revamped, finally.
With their remaining picks, the Mariners should look for starting pitchers and outfielders. Sadly, we will eventually (and all too soon) see the end of Ichiro, as well as Erik Bedard, and the M's have to be prepared with guys to replace them.
Additionally, I've noticed from playing fantasy baseball that SP and OF are two positions that are a little bit scarcer than usual, so young, talented outfielders and pitchers will have high trade values. So, if the Mariners found that they had any holes in their lineup, they could trade away a young prospect or two.
I learned from my last article that there are inevitably numerous other opinions on this matter, which is completely understandable. I'd love to hear what you think, so feel free to comment with your ideas.