One of the best ways for a struggling franchise to get better is by nabbing a sure-fire stud in the draft.
The Rays have made a habit of it. The Giants and Nationals think they've got some good ones. The Brewers, due partially to the work of former scouting director and current Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik, are stocked with star players acquired in the draft.
Now the Mariners are hoping Zduriencik and his team can make that same magic work in Seattle.
Two years ago, they found themselves in the same position they do today. They're picking second overall in the MLB draft. Last time around, it was Dustin Ackley who was picked and it won't be much longer before he's making his impact on the big club.
While the Mariners had something of an easy choice last time, since Stephen Strasburg was the consensus top pick and Ackley was right behind him on most boards, they find themselves with more choices this time around.
No one really knows who the Pirates will take with the first pick. This draft is extremely deep. There are some risks with the high-reward guys at the top of the board, though.
A few months ago, it was assumed that Rice third-baseman Anthony Rendon was pick 1a and UCLA right-handed starter Gerrit Cole was 1b. While both have had their ups and downs this season, Rendon's shoulder injury coupled with Cole's positive scouting reports the last couple weeks have probably reversed that.
Maybe even more than simply reversing. Cole's stock could have really risen within the Pirates organization. ESPN's Keith Law really believes he's the number one overall pick, as he wrote this weekend.
The question then becomes: If the Pirates take Cole, are the Mariners again in a situation where their pick is an obvious one, and they take Rendon?
I'm not so sure this time around.
With Rendon, you have a guy that has a set position. There shouldn't be any moving around the way the Mariners did with Ackley. His offense dipped this season, but the entire collegiate landscape shifted this year after a rules change that forced hitters to use bats that more closely resemble the action of wood bats.
However, there is the issue of the shoulder injury. After some reluctance to show medical reports, a major red flag, Zduriencik made some public comments questioning why they'd keep them under wraps. I haven't found any hard information that the medicals were finally released, but Jonathon Mayo of MLB.com reports that it's believed that has happened.
The Mariners could pass on Rendon (assuming Pittsburgh does as well), and look at two outstanding prep players in shortstop Francisco Lindor out of Montverde, Fla. and outfielder Bubba Starling of Gardner, Kan.
Starling is a raw athlete who has starred in baseball, football and basketball at Gardner Edgerton High School. He also happens to have a scholarship to play both football and baseball (with a focus on the former) at Nebraska.
Starling's bonus demands will be high, at least $6 million. Jason A. Churchill of ProspectInsider.com and ESPN Insider cites an unnamed executive who believes the Mariners would meet those demands.
With Lindor, you get a shortstop who isn't as raw as Starling. The upside may be a tick less, but he could potentially be in the majors sooner. Churchill believes the talent gap between Starling and Lindor is small, that he may end up being the Mariners pick and that he'd instantly be the best prospect in the system when he signed.
Reflecting on that 2009 draft, it's not like Ackley was just a Strasburg consolation prize, as he's quickly tearing up the Pacific Coast League and projects to ease into the majors without many hitches in the next couple weeks.
The Mariners are just simply in a better situation this time around where they can pick from a deep group of players that could fill one of the many holes they have. While I'd probably learn towards Starling if I were the Mariners, it's easy to see why they might go for Rendon, Lindor or Cole instead.
Starling may have the biggest upside, but the three to four years it could take him to reach the majors might not fit the hopes of the Mariners to contend while Felix Hernandez is still young, relatively cheap and most importantly with the club.
Lindor may only take a couple years as he's fairly polished, but keep in mind that he is only a high school senior. Transitions aren't always as smooth as you'd hope.
That leaves Cole and Rendon, the two options that could need the least amount of time in the minors.
If the Pirates take Cole, I believe the Mariners take Rendon if the medicals came back satisfactory. Then again, if that's the case, they may not get that chance.
If the Pirates take Rendon, I believe the Mariners take Lindor.
If Pittsburgh selects Lindor, the Mariners will have their toughest choice. You have the risk of Rendon's shoulder, the risk of Starling's signability and time it'd take for him to contribute and a pretty nice pitcher who you'd love to have but doesn't fill your many offensive needs.
In five years, then 10 years, then 15 years, we'll look back to the draft of 2011. We may be lauding Jack Zduriencik for making the right pick or we may be cursing under our breath that we passed up on a Hall of Famer for a bust. That's the thing about these drafts, there's a lot of questions surrounding all the hope.
We should remember, though, it was nice to have choices.
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