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Mariners pick third overall

Mariners focused on getting the best talent

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SEATTLE -- Perhaps the only benefit of losing a lot of games one season is the "luxury" of having one of the top selections in the following June's First-Year Player Draft.

Rough seas in 1986, '87 and '92 enabled the Mariners to select Ken Griffey Jr., Tino Martinez and Alex Rodriguez in the first round of ensuing drafts, and all were instrumental in the organization's glory years, which started in '95 and ended midway through 2003.

After last season's 99-loss debacle, the Mariners have the third overall draft pick this year and the three most important words heading into the two-day selection process are: "Get it right."

Left-handed reliever Matt Thornton (1998) is the most recent No. 1 draft choice to reach the big leagues with the Mariners, although it should be pointed out that Seattle hasn't had a first-round selection since 1999, usually losing the pick because it signed a Type A free agent.

But it's a different ballgame this time.

"I don't think we feel any extra pressure," scouting director Bob Fontaine said. "There is pressure on any club that takes a player third in the first round. You expect people to watch and you expect to be right. You expect to get a good player. We've got to get the best talent."

Fontaine has been in scouting for most of his 34 years in baseball and says there is a good crop of talent available this year.

"I have been with clubs that have selected third and not had the depth this one does. Whatever position you're looking for, there is a player to draft."

He has traveled thousands of miles the past few months trying to find the organization's next superstar, the "can't-miss" prospect that could become the next Junior Griffey or A-Rod.

"It's pretty apparent that everybody is looking at the same players, so many things have to happen before a club decides on a player," Fontaine said. "Because of where we draft, we have to look for a player that fits, and then look at signability."

It has been seven years since the Mariners selected a pitcher with their first pick, and that is likely to become eight years.

The consensus is that there are more quality pitching arms available than any other position in this year's draft, but Fontaine said, "We probably are leaning more towards a position player, and we have been talking about six or seven guys [as potential No. 1 picks]."

Strange as it might seem, the Mariners could wind up selecting another shortstop with their first pick, which would make it four times in the past five years that a shortstop has been taken first.

Justin Upton, a Virginia high school shortstop, is regarded as the best talent in the draft and not far behind is Long Beach State shortstop shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who batted .355 with seven home runs and 26 RBIs in 36 games for the Dirtbags this season.

Though Upton might be the best shortstop available in this year's draft, Tulowitzki could be three or four years closer to reaching the Major Leagues because of his collegiate experience. And none of the three most recent shortstops selected first -- Michael Garciaparra, Adam Jones and Matt Tuiasosopo -- are very close to making it to the big leagues.

If the Mariners decide to draft a college player, and Tulowitzki already has been taken by either the Diamondbacks or Royals, they could opt to select a first baseman/outfielder -- John Mayberry Jr.

Remember him?

The Mariners drafted him first in 2002, but the son of former Major League first baseman John Mayberry Sr., decided to accept an academic scholarship from Stanford University. He is draft-eligible again and has the size (6-foot-5, 230) to become a terrific run producer.

His power numbers decreased this season, from 11 home runs as a sophomore, to six as a junior. But there is a tremendous upside to the 21-year-old and he could be closer to becoming a Major League player than any of the six or seven players at the top of Seattle's top draft possibilities.

Once the first selection is made, the Mariners will then sit back, watch, and wait awhile as their second pick occurs in the fourth round.

LAST THREE TOP PICKS

Matt Tuiasosopo, SS, 2004, Pick #1 (3rd round): The 19-year-old homegrown product got off to a terrific start for Class A Wisconsin, batting close to .400 the first three weeks of the 2005 season. He has cooled off a little, but still has his batting average near .300. His 12 errors in 36 games illustrates the need for improvement on defense.

Adam Jones, SS, 2003, Pick #1 (Sandwich between 1st-2nd rounds): A product from the same San Diego high school that produced former Mariners supersub Mark McLemore, Jones is combining a good batting average (.294 through 46 games) with some power (six home runs) for Class A Inland Empire (California League).

John Mayberry, 1B/OF, 2002, Pick #1: The 28th overall selection in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft rejected first-round money, deciding instead to attend Stanford University. He looked to be a definite blue-chipper after his sophomore season, hitting 11 home runs for the Cardinal, but his offensive numbers decreased during his junior season as he hit six home runs in his first 53 games.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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