With the sixth-overall pick of this year’s amateur draft, the Seattle Mariners selected 18-year-old Alex Jackson out of Rancho Bernardo [CA] High School. Their second selection, which came 74th-overall, was 18-year-old Gareth Morgan out of North Toronto Collegiate [high school] in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Tom McNamara, as one would expect, is bullish on both. The Mariners’ director of amateur scouting went the collegiate route with the club’s top pick in four of his first five drafts – Taijuan Walker, in 2010, was the exception – but he couldn’t pass up Jackson’s potential. Ditto Morgan’s, despite McNamara’s admission that the Canadian outfielder is a relatively unpolished project.
Jackson was also drafted as an outfielder, but it wasn’t his primary position in high school. The 6-foot-2, 215-lb. slugger was a catcher, but Seattle appears to be set behind the plate for a good long while with 2012 first-round pick Mike Zunino. And while McNamara didn’t say it so many words, he seemingly suggested Jackson could be in the big leagues sooner than some might think.
McNamara on scouting Alex Jackson: “We saw him for three years. It’s not like we just stumbled across him this spring. He played for the Area Code team in California — Long Beach. We saw him at the Under Armour All-Star, at Wrigley. We saw him at the Perfect Game All-Star at Petco Park. We were tracking him for a few years.
“The scout responsible for signing him was Gary Patchett. Our West Coast supervisor is Jeremy Booth. Our national crosscheckers are Butch Baccala and Mark Lummus. Other guys on our staff saw him as he traveled across the country. I saw him.
“These guys all play on a summer team, and also break off and play in showcases with the best players. We’re seeing high school hitters face the best high school pitchers for the following year, and with wood bats. Those are things you’re not going to see in the spring most of the time. We saw at Alex as an advanced high school player. I’ve had other teams tell me they had Alex No. 1 on their list.”
On scouting Gareth Morgan: “Our second-round pick hasn’t played the baseball Alex has. He’s got a lot of playing ahead of him, but he did play in some showcases. We saw him in Florida and in the Dominican. He’s not as advanced as Alex, but we like his top end.
“Our comfort level with Alex was really high, because we saw him face so many good pitchers with a wood bat in his hands. We saw him consistently hit top-notch pitching. Gareth hasn’t played that type of baseball all year round, but each year he started to play more and more. The raw tools and the physical frame are something we were interested in.
“There’s a lot less risk in a player like Alex than there is a player like Gareth. Gareth is about tomorrow. Alex is more about today – he just needs at bats and to get used to the pro lifestyle. Alex is more polished, while Gareth has the top end.”
On assigning comps: “The worst thing in the world is to [publicly] put a tag on a young player, especially a high school guy. We do it internally, because you want to create a picture. There were a variety of comps [for Jackson]. We weren’t all stuck on one comp player. What I tell our guys is to just be in the neighborhood with a comp. Try to get a close enough body resemblance to a big-leaguer.
“Each player is different. These are guys we might be comparing someone else to someday. I’m starting to read reports of, ‘This guy is a lot like Seager’ or “This guy is a lot like Ackley’ or ‘This guy is a lot like Zunino.’ But our comps usually aren’t guys in our own system. I tell our guys ‘Major League players – Don’t compare an amateur player to a minor-league player.’ Outside of that, the door is wide open. You can tell the age of your scouts, too. We have some guys who will comp to players from the late 1970s and early 1980s.”
“When you write a report on an amateur player, you’re trying to paint a picture for the person who is reading it. ‘OK, this is what I visualize.’ What is he, and what can he be? I also tell guys, ‘Like players.’ I don’t need to hear what a guy can’t do. Tell me what they can do. That’s pretty much our motto.”
On defense and can’t dos: “This is a tough game. There are a lot of can’t dos out there, but a lefty with a curveball can go a long way. A catcher that can play defense may not be able to hit, but he can still get here on his defense. A shortstop and a center fielder who can play defense can get here.
“I was an area scout for the Mariners when Lou Piniella was the manager. He’d come in and speak at our meetings. One thing he said was, ‘Athletic guys who can play defense, we’ll teach them how to hit.’ I’d never heard that before. You also have your natural hitters, guys who were just born to hit. They hit at age 8, they’ve hit ever since, and they’re going to hit.
“When we saw Mike Zunino in high school, we thought his catching was ahead of his hitting. When he went to college, his hitting was ahead of his catching. Now, as a Major League player, you see that he’s a front-line catcher and that his better days are ahead of him with the bat. But a good catch-and-throw guy who can call a good game is hard to find. They help you win games.”
On Jackson’s position and character: “[Jackson] was a catcher in high school, and a pretty good one, but we think he profiles better in right field. He’s a big kid, but he runs pretty well and has a big arm. The arm and athleticism work in right field.
“Your body physically changes when you catch – you get stronger and thicker in your lower half. It’s probably easier for him, at 18, to learn to be a good right fielder than it would have been had he gone to college and caught for three years. The fact that we announced him as a right fielder tells you what we were thinking, and where we see him in the big leagues down the road. We feel this helps his longevity and helps preserve his bat. We really like his bat.
“He loves to play. That’s big when you’re on Field 7 in Peoria [Arizona] and it’s 107 degrees. He’s obviously a high-profile kid, but I think I’ve actually seen his enthusiasm for the game grow since he signed. He wants to advance, but he knows he has to work hard. Sometimes you get 17- 18- 19-year-old kids down at your complex and they’re going through the motions. This guy takes it real serious. He likes to get after it.”
On drafting players out of high school: “I get asked all the time, ‘Do you take a high school player or a college player?’ You take the guy you think is the best player. There are going to be years where you take five college guys in a row.
“I’ve heard that [we prefer college guys], but we took Taijuan Walker in 2010 with our first pick. We took Nick Franklin in 2009 with our second first-round pick. We took Edwin Diaz, Tyler Pike. We’ve taken high school guys over the years, it’s a matter of who is higher on your draft board at the time. I had an old scout tell me once, ‘College players can get to the big leagues quicker, but when they get to the big leagues, what are they?’
“Sometimes the right high school player can become an impact player. When I was in Milwaukee, we took Prince Fielder. We believed in his bat and he became an impact player. He also got there in about three-and-a-half years. The advanced high school guys are getting to the big leagues quicker than they did, 10, 15, 20 years ago. I think a lot of that is all the baseball they play in the summer, and all the advanced workout programs they do.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.