Tom McNamara: Scouting the Mariners Draft

Tom McNamara is playing a major role in the Mariners’ rebuilding efforts. Seattle’s scouting director for each of the past three drafts, McNamara added a franchise cornerstone when he took Dustin Ackley with the second-overall pick in 2009. A year later, he selected a raw high school right-hander named Taijuan Walker — now the team’s top-prospect — 43rd overall. Last June, he boldly nabbed left-hander Danny Hultzen with the second pick of a draft considered to have been one of the deepest in years.

McNamara talked about his scouting philosophy — including what he has learned working under Jack Zduriencik — and the decisions to take Walker and Hultzen.


On scouting Hultzen: “About two weeks before the draft we set up our board. We’re running around, seeing players all spring, and then we get into that room and start ranking the players. I keep it simple. We take the best guy and Dan fit that bill for us.

“I saw Dan pitch in high school, so we had a history with him. We saw him all three years in college and he improved each year. He was a Friday-night guy at Virginia, in a good conference, and [last year] I got to see him four times against pitchers who went in the first three rounds. We’d had our eyes on him all spring and wanted to make sure we saw him as much as we could.”

On Zduriencik‘s role in the draft: “I worked under Jack when he was the scouting director in Milwaukee and he tells me, ‘Mac, it’s your show.’ He’s got a lot of experience, so we’ll talk about the players. He’ll sit in and listen to all of our guys discuss the players and he’ll give his advice, usually based on things that have happened in the past. He’s a good sounding board to bounce things off of, but in the end, he lets me pull the trigger.

“Jack and I have a good give-and-take. You always discuss things with the people you work with, whether it’s the general manager, the president, or one of the senior advisors. Information is the greatest commodity in the business world and once you think that you have everything figured out, you’re in trouble. Jack and I both want to know what our scouts think.

“The day before the draft, we’ll go around the room and have each guy give his opinion on who he’d take. We like to keep our guys fully involved, from Jack down to our area scouts. One thing I tell our scouts is: Tell me what they can do, not what they can‘t do.’”

On the importance of area scouts: “We constantly talk to our scouts. In Milwaukee we always prided ourselves on having our area guys be big cogs in what we do. The area scout is usually the first guy to see the player and know the player. He gets to know the family, the people in the community, the coaches. He’s one of the first people the player comes into contact with in professional baseball.

“When I was with the Brewers, one year there were about five or six guys that went in the first round from my area, including Prince Fielder, Zack Greinke, Denard Span and Elijah Dukes. I got to know all of them. The area scout is your source of information — he’s the one on the ground — so it‘s important that he does that. There are a lot of good evaluators out there and we listen to them. Those guys are gold in an organization.

“The area scout is selling you on someone he believes will help the organization and play in the big leagues down the road. And it’s more than tools. When you’re discussing the type of person a player is, that’s business. Before we picked Dan, we made sure we got to know him. About a week before the ACC tournament, Mike Moriarty, our area scout, and I went in and spent some time with Dan. It’s part of the evaluation.”

On questions about Hultzen’s delivery: “It wasn’t a big concern for us. He has a unique delivery — a different delivery — but to me it’s similar to when we drafted and signed Prince Fielder. Prince had a unique, different, body and there were a lot of people concerned about that. [In scouting] we’ll use body comps and similar styles, but I kind of shy away from that. I’m still looking for the perfect player; I haven‘t found him yet.

“We did a thing where we looked at tapes of big-league All-Stars and what they looked like in high school. It’s amazing, because a lot of guys have the same style they did in high school or in college. Sometimes their stance or delivery changes in pro ball, but sometimes it doesn’t — you can recognize a guy from looking at a tape of him from high school. Without knowing his name, you’ll say, ’That’s so and so, he had the same sling he has now.’

“Dan is a good athlete and good athletes make adjustments. Like I said, he’s simply unique. We trust our pitching guys — Rick Waits, Lance Painter and Rich Dorman — so he’s in good hands. Dwight Bernard and Gary Wheelock help our minor league hurlers prepare themselves for the next level, as well. If you look at all of the guys who go in the draft, there is usually going to be some kind of tweaking.”

On Hultzen being rated as having the best changeup and best control in the system: “Those [qualities] were huge when we looked at him. If you can separate a fastball and a changeup on the big-league level, and you’re left-handed, those are nice things to have. If you look back at drafts, a lot of high school and college power arms turned into relievers down the road. Look at all of the organizations. How many starters do we really develop?

“You look for athleticism in a young pitcher. Can he repeat this delivery? Can he command his fastball? Does he have feel for his secondary pitches? Those things are important.

“Dan was also 92 to 95 mph in college, and there aren’t too many lefthanders in the big leagues who throw 92-95. He needs work, just like every player, but we’re talking about a guy with a plus fastball. Look at what he did against South Carolina in the College World Series, on national TV. We were certainly pleased to have drafted him.”

On pre-draft speculation that the team was going to take a position player with their top pick: “I’ve been around a lot of baseball people — I have 19 years of experience in this business — and one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t want to draft for need. You also don’t want to not take the guy you really want to take. My philosophy is to take the best guy, whether he’s a hitter or a pitcher.

“If you take a shortstop in the first round, and a shortstop is the best player available when your pick comes up in the second round, do you pass on that guy? What if you take someone else and that second-round shortstop — a guy you knew you wanted to take — becomes an All-Star? You’ll pull your hair out.

“When you get locked in on a player, you have to make sure you’re looking into the future. That’s a big part of scouting. A lot of people want instant success, but not a many guys you draft are going to give you that. Baseball is different than the other sports. In the NFL, you don’t draft a player and send him to the minor leagues for three years. Baseball is a tomorrow sport.

“I remember taking certain high school players where the reaction from some people was, ‘How could they take a high school kid?’ Well, all of a sudden that high school player blossoms into the player you projected him to be. The next thing you know, you’re walking into the stadium and seeing fans with that player’s jersey on. You drafted that kid out of high school three or four years ago.”

On projecting Taijuan Walker: “Our area scout, John Ramey, did a really good job on Taijuan. We saw him the fall before his senior season, down at the Perfect Game Showcase in Florida. Taijuan is a good athlete — he was a basketball player — and he’s what I was just talking about. He’s a tomorrow guy.

“You project the would-be and the could-be, knowing that the people in your player development system will tweak the delivery if they need to. It’s the same thing as with Dan Hultzen. It’s important to have good pitching people in your organization, and we have that.

“Taijuan is a classic case of how good athletes make adjustments. He retains knowledge well. He’s very coachable. He’s a mature, bright kid. But he’s also young. He might make it look easy to be out there on his own, playing pro ball when he’s 19, but it isn’t easy. We’re happy with the way Taijuan is developing, but he still has a lot of things to learn.”

On the Tigers drafting Chance Ruffin four picks after Seattle selected Walker: “We talked a lot about Chance going into the draft. Our national cross checker, Mark Lummus, had pitched at the University of Texas and he saw Chance a lot. We’re glad he’s a Mariner now.

“Would we have taken Chance had Taijuan not gotten to us? I get asked questions like that a lot: ‘Would you have taken this guy if he was there?’ It’s easy to say yes, but in all honesty, you don’t know until you’re in the actual room. I can tell you that Chase was on our board and under consideration. At that point in the draft, there are usually a batch of guys sitting there and we were able to get the guy we wanted. We took Taijuan.

“After we made the deal for Chance, I saw him in the clubhouse and welcomed him to Seattle. It was funny, because I was thinking back to how he was in college the year before and I was watching him at the Minute Maid Tournament, in Houston. Now, a year later, he was in the big leagues. Certain guys get there a lot quicker than others. Everyone has a different timetable.”

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.

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10 years ago

I got a chance at a USS Mariner event a few years back to just stand around and have a forty-five minute, small-group discussion with Mr. McNamara. It’s one of the best, most informative discussions I’ve ever had about baseball. He really knows his stuff, and he has this terrific, low-key style.

During the discussion, I asked him about pitchers versus hitters in the draft. He was so excited to answer he cut me off in mid question with, “I love hitters. I know you gotta have pitchers, but I love hitters.” That’s why the Hultzen pick in the ’11 draft was such a surprise to me.