Within seconds of the Seattle Mariners selecting University of New Mexico third baseman D.J. Peterson with the 12th overall selection in Thursday’s Major League Baseball draft, an MLB Network analyst unabashedly pronounced him to be “the best hitter in college baseball.”
Five years ago, that might have generated excitement in Mariner Nation. Now? Maybe just a collective groan.
Mariners fans have heard it all before. In the 48 months since Seattle selected University of North Carolina star Dustin Ackley with the No. 2 overall selection, they’ve come to learn that being the best hitter in college baseball guarantees nothing.
While Ackley toils in AAA Tacoma trying to erase the penciled-in “bust” label, the Mariners welcomed in another pair of established college hitters in juniors Peterson (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) and second-round pick Austin Wilson, a 6-foot-5, 245-pound outfielder from Stanford, taken with the 49th overall pick.
They address the organization’s most obvious need in that they have potential as power hitters. The Mariners seem genuinely optimistic that their offense improved.
“We just added two bats, two physical hitters,” director of scouting Tom McNamara said Thursday night. “It’s a good day for the Seattle Mariners.”
Asked whether Peterson could develop into a 30-home run guy, McNamara said: “That’s a lot to ask of anybody. He’s a good hitter — one of the best hitters in college baseball.”
No one can know what Peterson will become in the Mariners’ organization, but two obvious linear points on either end of the scale could be Ackley and Kyle Seager. The latter has become a consistent, every-day player after playing alongside Ackley at UNC and being selected in the second round of the draft, while the former has become somewhat of a cautionary tale for teams thirsting for an experienced hitter with a patient approach.
Ackley was tagged as one of the most polished hitters to come out of college baseball for some time when the Mariners grabbed him with the second overall pick in the 2009 draft. After missing out on pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg, Seattle made what was an obvious choice to anyone with knowledge of draft-eligible talent.
No one could have known that free-swinging high schooler Mike Trout, the 25th overall pick, would end up being the crown jewel of the 2009 draft. It would be unfair and overtly revisionist to blame the Mariners for selecting Ackley.
Yet four years later, having posted a .237 batting average in 288 career games at the major league level, Ackley is looking like more of a miss than a can’t-miss. His problems were subject of a lengthy analyis this week in si.com.
A direct comparison linking Peterson to Ackley is premature, and it’s certainly not what the Mariners wanted on the first night of the draft.
McNamara was asked whether the selections of Peterson and Wilson signaled the Ackley pick hasn’t scared off the Mariners of collegiate hitters.
“It’s not really a philosophy,” he said. “If a high school player is the better player, we’ll take the high school player.”
The Mariners liked Peterson so much that they drafted him for the second time. He was a 30th-round pick by Seattle in the 2010 draft coming out of Gilbert (AZ) High School but decided to attend New Mexico instead.
“We liked his bat in high school,” McNamara said. “We were just glad he was there for us to take (again Thursday).”
No one can argue with Peterson’s college production. He earned a share of the Mountain West Conference’s player-of-the-year award in each of the past two seasons and won the conference’s triple crown in the spring, when he batted .408 with 18 home runs and 72 RBI in 55 games with the Lobos.
Wilson wasn’t quite as productive until the end of his final year at Stanford, but he was hampered by elbow problems. McNamara said Wilson checked out medically and shouldn’t have problems.
Nobody knows what to expect out of the latest picks, but it possible to say after Thursday night is that Ackley’s development hasn’t left them gun-shy of the college kids.