Author Archives: Matthew

What’s Going On With UW Basketball?

The Washington Husky basketball team started last season 12-0, and while no one thought they were going remain undefeated for the season, a return to the NCAA tournament seemed likely.  Instead, they went 4-15 to finish their worst season in years. In the process, they lost their best player and pro prospect, C Robert Upshaw, when he was kicked off the team for an undisclosed rules violation. The horrid second half intensified the negative buzz starting to surround Lorenzo Romar’s tenure as head coach.

The offseason hasn’t been any less tumultuous. Remember all those players who made up that terrible team last season? They’re pretty much all gone. Mike Anderson and Shawn Kemp Jr. graduated. Gilles Dierickx and Darin Johnson moved on in transfers that weren’t too surprising. Nigel Williams-Goss’ and Jernard Jarreau’s transfers were more surprising. Even assistant coach TJ Otzelberger quit to go back to Iowa State. All that was left was Andrew Andrews, Donaven Dorsey and Quevyn Winters. In case you can’t count, that’s not even a starting line-up. It’s not even a very good three-on-three group.

The good news is this is not all bad news. While I doubt Romar was dying to lose Williams-Goss or Jarreau, it’s pretty clear he was aiming to gut this roster. The program had grown less talented, and it had simultaneously morphed away from the athletic, pressuring squads of Romar’s best years at UW.

Even in the midst of the terrible second half of the season, Romar was putting together what looks like his best recruiting class. In its original form, the class had six recruits, a group among the top three in the Pac-12 and the best in the country. It included three elite local kids, an elite California power forward, and a junior college big man to play immediately. That group of six had fans extremely excited and was a solid foundation for a rebuild. And then it kept getting better.

With all of the transfers, Romar found himself with plenty of roster space that he could, and eventually needed to, fill. First, there was an SEC big man transfer, Matthew Atewe, young with upside. He’ll likely have to sit out this year, but is petitioning for immediate eligibility. Whenever he plays, he should be an athletic big man, maybe not a star but the type of body UW has had in short supply of late. Next came local wing Dominic Green, who had been committed to Arizona State until they changed coaches and he asked to be released.

The real icing to this cake came last week with two separate announcements. The first was long-rumored but surely brought a smile to every fan’s face: former point guard Will Conroy had been hired as an assistant coach. To many, Conroy represents everything this program used to be but has lost. He’s a local boy who worked himself from a walk-on to the fringes of the NBA. He played tough defense, team basketball, and directed many of those great teams with Nate, Brandon and everyone else. He seems to be viewed as the all-time captain of Husky basketball  and brings tremendous respect and connections to the local Seattle basketball scene. There’s been a feeling amongst fans that UW’s coaching staff has gotten too nice, has lost its edge since Cameron Dollar left, and whether that’s true or not, Will Conroy brings plenty of edge.

The second piece of news came with the (likely) final piece of the recruiting class. Center Noah Dickerson had picked Florida over UW earlier, but when Billy Donovan left for an NBA job, Dickerson asked to be released as well. He visited UW last week and signed scholarship paperwork before he left to make himself a Husky. He brings size and a fairly polished low-post game. Another big man was the only thing the class was really missing, and Dickerson is a better player than anyone expected they would be able to find to fill that hole. His signing gives this class five of the top 100 incoming players in the country (according to Scout.com), with the 102nd ranked player thrown in for good measure. UW has never seen a class that is this deep and this good, and given the amount of roster turnover it took to get there, it likely never will again. Recruiting classes aren’t usually this big, and when they are, they tend to have a lot of filler.

So what does all that mean for the coming season? It’s hard to say, really. A return to the NCAA tournament would be tough but not impossible, or even unlikely. They should improve as the season goes, and if they can keep this group together for another year (likely, as there aren’t any real obvious one-and done candidates), the next year could be truly special. Whatever the season’s outcome, this group should bring a return to fun, high-paced, intense basketball. This group is extremely long and athletic, and once they get a little bit of experience under the drawstrings of their shorts, they should bring the program back to its glory days of pressuring defense and high-flying fast breaks. The 2015-’16 Huskies might not be recognizable, but that’s be a good thing after the last few seasons.

The Newcomers, in the order they committed: Continue reading

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Where One is Lost, More are Found

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I, with the baby in the backseat, were driving home to spend the weekend with my parents and see some friends and relatives. We got to talking about my grandma, who passed away some seven or eight years ago. There was no one quite like Grandma Long, a spunky lady who overflowed with wisdom, loved people and fun, and worked harder in her retirement than I will likely ever work in my life. Every loss leaves a hole, but some holes are bigger than others, and the void created when she was killed one night in a car accident was massive.

As we were saying we missed her, I realized, and said to Lisa, that it’s sad knowing Wyatt, my son, will never know her. That someone who was such a major part of my life will be known to my son only through stories is something I had never given much thought. Life moves on. Lord willing, he will know and love people I will never meet, but there are people and memories I wish could be part of his life as they are mine.

I had a similar thought yesterday in the Mariners team store. They had a collection of the new alternate jerseys with the usual suspects on the back: Cano, Felix, Cruz, Zunino. And there at the end of the row was Griffey’s #24, and I thought, with another tiny bit of sadness, “Wyatt will never see Ken Griffey Jr. play baseball.”

It’s surprising, when you stop to think about it, how short a baseball career is in the course of a life. My brother is about nine years younger than I am. At this point, we experience much together, because we are good friends but also because we are grown and finally at similar points in our lives. Still, that nine year gap distinctly changes memories. He was five when the ’95 Mariners made their playoff run. I frequently rave about Randy Johnson, but he has few memories of the Big Unit as a Mariner. His pitching hero, as a fellow lefty, was Jamie Moyer, about whom I’ve always been somewhat lukewarm, probably because of those Johnson memories. Nine years is not much between friends or brothers, but it’s half a career for the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time.

What is thrilling and restorative about sports is there is a new legend for every generation. I have Griffey and Randy and Edgar, and Jordan and Pedro and Vlad and Marques Tuiasosopo and so many others. But I grew up listening to my dad talk about Willie Mays and Sonny Sixkiller, whom I didn’t come close to seeing. We might miss a legend, but if we are lucky enough to live a long, full life, we will see many more.

I envy Wyatt those early years of fandom and discovery, which I’m long past and from which he’s still some years away. He has yet to make his first trips to Safeco and Husky Stadium. He gets to experience for the first time baseball and football and basketball, not to mention books and music and everything else that makes life wonderful. He spent his first months in the hospital, fighting to live, and it thrills my heart to know he will never remember those months, that I can bear those hard memories for him as a father so he can fill his memory with sunny days spent with those he loves.

I don’t know who Wyatt’s legends will be. He’s too young to really remember anything but the tail end of any current player’s career. Maybe Mike Zunino, who I’ve decided is his current favorite player, will still be around. The timeline could be about right for Alex Jackson or even maybe Taijaun Walker. He’ll be wearing a Felix jersey onesie tomorrow for opening day, and I hope he gets to half-remember a couple of his vintage seasons. Most likely, his sports and music heroes are currently teenage kids in the middle of nowhere, waiting to be drafted or get their big break.

Sports are regenerative, and I can only hope Wyatt’s legends are as great as mine were. I know they will be, because that is their nature; legends are made as much by our lives and memories as they are by their own greatness. I don’t know the names, and I don’t know where his life will take him, but I know he has so much ahead.

-Matthew

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It’s Been a While

On September 28th last year, Andrew wrote a memorial for the Mariners’ playoff hopes. After that, we were in such mourning we haven’t written a thing since. That’s not really the reason, of course. As usual, life just got in the way.

We missed a lot in the last six months. The Seahawks rode one of the best defensive runs ever clear to the Superbowl. We won’t mention what happened there, but the fact that a Seattle team was playing for their second championship in a row is amazing. The Huskies finished an uneven and ultimately disappointing football season. My hopes for Chris Petersen’s ability to create a Rose Bowl-level program haven’t dimmed, but 2014 definitely didn’t go according to plan. Speaking of uneven, Husky basketball had one of the strangest and most frustrating seasons we’ll ever see, going from undefeated to terrible and losing their most exciting player in years in the process.

Our personal lives have been even crazier. Andrew has a growing business giving guitar lessons and recently started a Disney travel blog. Dan became a father for the third time in October. I can’t imagine wrangling three boys under five years old, and he has a busy job running an assisted living home on top of it.

I became a dad in September, which was incredible and scary, since our baby, Wyatt, wasn’t due until December. He spent the next 11 weeks at the hospital receiving breathing and feeding support before finally coming home in early December. There were lots of scary moments, but he’s made miraculous growth and improvement and is now six months old and has gained 13 pounds since being born at 1 lb. 10 oz. I’m finding parenthood is just as tiring as people say but even better than I could have imagined.

I don’t know how much any of us will write, but we wanted to reopen the blog because we miss it. It’s fun being part of the larger conversation about the teams and sports we love so much. And if you hadn’t noticed, the Mariners, my personal favorite team of all, could be in for a huge year. It still seems somewhat impossible that they’ll be as good as so many are projecting, but hopefully that’s just years of cynicism and disappointment showing through. However the season turns out, it seemed a shame to stop blogging just before they get good, after going through so many terrible seasons.

We had to change the blog address slightly, due to some domain issues. It’s now goodguysports.com. All we did was drop an “s” in the middle, which we probably should have done all along. Thanks for reading, any of you still out there, and we look forward to hearing from you.

Believe big!

-Matthew and the Good Guys

Wyatt Now Wyatt Then

Wyatt now and then

Dan

Dan’s three boys

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Your 2014 UW Huskies Defensive Preview

Defense wins championships, I’ve heard. I’m not sure that’s always true, but should the Huskies win a championship, the defense will likely be the main reason why. This is the most loaded UW has been on this side of the ball in a long time. It does have some issues on the back end I’ll discuss below, but if they can sort those out, points could be few for UW opponents. Offense was covered here, if you missed it.

Defensive Line

With the coaching change, it’s hard to be sure what the defensive alignment is going to look like. Players and positions are being moved around a bit, but it’s unclear how that will actually look onfield. For my purposes, I’m considering players where they played last year. For example, and as a good place to start, Hauoli Kikaha was a defensive end last year, but they’re listing him at linebacker now. I imagine his new role will be similar to Wilcox’s Rush End, where he can be moved around some and plays in space and coverage a bit more. Whatever the specifics, Kikaha will be rushing the passer, and if last year was a starting point and not a peak, he will cause massive amounts of havoc. Kikaha overcame knee issues and lots of time off to turn in one of the better pass rushing seasons in UW history. He had the most sacks of any returning player in the nation, and if he builds on 2013 at all, he could be an All-American and 1st round pick.

While Kikaha gets more credit, big Danny Shelton is the true key to the defense. The massive tackle blossomed last year, eating up blockers for other guys to get into the backfield. At his best, Shelton occupies two or three blockers, clogging the inside of the line and preventing running plays from going whichever direction was planned. Shelton was extremely effective last year, but if he can find a bit more burst and get into the backfield with regularity, he’ll be in the discussion for the best D tackles in college football. It’ll be important to keep Shelton on the field, because the depth behind him is quite young. RS frosh Elijah Qualls has loads of potential, so it was surprising to see less heralded true freshman Greg Gaines listed above him on this week’s depth chart. That may be as much about Gaines having a bigger body as anything to do with their performance. Both have good to great potential, but there will be a noticeable drop-off when Shelton leaves the field.

Completing the line are the Hudson brothers (not really brothers) Evan and Andrew. Both are cool stories. Evan was a walk-on from Bothell who started out at TE. Last year they moved him to the line, and he started most of the year as a big end/smallish tackle. I kind of think of him as playing a similar role to what Red Bryant did for the Seahawks, where he did more to hold the edge or occupy guys than make plays in the backfield. That said, I have no idea what his role will be this year, or what kind of upside he still has in him. He could become a star or lose his job to a younger guy and I wouldn’t be surprised. Andrew Hudson was a starter early in his career before rarely seeing the field last year, leading the old staff to decide it was time for him to move on. Peterson had other thoughts and invited him back, and now he’s slated to start. He never showed a huge amount of explosiveness, but he used to be a serviceable starter. No idea what he’ll do this year. LIke at tackle, the depth here is talented but young. I’d feel better about guys like Jojo Mathis, Jarrett Finau and Psalm Wooching seeing the field, though. They’ve at least gotten their feet wet, and there are some interesting skills there.

Linebacker

This could be as good as any backer group in the conference. John Timu is finally a senior and has developed into a dependable leader in the middle. He’s not an elite athlete, but he makes up for it with great instincts and a nose for the ball. Shaq Thompson has not quite delivered on his talent and athleticism, which isn’t to say he hasn’t been excellent. He has. He just has so much potential, that anything short of a dominant year would be a bit of a disappointment. Maybe that’s not fair, but he’s capable. The third spot is a bit undecided, but it’s not for a lack of good options. At times, Travis Feeney has looked like the best backer on the roster. He’s listed as a co-starter with RS freshman Keishawn Bierria. Both are lighter guys who can cover ground and be effective in pass protection. Bierria’s fellow RS freshmen Azeem Victor and Sean Constantine are in the depth and should see time. Victor in particular is developing a rep as a big hitter and could become a fan favorite before long. Scott Lawyer is the long experienced reserve besides Cory Littleton, who’s become a bit of a forgotten man with some minor injuries in camp. I don’t know if he’ll serve as more a linebacker or a rusher, but he should make his presence felt at some point.

Secondary

If there’s one area that could hold the team back (other than QB), it could be the secondary. UW is replacing 3 of 4 starters along with some key reserves, and all of the contenders for those spots are young. Luckily, the one returning starter is CB Marcus Peters, and he’s one of the best in the country. Peters is the latest and maybe the best in the Dawgs’ recent run of excellent corners. If he has the season everyone expects, he’ll likely go pro and be picked in the top round or two. Opposite him, RSFr. Jermaine Kelly looks to be the guy. He’s a tremendous athlete who’s received nothing but raves since he showed up on the recruiting radar. He’ll likely have some growing pains at times, but I expect him to look like the Huskies’ next star corner by the end of the year. Depth will come from senior Travell Dixon, who seems to have responded well to the coaching change, and some true freshman. Naijiel Hale and Sidney Jones are first up, and both have the talent to excel. Whether they can do so this year is the question.

Safety is replacing both spots, but it has a bit more returning talent. Of course, the guy turning heads is true freshman Budda Baker from Bellevue. He brings a small body but elite speed and football instincts. He’s slated to start opening night, and he should be the most exciting Husky freshman since Shaq. Opposite him at strong safety is Brandon Beaver. He was a touted recruit who didn’t play much last season, but he’s still only a sophomore. Behind him are two sophomores who saw lots of time as true freshman last year, Kevin King and Trevor Walker. Both played well at time last year. Expect to see all four of these guys on the field in different coverages and as the coaches try to find the right combinations.

Special Teams

UW lost do-everything kicker Travis Coons, so these spots are a little unsettled. Cameron Van Winkle has recovered from back issues to take the lead for field goal duty, and he and Tristan Vizcaino will handle kick-offs. Kory Durkee gets first crack at punter. He has a huge leg but has struggled previously with consistency and getting his kicks off.

John Ross returns as the kick returner, where he’s a threat to break one every time. Budda backs him up and has similar potential. Jaydon Mickens gets the call to return punts. UW hasn’t received much production there, but Mickens and others have the skills to be effective.

Go Dawgs!

-Matthew

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Your 2014 UW Husky Offensive Preview

Hey readers, long time no write! New content here has been next to non-existent for a while, but college football season always inspires The Good Guys. I can’t promise the inspiration will last, but we’ll at least get the season started right.

With Seahawk fever now a permanent Seattle epidemic, the Huskies aren’t getting a lot of attention yet.  I don’t know whether that will change at all, but they deserve some buzz. This team has the potential to be the best Husky squad since the Tui-led Rose Bowl team. That’s not saying a ton, and this team has questions, but there’s the chance of something special on Montlake.

I debated what type of preview to write, but I think I’m going with a good old position-by-position write-up. While a lot of these players have been around, some of the focus is shifting from the departed offensive stars to lesser-known guys. I’ll start with the offense tonight. Here we go!

Quarterback

Most fans would say this position is the key to the Huskies season, and it’s hard to disagree. I don’t know that the Dawgs need elite QB play this year, but they need an unproved guy to be dependable and reasonably mistake-free. Who the QB will be is still somewhat in doubt. Jeff Lindquist gets the opening start in Hawaii. He’s big and athletic with a good arm but next to no experience. There’s no reason he can’t be effective, but game action is the only true determiner. Lindquist narrowly beat out freshman Troy Williams, who has maybe the biggest arm and most potential of the group, but the least experience. Should Lindquist struggle, Williams could see some time. Hopefully more likely, he’ll see mop-up duty in Hawaii.

Lurking behind these two is Cyler Miles, suspended for the opener for his off-season shenanigans. The common assumption is Miles will take over week two, but I don’t consider that a fait accompli. Miles brings a bit more experience and excellent running ability, but he’s generally considered to have the weakest arm on the roster and missed all of spring practice. Should Lindquist impress at Hawaii, it’s no given he’ll lose the spot just because Miles is available.

Running Back

Replacing Bishop Sankey is impossible, but the Dawgs have the talent to maintain an elite running game. Dwayne Washington will get the first carries. He’s taller for a back and fast, but runs with a good amount of power and violence. Fumbling issues held him down early last year, but he recovered to log the most yards of any back besides Sankey. His time as a receiver should theoretically be of benefit in the passing game. RS freshman Lavon Coleman has garnered raves since arriving in Seattle. He’s a big back with star potential.

Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier are still around and should see plenty of carries. I’ve never been a huge Callier fan, but he’s a dependable change of pace from the bigger Washington and Coleman. It’s hard not to continue to hope for Cooper to regain everything he was rumored to have before his injuries. If he were to do so, he could easily take over the starting job and be one of the best in the conference. More likely, he’ll get a decent share of carries but not quite have the burst to be a star. No matter what, he’s one of the great stories of perseverance the Huskies will ever have.

Shaq Thompson looms in the shadows, awaiting the day the Dawgsignal summons him to the offensive backfield to deliver justice and retribution to Ducks and Bruins alike. 

Receivers

This is a talented and fairly deep group, but how dominant they are could depend on how effectively Kasen Williams returns from last year’s injury. He’s not yet at full strength, but he’s close enough to play this week. Kasen’s size and experience is needed as a counterpoint to the speed of Jaydon Mickens, John Ross and friends.  Mickens matured into a go-to receiver last year, and he could be a monster in 2014 if he can diversify his game a bit. Ross is the most electric player on the roster and could make a huge jump himself. There are capable bodies behind the three, but a breakout or two would be welcome.

Tight end is a little hard to figure, due to Austin Seferian-Jenkins departure and questions as to how a new staff will use the position. Josh Perkins showed himself capable of making big catches a year ago. Michael Hartvigson has never had the impact many expected, but he’s valuable as a blocker and might catch a few more passes this year. Darrell Daniels is easily the most talented guy here and one of the better athletes on the team. Hopefully he can translate all that into football skills. If he can catch the ball, he could be huge as a bigger threat to complement Kasen. 

Offensive Line

For the first time in a long time, UW is deep, talented and experienced on the O Line. Six guys have extensive starting experience, and there’s some young talent behind them. Tackles Micah Hatchie and Ben Riva are dependable if unspectacular. LG Dexter Charles, the lone junior starter, has been considered an awards candidate in waiting since his freshman year. Colin Tanigawa supplanted Mike Criste at C this fall, potentially a good sign since Criste was a solid starter all of last year. That move could be largely about getting mammoth James Atoe into the line-up at RG. This line might not be as dominant as some of the great lines of Husky days past, but they should be better than anything the Dawgs have had lately. Count me as one who believes the coaching change could have a huge effect here too, both in performance and recruiting. Dan Cozetto’s lines never seemed to reach their expected level, and new guy Chris Strausser is renowned as a teacher.

That’s enough for tonight. Defense is next in a day or two. Go Dawgs!

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Mariners Draft Outfielder Alex Jackson

Three years ago, the Mariners held the second overall pick in a draft considered to be loaded with talent. There were quite a few players on the radar, from pitchers like Dylan Bundy and Gerrit Cole to high school outfielder Bubba Starling. I wanted college third baseman Anthony Rendon, the presumed top pick until some injuries slowed him. It looked like the M’s would luck into an impact bat.

Cole went first, and while Rendon wasn’t a lock, all of the options were attractive. And then the Mariners went slightly off the board and picked Danny Hultzen, the last of the realistic options I expected. Hultzen wasn’t a bad pick, he just lacked a bit of the upside of the other names. Perhaps unfairly, he was seen as the safe pick, which is fine until the safe pick blows out his shoulder two years later and is still rehabbing now with no guarantee to ever be an impact pitcher again. Meanwhile, Rendon is having a solid season in his first full year in the majors, and looks to be a solid starter and maybe much more in the future.

I tell this story because today’s MLB draft was setting up for another let down. The Mariners picked sixth in a draft commonly thought to have four or five players true impact players at the top. Personally, I loved lefties Brady Aiken and Carlos Rodon, but both seemed sure to go before they reached the Mariners. My top choice among the possibly realistic options was high school C/OF Alex Jackson from San Diego, considered the top hitting prospect in the draft.

For a few weeks, most thought Jackson would go second to the Marlins, but that started to change in the last week. People started saying if Jackson wasn’t picked in the top two, he could fall to the Mariners. Mock drafts and rumors are never right so I was trying to keep my hopes from getting up (also important because I have never watched Jackson and it’s possible he never even makes it to Seattle, but that’s beside the point).

Amazingly, the experts were right. Aiken went number one, fellow prep pitcher Tyler Kolek went two, Rodon three. No one knew what the Cubs would do, but they surprised a bit and took Indiana catcher/OF Kyle Schwarber. The Twins took prep shortstop Nick Gordon, and suddenly the Mariners had a chance to make me happy, which they don’t do that often. More importantly (maybe), they had a chance to get a potential hitting star, which they’ve needed for literally more than a decade.

At this point, I still assumed they would pick someone else, a la Hultzen over Rendon. It would be just like the Mariners to get our hopes up and then do something totally unexpected to ruin them. But in a move I’m taking to be a sign of their changing ways, the M’s made Jackson the pick. The tide is turning, Seattle. Five game winning streaks and big time hitting prospects. This is the stuff of which good baseball teams are made.

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There are lots of better places to read scouting reports of draftees, so I’ll keep mine to a minimum. Jackson is 6’2″ 210 lbs and hits and throws right handed. He plays catcher in high school but he was announced as an outfielder and Jack Zduriencik said afterward they’ll put him in an outfield corner in an effort to let him move up the ranks as quickly as his bat will carry him. With Zunino being the man, there’s really no reason to waste time on developing Jackson as a catcher, even though most think he could be at least passable there.  He boasts a rifle arm and enough athleticism to be an average or better right fielder.

The bat is what is really special. He’s above-average with both the hit and power tools, and I’ve seen a line of .285/.350/.500 with 25-30 homers as completely realistic, and he could do a lot more than that. Strike zone judgement is always the concern for prep hitters, and it’s hard to know how they’ll react in the pros, but he’s given no reason to worry yet. It’s just an area where we have to wait and see. Zduriencik compared the pick to drafting Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder in Milwaukie, so that’s encouraging. The MLB draft is always risky, especially when drafting high schoolers, but Jackson is the cream of this year’s crop.

Jackson immediately becomes the M’s first or second best prospect (not counting Taijuan Walker), depending on how one feels about DJ Peterson. They have similar bats, with Jackson having more home run power and a higher upside, but Peterson being a lot closer to the majors. If Jackson becomes a reliable outfielder, he’ll likely have more positional value as well, since Peterson will probably play first base in Seattle. However you look at them, they’re a good duo, and with the way some guys like Austin Wilson and Gabriel Guerrero and Jabari Blash are hitting, they might have some company soon.We probably won’t see Jackson in Seattle before 2017 at the earliest, but it’s hard to say for sure.

While I’ve been writing this, the M’s selected another righty power-hitting outfielder in the extra little round after the second. This one is Gareth Morgan, a big boy from Canada. I haven’t had time to read much on him yet, but he evidently has monstrous power but some work to do overall as a hitter. Canadian hitters tend to be pretty raw due to the lack of year-round ball there. Think Michael Saunders and his long, winding path to consistent production. That means they can really blossom with more and better coaching, and they sometimes slide in the draft because they’re not seen by scouts to the same degree as players in warm weather areas. It can also mean they’re just not good enough for the majors and never will be. Only time will tell. Without knowing really anything, it seems like a good pick. The Mariners need outfielders, and they picked up two with a lot of promise today.

Tomorrow and Saturday bring the rest of the draft, with rounds 3-10 tomorrow and 11-40 Saturday. I will not know any of the players anyone picks, but it’s fun to learn about them and hear all of their different stories. I might check in with an update on Sunday, but check Baseball America or your usual Mariner sources for more (and probably better) info. Go Mariners!

-Matthew

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The Mariners are (Maybe) Not Bad

Riding a surprising three game winning streak, the Mariners are back over .500 at 29-28.  It seems like they’ve hovered within a game or two of .500 for most of the season, so it seems pretty fair to consider them an extremely average team right now. Luckily for them, most of the league is in the same boat. Before today’s win, they were only a game and a half out of a wild card. Unfortunately, that only puts them tied for 5th in the wild card standings. Still, the potential for playoff baseball is there should the M’s improve over the summer.

It’s hard to get a handle on this team. The rotation has sustained a ridiculous amount of injuries, but it’s performed surprisingly well, at least outside of the Brandon Maurer/Erasmo Ramirez slot. The bullpen was shaky early before turning into a pretty solid unit. The defense is better than last year, especially in the outfield, although it suffers from lapses occasionally.

As usual, it’s the offense that most often holds the team back. There always seem to be at least three regulars slumping badly, while it’s rare for the team to have more than one guy on a hot streak at a time. The right-handed hitting outfielders have mostly failed miserably. Corey Hart never got going and then got injured. Robinson Cano is on base all the time, but he has yet to bring his usual burst of doubles and homers. In short, the offense is too inconsistent. It will bust out with ten runs, like in New York today, and then struggle to get ten more total in the next two series.

I honestly have no clue how the season will go from here. Typically, it gets easier to hit in Seattle as the weather gets warmer, but who knows. If Taijuan Walker and/or James Paxton can return, it could be a huge boost. But of course, they might also have no real impact this year. This season has a wide range of possible outcomes, and each of them seem as likely as the next. A few more thoughts on the season  and what’s to come after the jump.

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The Mariners Will Draft Someone Soon

I keep intending to write about the Mariners, who are having what could be called their best season in five years. This season could also be called incredibly frustrating and disappointing, so I guess perspective matters. Anyway, every time I think about writing about the M’s, they’re in the middle of a game or coming off a few losses or whatever, and I just don’t feel like doing it. I still don’t feel like doing it, so I’m going to write something tangentially related to the Mariners and hopefully get a real M’s post out in the very near future.

Anyone remember a few weeks ago when the NFL teams drafted a whole bunch of players? That was called the NFL draft. Major league baseball will do the same thing in a week and a half (June 6th), with even more players involved but a whole lot less fanfare. Baseball has taken steps in the last few years to increase the draft’s popularity, putting some of it on TV and cranking up the coverage on MLB.com, but it’s just never going to happen. Unless one is really into college baseball, most of these guys will be unidentifiable, especially past the first round. I’ve been reading draft coverage for month and I still couldn’t name more than 20 guys or so.

Still, for whatever reason, I love the MLB draft. The sheer length of it (40 rounds) leads to more stories to discover, and the obscurity of the players takes away most opportunity to judge the selections immediately. Fans are forced to just sit, learn about the players, and trust (or not) that their team made a good decision. The results won’t show up for 2-7 years, which is weird but not terrible.

Luckily, drafting is one of the areas where the Mariners are good. The major league production by some of their prospects casts doubts on how good the drafting has been, but they’ve also turned out a ton of talent. Guys like Seager, Paxton and Taijaun Walker were excellent picks in the second to fourth rounds, and they’ve added quality depth and arms lower than that. They’re not the best drafting team in baseball, but they’re comfortably in the top half or better.

This year they pick sixth overall. The draft has a weird salary set-up that sometimes makes picks even more unpredictable than usual. Basically, each pick gives the team a pre-determined amount of money they’re allowed to spend, but that total goes into a pool that can be distributed in whatever amounts to all the team’s draftees. Exceed the total pool amount, and there are fines and potentially the loss of future draft picks. This sometimes leads teams to draft players who want less money so they can sign more expensive guys later, but I don’t get the impression this strategy will come into play too much for the M’s first pick.

Generally the very top of the draft is pretty well decided by now, but this year no one seems sure who will go first, let alone top five. I have no idea whom the Mariners will select, both because of the uncertainty and because they rarely let information leak. The good news is this is seen as a fairly deep and talented draft. The bad news is there isn’t likely to be a power-hitting outfielder worthy of the sixth pick, and a couple of the better college pitchers were injured this season. I’ll divide some potential picks into categories below, but be aware the M’s could pick someone totally different, and that wouldn’t make it a bad pick. As always, I’m no scout. I just read a lot.

Tough to pass up if they fall

With top college arm Jeff Hoffman recently needing Tommy John surgery, a top four seems to be emerging: college LHP Carlos Rodon, HS C/OF Alex Jackson, and HS LHP Brady Aiken and RHP Tyler Kolek. I would think the Mariners would love for any of them to drop. Jackson is the clear best bat at this point. He’s been catching in high school but might move to outfield. Without ever seeing him, that’s a move I’d make immediately. From all reports, he has the bat to make an impact regardless of the position and the athleticism to be at least decent in the outfield.

Aiken is drawing comparisons to Clayton Kershaw, with perhaps more polish. Prep pitchers are always risky, but he sounds like the complete package. Kolek is a fireballer, regularly hitting 100 mph with good secondary stuff. Rodon entered the year as the presumed top pick, but a lackluster season has taken some of the shine away. He’s still the odds-on favorite to go #1 to the Astros, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him fall a bit too. If he somehow made it to the Mariners, he’d be a no-brainer.

College bats

Jackson has the best chance to be a middle of the order guy, but there are a couple of college outfielders who could be good but not elite bats. Semi-local guy Michael Conforto from Oregon State is the name that gets mentioned, but most people I read think the M’s will have better options available. He’s the best bat on the nation’s best team, but he isn’t good defensively (to the point of maybe being a first baseman eventually) and his bat isn’t likely to be top of the line, just above average. San Francisco’s Bradley Zimmer is getting the press of late. He’s much better defensively, although probably not good enough to play center regularly. He sounds a little like Michael Saunders as a tall, long guy who doesn’t consistently have the power one might expect. He could move somewhat quickly and be an above-average starting outfielder, but again, he’s not likely to be a standout with the bat. The other college bat getting talk this high is Casey Gillaspie, but he’s a first baseman, not an outfielder. I guess I should also mention college SS Trea Turner, since he could easily be the pick. He’s lightning fast, a good defender, but the bat leaves something to be desired this high in the draft. I hope they don’t pick him, but he’s interesting, especially if someone can fix his swing a bit.

College pitchers

The recent buzz has the M’s going shortstop or pitcher. I don’t really trust the buzz, but college pitcher seems logical. RHP Aaron Nola, from LSU,  is the darling of this area in the draft. His stuff and size are not top-of-the-line, but he knows how to pitch and gets tremendous results. He might not be a future ace, but he could be an above-average starter who reaches the majors quickly, barring injury. Leftie Kyle Freeland is a recent riser, with good velocity and command and solid secondary stuff. The aforementioned rightie Hoffman could still be in play despite the surgery. He likely would have gone before the Mariners’ pick without the surgery, and with the high rates of TJ success, it wouldn’t be a crazy pick. I don’t expect it, but it could happen, and might save the M’s some money for later picks. There are quite a few other names that could fit in this group, so don’t be surprised by any college pitcher picked.

High school upside guys

High schoolers often have more potential, but they also take longer and are more likely to fail. SS Nick Gordon, brother of Dee and son of Tom, is the current hot name. He should be a good shortstop and could develop into a solid or better bat, in the Derek Jeter mold (but nowhere near that good). There are a few other bats, like SS/3B Jacob Gatewood or M’s blogosphere favorite CF Michael Gettys, who aren’t expected to go this high but could be plays for big offensive upside. On the pitching side, rightie Touki Toussaint has some of the best stuff in the draft, to go with a great name and backstory. He also needs a lot of work and is the type of pick who routinely fails.

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So that’s a lot of names, and there are quite a few others who could be the pick. My preference probably goes Jackson, Aiken, Rodon, Kolek, with Nola and Freeland as maybe my top picks of the guys likely to be available. Gordon seems like he could be the guy though, and while I don’t like it especially, I wouldn’t be surprised if he turns out pretty well.  We’ll know soon enough who the pick is, but because it’s baseball, we won’t know if it’s a good pick for a very long time.

-Matthew

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