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Originally published May 31, 2011 at 9:15 PM | Page modified May 31, 2011 at 9:21 PM

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Larry Stone

Mariners' No. 2 draft pick not so clear this year

Tom McNamara has been darting around the country for the past three months, taking in a college game one day, then often hurrying off to see a high-school contest the next.

Seattle Times baseball reporter

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Tom McNamara has been darting around the country for the past three months, taking in a college game one day, then often hurrying off to see a high-school contest the next.

His enemies are rain, flight delays and unforeseen injuries that sideline the player he has traveled to see, as happened at the very first game he was to scout this season.

"My body clock is used to driving to the airport and getting on a plane," McNamara said Wednesday. "It's kind of weird to be home every night."

But now, the bulk of the work has been done. McNamara, the Mariners' scouting director, has been ensconced this week in an office at Safeco Field, where under his leadership the ballclub has painstakingly been setting their Big Board. It's an overall ranking of players that will serve as their guide when Monday's MLB draft kicks off.

For the Mariners, it's a high-stakes event. For the second time in three years, they have the No. 2 selection. When you pick that high, you can't afford to miss. In 2009, McNamara's first year as scouting director, they settled early on North Carolina's Dustin Ackley and never wavered.

"We found ourselves at Chapel Hill a lot that year," McNamara said. "I was on a first-name basis with the people in the diner. It was pretty odd."

Now Ackley is on a hitting tear with AAA Tacoma and on the verge of his first major-league call-up.

This year's pick at No. 2 is not so clear-cut, partly because the Pirates, who select above them, haven't settled on their pick. In 2009, there was absolutely no doubt the Nationals would go with super-phenom Stephen Strasburg with the No. 1 overall pick. While a far deeper draft in 2011, it does not have that slam-dunk top choice, and certainly not a slam-dunk No. 2 choice.

That's not the same as saying there's not a fabulous choice to be made at No. 2. McNamara is firmly convinced there is.

"Picking two this year, it's a good spot to be in," McNamara said. "It's a good year. I know a lot of scouting directors don't usually say that. They usually say it's kind of a down year. They put themselves in position. ... But it's a good year. A lot of good players. I'm pretty excited about bringing the right player to this franchise."

It's just that there are so many potentially good players — college and high school, pitchers and position players — that it's harder to pinpoint. I asked McNamara if the Mariners have yet to narrow their choice down to two players, thus assuring they'll get who they want no matter what the Pirates do.

"We're preparing ourselves," he replied. "We have at least four or five guys. You just want to make sure you're in position to take the right guy. We're doing a lot of research. We've seen all the players. We've gotten to know them. ...

"I wouldn't say we've narrowed it down to two guys. We're keeping it open. We feel good."

By most accounts, the Mariners will pick one of five players: Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon (the favorite, provided Pittsburgh doesn't nab him first); UCLA pitcher Gerrit Cole; Gardner, Kan., high-school outfielder Bubba Starling; Clermont, Fla., high-school shortstop Francisco Lindor; or Owasso, Okla., high-school right-hander Dylan Bundy.

The two other names being thrown out near the top of the draft are a couple of college pitchers, UCLA's Trevor Bauer and Virginia lefty Danny Hultzen.

McNamara, trained well by general manager Jack Zduriencik, isn't tipping his hand.

All things being equal, I'd like to see the Mariners take Rendon, a potential impact bat who can reach the majors quickly.

That's provided, of course, that everything checks out with the shoulder strain that has hampered him this season. Considerable intrigue is building over whether the Rendon camp will release his medical records before the draft.

And what's a draft without last-minute intrigue?

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com.

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About Larry Stone

Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
lstone@seattletimes.com

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