SEATTLE -- The homegrown hero is every franchise’s dream. Hit on your top-end Draft picks, and you can put yourself on a postseason trajectory. It’s a formula that has worked for years, even in Seattle, despite some of the Mariners’ shortcomings in their chase for that elusive World Series championship.
Seattle has an up-and-coming core of recent Draft picks that they hope can embody that blueprint, especially on the pitching front. But with that all in mind and before looking ahead to the future, here’s a glimpse into the Mariners’ past, with the top five homegrown Draft picks in club history.
Players were considered based on their impact on the franchise and had to be selected by Seattle in the amateur player Draft, so the club’s top international signees were not included.
1) OF Ken Griffey Jr.
Drafted in first round (No. 1 overall) in 1987
Griffey might have a case as the best homegrown player of any team in any era when considering how much hype surrounded the top overall pick as the son of a three-time All-Star. It’s wild to imagine that the Mariners nearly passed on the sure-bet center fielder out of Moeller High School in Cincinnati.
Former owner George Argyros had his heart set on a college pitcher, and his top choice was Mike Harkey. Griffey only wound up in Seattle by agreeing to a $160,000 bonus, well below the $225,000 that the previous year’s top pick received. Griffey took pride in being the top pick, and boy, did he deliver. Griffey played in just 129 Minor League games before going on to become the franchise leader with 70.6 wins above replacement, per Baseball-Reference, and 417 homers. He ranks at or near the top of just about every offensive category in team history.
Above all, Griffey put Seattle on the baseball map. He made baseball “cool” in the 1990s, wearing his cap backwards during BP. He had his own Nintendo game and was featured in a Nike campaign that went viral before “viral” became a thing. He was arguably the face of baseball.
Though his departure in 2000 wasn’t the cleanest, Griffey did return to Seattle in ’09 and donned a Mariners cap when he was enshrined to the Hall of Fame in ‘16, becoming the first No. 1 overall pick inducted into Cooperstown.
2) SS Alex Rodriguez
Drafted in first round (No. 1 overall) in 1993
A-Rod was the most hyped Draft prospect of any player since, well, Griffey six seasons prior (though Chipper Jones in 1990 might have an argument). That’s why Seattle had to pull the trigger when it landed the top pick despite having a better record than the Dodgers, who selected second. Back then, picks would alternate by each league, so the Mariners lucked out with No. 1 overall.
Rodriguez passed on a scholarship to the University of Miami to sign with the Mariners for $1.3 million and a $1 million signing bonus. Rodriguez reached the Majors in his first pro season in 1994, then in his first full season in ’96, he won the AL batting title with a .358 average at age 21, putting him in territory with Al Kaline and Ty Cobb.
Despite playing just seven seasons in Seattle, his 38.1 bWAR ranks fourth most in team history, and his 189 homers rank fifth. He was an All-Star four times, won the Silver Slugger Award four times and was the runner-up for the 1996 AL MVP Award in one of the closest votes in history.
Despite his accolades, A-Rod isn’t remembered as fondly in Seattle, fair or not. He did his time with the Mariners, hit free agency and then took an unprecedented contract from the Rangers, and that was that.
3) 3B Kyle Seager
Drafted in third round (No. 82 overall) in 2009
It might be hard to believe, perhaps because he’s still on the team -- and because of his workmanlike demeanor -- but Seager has quietly been one of the most productive Mariners of all time. His 33.4 bWAR ranks fifth and trails only Griffey and Rodriguez among homegrown players.
Over his first 10 seasons, Seager hit .256/.326/.443 with a 114 OPS+, 207 homers and 706 RBIs, earning an All-Star selection and Gold Glove Award in 2014.
His time in Seattle is likely winding down, given his 33 years of age, expiring contract and the Mariners’ more youthful direction. But Seager’s arc has come full circle. He began as a promising prospect, developed into the epitome of an everyday player, saw many of the team’s nucleus leave and has been a guiding mentor to many of their replacements. He’ll have a good case to be inducted into the Mariners Hall of Fame after he calls it a career.
4) 1B Alvin Davis
Drafted in sixth round (No. 138 overall) in 1982
You don’t become Mr. Mariner without homegrown status. Davis was drafted twice (by Oakland and San Francisco) before the Mariners landed him after his senior year at Arizona State. Longtime Mariners scout Bob Harrison had followed Davis throughout his amateur career and bluntly told the new signee that he would only go as far as his bat would take him.
Davis heeded that insight and seized the opportunity to start at first base in 1984, when Ken Phelps fractured his finger during the first week of the season. Davis went on to hit 27 homers with 116 RBIs and an .888 OPS en route to being named an All-Star and the AL Rookie of the Year. Before Ichiro Suzuki arrived in 2001, it was the best debut season in Mariners history.
That wound up being the best of Davis’ eight seasons in Seattle, but he had a profound impact in the clubhouse during a pretty tough time, before the club took off in the Griffey era that followed. Davis ranks ninth in Mariners history with 20.1 bWAR, and he slashed .281/.381/.453 with 160 homers for the Mariners.
5) RHP Mark Langston
Drafted in second round (No. 35 overall) in 1981
Langston came in and immediately became the Mariners’ Iron Man, throwing 225 innings and leading the AL with 204 strikeouts during his first season in 1984. He likely would’ve won the AL Rookie of the Year Award had it not been for Mr. Mariner taking home the hardware.
Langston averaged more than 200 innings per season in his five-plus years with Seattle, compiling a 4.01 ERA and trailing only Nolan Ryan in strikeouts over that period, with 1,112. He tallied 19.2 bWAR, fourth most among Mariners pitchers all time. But Langston might be more remembered for how he left Seattle, given that the key return in his trade to the Expos was Randy Johnson.