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Mariners thrilled with top pick Peterson's bat

Club follows No. 12 overall selection by drafting athletic outfielder Wilson

SEATTLE -- Looking to add some offensive pop to their organization, the Mariners selected power-hitting third baseman DJ Peterson from the University of New Mexico with the 12th pick in the first round of Thursday's First-Year Player Draft.

They continued that theme by tabbing Stanford outfielder Austin Wilson -- a 6-foot-5, 245-pounder -- with their second-round pick (49th overall).

"We just added two bats -- two physical guys, two good hitters," scouting director Tom McNamara said. "It's a good day for the Seattle Mariners."

Peterson played both first and third base at New Mexico, but the 6-foot-1, 205-pound junior said he has every intention of proving he can play the hot corner professionally after spending about one-third of this past season at first base to help fill a need for the Lobos.

"Not having another first baseman, I was kind of stuck in a hard place there," Peterson said in a conference call with Seattle reporters from his parents' home in Gilbert, Ariz. "But I sucked it up and did it for my team. Just like with the Mariners, if they told me, 'Hey, we want you to slide to first to get to the big leagues,' that's what I would do. But I feel very strongly in my third-base skills, and that's where I want to stay and I want to prove to the Mariners that's where I want to play."

The Mariners originally drafted the 21-year-old Peterson out of high school in the 33rd round in 2010, but he elected to go to New Mexico.

"I think it was better for both of us," Peterson said of his decision to go to college at the time. "They saw that I needed to work on some things, and you know what? They ultimately were right. They saw improvement on things I needed to work on and gave me another chance this time around, and I just couldn't be any more excited."

The Mariners were all smiles as well after landing Peterson the second time around. McNamara believes the youngster can definitely play third base but says that's not his primary ticket.

"Yeah, he's got feet -- he's really improved there," McNamara said. "He's got good hands, he improved his body. But his main tool is his bat. That's what he does. He's a physical guy, a confident hitter, and there were a lot of high-fives in that room after that selection."

Peterson said he's a far different player now after three years of college and also competing for Team USA in the summer.

"Just the maturity, the plate discipline, being able to handle the bat with two strikes, cutting down on my punchouts, my footwork, my time to first base, my range at third base," Peterson said. "I'm sure if you asked the scouting department at the Mariners, they're probably in shock about how much I improved my defensive skills and my speed. I worked on all those things, and it paid off for me and pushed me to this first-round pick."

Peterson hit .408 with 18 home runs and 72 RBIs in 55 games his junior season. He currently ranks third in the nation in home runs and fourth in RBIs and home runs.

"He's one of the better hitters in college baseball," McNamara said. "We liked him out of high school. We liked his bat. He actually came here for the pre-Draft workout as a senior in high school. He's a likeable guy. He'll be a good clubhouse guy. But most importantly, he can hit."

New Mexico head coach Ray Birmingham said Peterson has the talent to play third base and described him a "hard-nosed, come-and-get-it kind of kid." But Birmingham also said the youngster's bat is the difference maker.

"He's got tremendous hand speed and vision," Birmingham said. "He can see sliders and changeups way ahead. I've been coaching for 35 years, and I haven't seen that much. He can see things coming, and he's become a patient hitter.

"He used to be a kid that was too aggressive, trying to hit everything. He learned patience and letting the ball come to him. When he did that, it was game over -- he became a .400 hitter. People say his power was because of altitude, but he hit home runs and tape-measure shots everywhere we went."

Peterson is regarded by some as the best pure hitter available in this year's Draft.

"There are a lot of good hitters out there," Peterson said. "I'm not going to compare myself to any of them, but I will say I'm going to come in and hit for power and drive in a lot of runs for the Seattle Mariners and hit a lot of home runs. So I look forward to this opportunity, and I'll just do my best for the organization."

Peterson is just the third position player selected by Seattle with its first pick in the past eight years, joining second baseman Dustin Ackley (2009) and catcher Mike Zunino ('12).

"Mariners fans will love him," Birmingham said. "He's not only a great player, but he's fan friendly. He's fun to be around and will interact with people. Just a good kid."

Wilson, the second-rounder out of Stanford, was a 12th-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2010 but went to Stanford and became an athletic right fielder with power and speed. He missed the first month of the past season with an elbow injury, however.

In the Pipeline:
Peterson's path to the Majors could depend on what position he winds up at defensively. The Mariners have Kyle Seager at third base, though he could move to second in the future. But the club also has second basemen Dustin Ackley and Nick Franklin, so second is pretty well stocked.

First base has been more of a problem for the Mariners with Justin Smoak's struggles. Kendrys Morales is providing quality defense and a big bat there with Smoak now on the disabled list, but Morales is a free agent at season's end. Rich Poythress has been playing first for Tacoma since his promotion from Double-A Jackson, with Alex Liddi also capable of playing either first or third.

Day 2 of the Draft continues with Rounds 3-10, streamed live on on Friday, beginning with a preview show at 9:30 a.m. PT. And Rounds 11-40 will be streamed live on on Saturday, starting at 10 a.m.'s coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.

Greg Johns is an associate reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.
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