SEATTLE -- For a change, Tom McNamara and the Seattle Mariners don't have a clear idea of how the first round of baseball's amateur draft will play out.
The past two seasons, the Mariners have picked Nos. 2 and 3 overall in the draft and McNamara's job was simpler. The Mariners simply waited to see who was picked above them and then had their choice of one of the top prospects in the entire draft pool.
This year is a little different.
"The unsung guys that work with me, they've gotten after it this year big time. We've seen a lot more players this year," said McNamara, Seattle's director of amateur scouting.
The Mariners hold the 12th pick in Thursday's draft, a spot that has led to plenty of frequent flyer miles for McNamara and his staff as they tried to get a handle on who might be available when Seattle picks in the middle of the first round.
After two straight drafts of having a pretty clear idea who they were targeting and getting a chance to see those players on multiple occasions, McNamara and his scouts have been forced to fan out around the country this year even more trying to zero in on their first-round selection.
"When you're picking two or three, you get to sit on a guy and watch him four or five times or six or seven times," McNamara said. "When you're picking 12 you don't know who is coming your way, you're kind of in no-man's land that way."
Three times in the last four years, the Mariners have selected in the top three. They held the No. 2 overall pick in 2009 when they selected Dustin Ackley, had No. 2 again in 2011 when they took left-handed pitcher Danny Hultzen and selected catcher Mike Zunino No. 3 overall a year ago.
All three of those players are currently at Triple-A, with Ackley having been sent down from the major league club after struggling at the plate. Because none of the three have managed to establish themselves at the major league level yet, some of the Mariners scouting has been called into question.
McNamara said he has not changed his scouting tactics, but the Mariners are placing even more emphasis on how much an amateur player relishes being in a competitive situation.
"There is something I'm starting to learn, too, the players that love if there is a lot of people scouting them, those guys have something extra. Like, `Ah, this is great, the more the merrier. This is what I want to do,"' McNamara said.
McNamara said there is a strong crop of high school players in this year's draft, but much of the research needed on the prep prospects was done last summer when most of the top players were playing against each other in summer leagues. McNamara said there was one prep player he flew across the country to see in person, only to watch him get intentionally walked four times.
"There is a group of high school guys and a group of college guys and if you didn't do your homework in the summer and watch these guys against competitive teams and players you might be in trouble this year," McNamara said. "We keep saying in that room about the high school guys, `Hey, let's not forget why we spent all that time on the road in the summer and the fall watching these guys play against the best players.' That's where you learn a lot."