Mariners take USC catcher with No. 3 draft pick

Updated: June 8, 2005, 8:27 AM ET
Associated Press

SEATTLE -- As a kid growing up in Iowa, USC catcher Jeff Clement spent many late nights watching Seattle Mariners' games coming in from the West Coast.

One day soon, he hopes to be playing in those games.

The Mariners used the No. 3 overall selection in Tuesday's amateur draft on Clement, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound left-handed power hitter who should be an excellent match at Safeco Field.

"I feel I'll have a great opportunity to play in Seattle," Clement told reporters during a conference call. "I don't know about the timetable. I just look forward to the opportunity. The fit couldn't be better. It's a class organization."

Seattle's spacious ballpark is generally considered pitcher-friendly. But with the right foul pole at 327 feet, it's always been a great place for any left-handed hitter with power.

"Definitely, most of my power is to the pull side," Clement said. "I know how Safeco plays. It's short down the right field line, then it gets a little bigger in the power alleys. I think it's going to be a good fit for my kind of hitting."

The 21-year-old Clement, a junior from Marshalltown, Iowa, is Southern California's team leader this season with a .347 average, 13 home runs, 50 RBIss, 17 doubles, 44 walks and a .474 on-base percentage.

His 44 career homers rank third on USC's career list, trailing Mark McGwire (54) and Geoff Jenkins (45). He was the Pac-10's freshman of the year in 2002 after hitting .298 with 21 homers and 53 RBIss.

Clement also has played for the U.S. national team over the past two seasons.

He's the highest overall draft pick by Seattle since the Mariners took Jose Cruz Jr. with the third selection in 1995. Seattle landed a high pick because of last year's 99-loss season.

It also marked the first time the Mariners picked in the first round since they chose catcher Ryan Christianson at No. 11 overall in 1999. He's playing at Triple-A Tacoma.

Seattle's scouting officials, who filled a conference room at Safeco Field, were thrilled to land Clement. Handshakes were exchanged around the room after the club called in the pick.

Bob Fontaine, the team's vice president of scouting, said the choice gives the Mariners more depth at a premium position, and it gives them a potential offensive star in the lineup.

"This is a guy we've been looking at for years," Fontaine said. "I know we're comfortable."

Fontaine doesn't expect problems signing Clement, whose team remains in the NCAA tournament this week. There's no timetable, but Clement promised he'll get it done at the earliest opportunity.

"I definitely don't want to sit out," Clement said. "That definitely isn't me. I want to play. They (Mariners) don't have a history of guys holding out. I'm looking forward to getting there."

As for when Clement might break into the majors, it's impossible to forecast.

"We hope it's sooner, rather than later," Fontaine said. "So does he."

It's been a wild ride over the past few days for Clement. USC beat Pepperdine 5-2 on Monday night, advancing to an NCAA Super Regional at Oregon State this weekend.

"That was a huge win. I was extremely excited about that," he said. "Then to wake up today and hear my name called No. 3 overall by the Seattle Mariners, I really couldn't have written a better script."

Later, the Mariners used six of their 12 remaining first-day selections on pitchers. Left-hander Justin Thomas from Youngstown State was the first in the group, taken in the fourth round.

"After we drafted Jeff, we went after a lot of arms," Fontaine said. "The last few years we spent a lot of time looking at position players. We felt this year was a good opportunity to shore up arms."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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