It could have easily been Anthony Rendon. The media certainly believed the Mariners would draft Rice’s star third baseman with the second overall draft pick in 2011, despite injury concerns. Former Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik recently told Corey Brock of The Athletic, “We liked Rendon…a lot. Going into the draft, he was probably the player a lot of people thought we were going to take…and we did, too.”
Most observers expected the Pirates to use the first overall pick on UCLA righty Gerrit Cole, and indeed they did. That scenario left two strong possibilities for the Mariners: Rendon, and University of Virginia lefty Danny Hultzen. Rendon was considered by some to be the top talent in the 2011 draft even with recent ankle and shoulder injuries. But those injuries loomed large for the Mariners, with Zduriencik telling Brock, “Anthony had some physical issues. He’d been hurt the year before and was limited somewhat. There were a few things that were concerning.”
You can debate whether it’s fair to criticize the Mariners’ choice of Hultzen in hindsight. Zduriencik told Brock, “Danny was the guy who everyone loved. It made a lot of sense.” But while Hultzen was by no means a reach or a bad pick at the time, he was considered the “safe” choice. After Day 1 of the draft, Keith Law (then of ESPN) said the Mariners “shock[ed] everyone,” elaborating, “I’m not criticizing Hultzen in the least here, but I think drafting at No. 2 overall is a rare chance to go for ceiling, and the Mariners didn’t do that.