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Clement Provides Power Bat

June 7, 2005
By Corey Brock

SEATTLE--Bob Fontaine got his man.

Fontaine, the second-year scouting director for the Mariners, was all smiles Tuesday after Seattle selected Southern California junior catcher Jeff Clement with the third overall pick in the draft.

Clement, a 21-year-old lefthanded hitter, was the player the Mariners wanted all along--and for good reason.

"He's a real good fit for this organization," Fontaine said. "He's got a fine left-handed bat, he's improved tremendously as a catcher and he's a leader.

"Anytime that you can find that these days, especially in a catcher, it's something you've got to take a good, hard look at."

The Mariners, more than anyone, should know that.

Since 1977, Seattle has drafted and developed only two catchers--Dave Valle and Orlando Mercado--who have caught just more than 50 games with the Mariners.

"We always look for catchers," Fontaine said. "Anyone will tell you one of the great needs in baseball is catching. We had a lot of fine players on the (draft) board but when it was all said and done, we felt like this was the right player for us to pick."

The 6-foot-1, 210 pound Clement is hitting .347-13-50 for the Trojans, who are playing in the NCAA Division I Super Regionals at Oregon State this weekend.

Clement--who set the national high school career record for home runs (75) at Marshalltown (Iowa) High--hit 21 home runs in 2003 and 10 last season.

Fontaine said Clement has developed into a strong all-around hitter in the last year.

"You've got to have contact before you have power," Fontaine said. "For anyone that saw this kid play this year you learn that he's developing into a hitter who hits with power instead of just being a power hitter or a hitter."

Now the Mariners need to sign Clement, which could take time because USC is still playing.

"History is on the side of clubs," Fontaine said. "There has been a track record over the years that it takes a while. We're not putting any timetable on it but hopefully it's sooner rather than later."

Clement said Tuesday in a conference calls with reporters that he isn't interested in a long, drawn-out negotiation process.

"I want to play," he said. "Once the college season is over, I'm ready to play. There's no chance I will sit out as long as the Weavers and Drews of the world did."

For now, Clement will focus on helping the Trojans get to the College World Series. Still, he can't help but picture himself in wearing a Mariners uniform.

"I feel like I'll have a great opportunity to play in Seattle," said Clement, who said he became a fan of the Mariners as a kid while watching their games on TV.

"I plan on getting better each day and getting there as soon as possible," he said. "It's a class organization. I'm just happy to be a part of it."

MARINADE

The Mariners didn't have a second- or third-round pick Tuesday. Seattle lost those picks as compensation for signing free agents Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson in the offseason.

In the fourth round, Seattle picked lefthander Justin Thomas out of Youngstown State. Thomas has a live fastball and a good slider. In the fifth round, Seattle picked righthanded power pitcher Stephen Kahn of Loyola Marymount. Kahn, the West Coast Conference pitcher of the year in 2004, struggled this spring (4-5, 5.23) and his stock dropped. All told, the Mariners selected college pitchers in the third, fourth, sixth and seventh rounds.

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