Head west, young man

BOB ELLIOTT -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:40 AM ET

LOS ANGELES -- How good is Phillippe Aumont?

Let's ask the man who drafted Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter -- both of whom went on to win the Cy Young award.

"He's in that same area, absolutely," said scout Bob Engle, the Seattle Mariners' director of international operations.

The Mariners selected Aumont with the 11th pick in North America during yesterday's Major League Baseball amateur draft of high schoolers and collegians. As many as 1,800 players could be selected in the two-day draft which concludes today.

Eleventh overall for a youngster who didn't begin to play ball until he was 11 and did not pitch until he was 14.

Engle saw Aumont pitch for Greg Hamilton's Team Canada junior team at Disney in April. Then, two weeks ago Bob Fontaine and Wayne Norton, of Port Moody, B.C., went to see Aumont pitch in the Dominican Republic.

"Wayne did a heck of a job on this one," Engle said from Tampa. "We had Aumont pitch against our club in the Dominican. He had a good day."

The Mariners were low key in their approach to Aumont. The Gatineau, Que., resident and national junior team stud was flown into Baltimore to pitch at Camden Yards for the Baltimore Orioles and to Coors Field to audition for the Colorado Rockies.

"I didn't expect to be drafted by the Mariners," Aumont said. "I had visits and interviews with plenty of teams, I had meetings with other teams. After games scouts would come up and talk afterward. The only guy I ever spoke to was Seattle's B.C. scout (Norton).

"Most teams want you to go for a visit."

All part of the sneak attack, which led to crushed faces in the war rooms of the Florida Marlins (selecting 12th) and the Cincinnati Reds (15th). Reds Canadian scouting director Bill Byckowski just missed on Aumont, a situation that played out seven years ago when the latter was with the Blue Jays.

The Atlanta Braves grabbed Scott Thorman with the 30th pick, three slots ahead of Toronto.

The 6-foot-7 right-hander is in for approximately a $2-million payday. In the previous four seasons 11th overall picks received an average of $2.465 million US as a signing bonus.

The Cleveland Indians gave Michael Aubrey $2.01 million in 2003, the Pittsburgh Pirates gave Neil Walker $1.95 in 2004, the Pirates gave Andrew McCutchen $1.9 million in 2005 and the Arizona Diamondbacks gave Max Scherzer a $3 million signing bonus.

Scherzer's bonus was inflated because he did not sign until 10 days ago, moments before he would have re-entered the draft.

"Aumont's a big kid, with natural leverage," Engle said. "Most young kids his size have a mechanical flaw. This guy has good balance. He has a natural sinking fastball and looks like he's a good competitor.

"He falls into the same category as Halladay, Carpenter and Felix Hernandez."

Engle also signed Hernandez to a Mariners contract, so he knows a thing about 18-year-old pitchers.

"We were very low key, but we loved the guy," Engle said.

When commissioner Bud Selig read "with the 11th pick the Seattle Mariners select right-hander Phillippe Aumont," Aumont rose, kissed his mother Johanne Renaud and headed for the stage in Orlando.

"We don't have a lot of scouts in Quebec, so going to Cape Cod and the East Coast showcases (in 2006) were big for me, I performed well," Aumont told reporters on a conference call. He said every time a team had its turn at the microphone yesterday he was thinking of the players with that team.

"When it was Seattle's turn I was thinking of Richie Sexson, a tall guy like me, he and Adrian Beltre," Aumont said. "When I was young I always liked watching Randy Johnson pitch because of his size."

Scouts often compared Aumont to former Texas Rangers and New York Yankees right-hander Kevin Brown.

"I've heard some people compare me to Eric Gagne," Aumont said of the former Cy Young Award winner. "Comparing me to Eric, that is a big, big, big thing."

SIGNABILITY WOES

One of the biggest problems with drafting high schoolers is signability.

Will he go to university, will he turn to football or basketball?

There is little doubt what Aumont will do.

"I don't have a problem signing, I'm ready for it," Aumont said, although most of the other top picks were dodging the question.

Aumont, who helped Canada win a bronze medal at the world junior championship in 2006, was asked how he would mix into the Mariners' organization, one of the leaders when it comes to landing international players whether they be from Japan or Latin America.

"I'm pretty sure I'll be comfortable," Aumont said.

"In my country it doesn't matter where you are from. Whether you are American, Latino, it doesn't matter to me,"

Aumont handled his meeting with the Mariners well, including the question: "Was French your first language?"

Aumont said he would celebrate, "but not too strong," and he would see his friends when he returned home.

"I knew just a little bit before they picked me, we had some communications, they did a good job behind the scenes," Aumont said.

Aumont said he enjoys playing Nintendo, especially Madden Football. Nintendo is the majority owner of the Mariners.

His girlfriend Mary-Eve, his mother and a close friend were headed out for dinner last night.

"I'm going to have a big steak," Aumont said. "probably at The Outback."

He has earned it.

OH, CANADA

Five Canadians went in the first five rounds yesterday, compared to one (Kyle Orr) a year ago.

1. (11th overall) Mariners, RHP Phillippe Aumont, Gatineau, Que. Team Canada

1A (53) Reds, RHP Kyle Lotzkar, Tawassen, B.C.

1A (56) Jays, RHP Trystan Magnuson, Vancouver, BC, Louisville

3. (102) Rockies, C Lars Davis, Grand Prairie, Alta., Illinois

4. (126) Royals RHP Mitch Hodge, Vancouver


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