Blue Jays enter Draft with two of top 11 picks
Toronto will target top players available rather than focus on organization needs
TORONTO -- For the second time in three years, the Blue Jays will have two picks at their disposal in the first round of the First-Year Player Draft on Thursday.
Toronto has the ninth and 11th overall selections, with the second pick added after last year's inability to sign right-hander Phil Bickford. That gives the club some additional flexibility in a Draft which is being described by some experts as better than the previous two.
The fact that Toronto has two early picks so close to each other should help the club zero in on a small group of players, but the overall strategy remains mostly the same.
"Especially when you're picking where we are -- two of the top 11 picks -- you just have to get your players," Blue Jays director of amateur scouting Brian Parker said. "We want to get players that can impact the Major League team, help this organization -- get guys that can come up and help this team win.
"That's ultimately the goal. And you can't really look at what you're doing -- as far as holes in the organization or whatever -- when you're [drafting] this high especially. You've just got to take the best player."
The fact that the Blue Jays were unable to sign their top picks in two of the past three years raised some red flags. In 2011, it was right-hander Tyler Beede, who decided to walk away from a lucrative offer and instead attend Vanderbilt University. Last year, Bickford also opted for a scholarship offer over signing with Toronto.
The benefit in both cases is that the Blue Jays received a compensatory pick in the following year to make up for the lost prospect. The downside is that Toronto lost some valuable time developing another core piece for the future. It's a situation the Blue Jays would ideally avoid this year, but a lot of times that's also easier said than done.
"There's so much gamesmanship," Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "They're not willing to sign, and then you do more work, and if it's the right number, they are willing to sign.
"There's times where kids say [they want to go to school]. As you get close to the Draft, all of a sudden things change. It could be for various reasons. Just because you might hear on May 15 someone wants to go to school, you don't quit on it until really it comes time to draft [them]."
One lingering question about the Blue Jays is how much money they have to spend on prospects. Toronto has a bonus pool of $9,458,800 to work with, but a report came out late last week which suggested the club might be limited to a smaller amount by ownership.
Anthopoulos was asked to comment on that issue Thursday, and he said that the payroll for the Major League roster and the Draft are two separate things. Toronto wouldn't cut its spending this week to accommodate future moves on the 25-man roster, and as far as he was concerned, nothing had changed from previous years.
Blue Jays bonus pool
"No, it's the same," Anthopoulos said. "We have two picks in the first round, so that can impact things. But it all depends on what's out there in the Draft as well, what the opportunities are and things like that. We'll see how it goes. I love the Draft, I always get excited for it. It's a fun week for us and I expect everything to be the same."
The 2014 Draft will take place Thursday through Saturday, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 74 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of the second and third days will begin with a live Draft show at 12:30 p.m. ET on Friday.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 200 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. Every selection will be tweeted live from @MLBDraftTracker, and you can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
In about 50 words
During Anthopoulos' time as GM, the Blue Jays have never shied away from making a lot of risky picks in the Draft. Toronto values the upside of a player more than anything else, and typically the club would rather select someone out of high school over a seasoned college player who has less potential to become a high-end talent.
The fact that Toronto has two first-round picks is a somewhat similar situation to 2012, when the Blue Jays passed on right-hander Marcus Stroman at No. 17 because they felt the product of Duke would still be available at No. 22. The move worked and allowed the Blue Jays to grab outfielder D.J. Davis with their first pick, even though Stroman had been at the top of their list.
High school right-hander Touki Toussaint is the name that seems to have been most frequently linked to the Blue Jays over the past several weeks. The soon to be 18-year-old starting pitcher is ranked eighth overall in the Draft by MLB.com. Toussaint typically throws 91-93 mph, but he has shown the ability to hit 97 and is projected to have three above-average pitches in the future.
Right-hander Jeff Hoffman also has been generating a lot of buzz recently. He was a candidate to be taken with the first-overall pick until a right elbow injury required Tommy John surgery earlier this spring. That has caused Hoffman's stock to fall, but he's still a strong possibility to go in the first round because of the typical success rate of the surgical procedure. Hoffman hasn't completely grown into his 6-foot-4 frame, but he already throws in the mid-90s with the ability to hit 98 mph.
The other name that has been a mentioned a lot is Trea Turner of North Carolina State. The 21-year-old shortstop has the potential to become the first college position player taken in this year's Draft. He possesses a lot of raw speed and consistently makes contact, which would project him as a leadoff hitter in the big leagues. Turner still needs to work on his defense up the middle to avoid being transitioned to third.
Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team has an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of that club's selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. The signing bonuses for a team's selections in the first 10 rounds, plus any bonus greater than $100,000 for a player taken after the 10th round, will apply toward the bonus-pool total.
Any team going up to five percent over its allotted pool will be taxed at a 75-percent rate on the overage. A team that overspends by 5-10 percent gets a 75-percent tax plus the loss of a first-round pick. A team that goes 10-15 percent over its pool amount will be hit with a 100-percent penalty on the overage and the loss of a first- and second-round pick. Any overage of 15 percent or more gets a 100-percent tax plus the loss of first-round picks in the next two Drafts.
The Blue Jays have a total of $9,458,500 to spend on 11 picks in the top 10 rounds, which ranks fourth among Major League teams. The suggested slot value of the club's first selection at No. 9 overall is $3,080,800, and the No. 11 pick is $2,888,300. The only teams that have a larger bonus pool to work from this year are Miami ($14,199,300), Houston ($13,362,200) and the White Sox ($9,509,700).
Anthopoulos' quotes before the Draft are essentially the same every year. The Blue Jays will use their picks to take the player they feel has the most upside. A lot of times in recent years, there has been a tendency to take a high number of pitchers in the early rounds, but it's not typical of the club to target a specific player just to fill an area of need.
During the past three years, the Blue Jays have placed a strong emphasis on stockpiling a lot of pitchers in their system. There has been a clear preference for tall, athletic pitchers who project to have more durability than some of their smaller counterparts. With the exception of Stroman in 2012, all of the pitchers taken in the first 10 rounds have been at least 6-foot-1.
Last year, the Blue Jays used all but one of their top 12 picks on pitchers. Two years prior, 12 of the top 15 selections were used on pitchers. The only Draft that really broke away from that tradition came in 2012, but even then, four of the top seven picks were pitchers. According to MLB.com, four of the club's current top five prospects, and 11 of the top 20 are pitchers.
* RECENT DRAFT HISTORY *
The Blue Jays have a group of young starting pitchers who are closing in on making an impact at the big league level. Stroman made his debut earlier this season, and after a brief stint in Triple-A Buffalo, he was recalled on Saturday to make his starting debut against the Royals. When Stroman was originally drafted in 2012, there had been plenty of speculation that he was destined for the bullpen, but for now, Toronto appears committed to him as a starter.
The best prospect in the Blue Jays' system. according to MLB.com, is right-hander Aaron Sanchez. The 21-year-old made some waves during his first big league Spring Training earlier this year, but so far in 2014, he has been relatively inconsistent. Fastball command continues to be his biggest issue, but Sanchez still projects as a potential frontline starting pitcher in the Major Leagues.
Left-hander Daniel Norris arguably has taken the biggest leap forward of any Blue Jays prospect this season. Norris also had some control problems in the past, but he was able to overcome a lot of the issues at Class A Dunedin. Through 10 starts in the Minors, he posted a sparkling 0.72 ERA with 60 strikeouts in 50 1/3 innings. Norris is expected to receive a promotion to Double-A New Hampshire in the relatively near future.
Other prospects that are getting closer to the big leagues include right-hander John Stilson and catcher A.J. Jimenez. Mitch Nay is one of the more promising position-player prospects, while D.J. Davis has an enticing skill set at Class A Lansing but is still very raw at the plate.
Veteran catcher Erik Kratz was an afterthought when Toronto drafted him in the 29th round in 2002. He was an organizational depth player and remained in that role for several years before finally getting a break with the Pirates. Kratz then spent parts of five seasons in the big leagues and this year became a valuable asset for manager John Gibbons to use against left-handed pitching.
Perhaps the most obvious choice for this category is right-hander Drew Hutchison, who wasn't taken until the 15th round in 2009. The selection comes with a caveat, though, because the only reason Hutchison slipped that far was because he wasn't expected to sign. When Toronto was unable to sign compensatory pick James Paxton, the club threw some money at Hutchison, who agreed to a deal that was well over slot value.
In The Show
Toronto's bullpen is where the majority of the homegrown Blue Jays players can be found. Closer Casey Janssen is one of the most tenured players after being drafted in the fourth round in 2004. Janssen made his debut two years later and has since become an integral component of the team. He's joined in the bullpen by fellow Toronto picks Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup and Dustin McGowan. Adam Lind, Kevin Pillar, Hutchison, Kratz and Stroman are the other draftees who have made an impact on the 25-man roster this year.
Overall, Toronto hasn't enjoyed a lot of success from its Draft picks at the big league level. In the past 10 Drafts, Blue Jays players who have reached the big league level have combined to post a 45.3 WAR. That's the second-lowest total in the Major Leagues, with only the Phillies ranking lower at 20.7. The rest of the American League East has fared much better: Red Sox (142.7), Yankees (120.5), Rays (115.8) and Orioles (51.9).
The Blue Jays' recent top picks
2013: Phil Bickford, RHP (Did not sign)
2012: D.J. Davis, OF, Class A Lansing
2012: Marcus Stroman, RHP, Triple-A Buffalo
2011: Tyler Beede, RHP (Did not sign)
2010: Deck McGuire, RHP
2009: Chad Jenkins, RHP, Triple-A Buffalo