To try and get a better feel for the draft picks we went straight to the source - Blue Jay scouting director Jon Lalonde.
Round 1 - Ricky Romero, LHP
Romero was the sixth overall pick in the draft. Romero was the Jays highest pick in the draft since taking Vernon Wells at number 5 in 1997 and Billy Koch at number 4 in 1996.
Playing at Cal St Fullerton, Romero helped lead the Titans to a National Championship in 2004 as he started and won the first game of the best of three series against Texas in College World Series. Romero then went on to pitch for Team USA in the summer leading the starting pitchers in ERA. This past season at Fullerton Romero improved his ERA to under 3 and increased his strikeout rate to more than one an inning.
Romero features four pitches - fastball, curve, changeup and slider. "He's very advanced - that's one of the things we liked," said scouting director Jon Lalonde. "You don't have to teach him a curve or a change. He already has those weapons. And the beauty of it is that he can use those weapons for strikes. So if it gets to 3-1 on a hitter, the hitter can't just sit fastball because he might come back with a curve or a change. And his slider has a chance to be an excellent pitch down the road for him."
While Romero gets high praise for his physical abilities, the Jays' brass has raved about the mental part of the game - his competitiveness, mental toughness and attitude. Plus, Lalonde adds, "he's a humble young man, and those are the kinds of traits you look for in a high profile type player - someone you hope can be a leader on and off the field."
Romero appears to be headed to Auburn to start his pro career and the Jays expect him to move through the minors quickly - similar to Adams, Bush and Hill. While the Jays feel he's an advanced player there's still plenty of work to do to make it to the big leagues. "In terms of the minor leagues there's going to be a lot of working with him on the mental side of it," Lalonde said. "Tightening up game strategy and game situations, helping him learn to pitch against wood bats, and understand what professional baseball is like, because it is different than the college games."
While the Jays are thrilled with Romero many Bauxites felt that High School OF Cameron Maybin would have been a better pick than Romero in the first round. When asked why Romero was the choice Lalonde said, "We really value the pitching. Itís so difficult to acquire pitching through the trade market and free agency, so any chance you have to acquire who we believe is a quality, quality, starting pitcher itís difficult to pass up. As much as we saw Cameron Maybin this spring, and we think he has a chance to be a very good player, we obviously donít think heís as advanced as Ricky Romero and it comes down to a comfort level and we were more comfortable with Ricky."
One of the other frequent debates among Bauxites is whether the Jays are missing out on high ceiling players and settling for average players when a majority of the picks are college players. Lalonde said, "I just think that thereís so much that goes into a star player above and beyond his physical abilities. Baseball is a thinking manís game and the good players make adjustments and I think as much as physical tools are great thereís also an element of intelligence or mental toughness that goes into it that. Physical tools, if you only have that, they only get you so far."
"So as much as people can say the approach we use doesnít allow getting that star play, well Aaron Hill is doing ok. Is he going to be a star? I donít know, but he has the ability to be a very, very good player and help us for a long time."
"I think sometimes itís much too easy to say if you only draft college players youíre only going to get the average players. I think sometimes we can get caught up in ceiling and upside but theyíre fairly elusive."
Round 3 - Brian Pettway, OF
Coming into the 2005 college baseball season Brian Pettway was a bit of an unknown. He was a decent hitter, hitting .305/.373/.448 at Ole Miss, but not projected to be a high draft pick. After an offseason of training Pettway lost approximately 20 pounds and saw his game improve sharply as he hit .383/.453/.692 for the Rebels, earning 2nd team Baseball America All-American honors.
While the weight loss certainly helped Pettway, Lalonde noted that there was more to the improvement than that. "This year his swing became more consistent, his approach became more consistent in terms of looking for quality pitches to hit and getting into good hitter's count. It's a combination of the work he did to get himself in shape physically, and the skill work he did to make himself a better hitter."
Pettway played a few different positions at Mississippi, but Lalonde said, "he's definitely a corner OF. He doesn't run particularly well, but he's become a much better OF. He has a plus arm. He used to catch so he has arm strength and they actually pitched him a bit so arm strength isn't an issue."
"We see him, if it all clicks, he can that middle of the order power bat from the right side. He has that kind of power. He doesn't hit wall scrapers, he hits big flies. He has that right field type skill set with the plus arm and the plus power."
Round 4 - Ryan Patterson, OF
Patterson went undrafted as a junior in 2004, but really made his mark that summer in the Cape Cod League, with a .328 batting average. He followed that up with a strong senior season at LSU hitting .369/.448/.719, including 20 home runs which gave him 50 for his three years at LSU.
Patterson played CF for the Tigers and while some feel that he'll eventually become a corner OF Lalonde said that he'd "imagine they're going to give him every chance to stick in CF and let him play his way out of it."
The Jays like to focus on makeup in players they take and Patterson rates highly. "The guy he reminds me of, not necessarily in terms of his skills but in terms of how he plays the game, is Reed Johnson," Lalonde said. "He plays with that kind of reckless abandon that you love."
There were a lot of similarities between Pettway and Patterson and preparing for the draft the Jays debated between the two players. "We talked a lot about Pettway or Patterson, and there were certainly people on both sides of the fence in our discussion so to get both of them was just outstanding," Lalonde said.
Was Pettway and Patterson comparable to Purcey and Jackson last year? "In a lot of ways it did feel that way where you have your heart set on getting one of the two," Lalonde said, "so when you get both you feel really good about it."
"At the end of the day the separator for us was that we just think that Pettway's power was a little more advanced than Patterson's but it's not tremendous, the gap isn't astronomical, it was just the final separator between the two players."
Patterson, along with 7th round pick Robert Ray, continued the Jays trend of taking players that played in the Cape Cod League the previous summer. Seeing players in the Cape Cod League environment tells the Jays a lot. Lalonde notes, "Seeing players swing the wood bat is one of the most important revealing things we can see as evaluators. Seeing them swing aluminum in the spring - as much as you can look at it and say I think this is a good wood bat swing - thereís no substitute for actually seeing them compete against their best counterparts in college in that Cape Cod league to see how they fare with that wood bat. That tells us a lot about how advanced they are as hitters."
"The best ones migrate to that league. Itís a pro style environment. They play every day and itís much more relaxed. The Cape is more like professional baseball than college baseball and itís another reason we scout it so extensively."
Round 5 - Eric Fowler, LHP
The Jays took a third consecutive SEC player when they took Eric Fowler from Mississippi in the fifth round. Like Pettway, Fowler improved greatly this year and made the Jays take notice.
"He's had an outstanding season and has a great curve - and in my opinion it's a knockout pitch," Lalonde said. "The curve is shaped like Jason Frasor's - it's more late and sharp. It has enough depth to get under left and right handed bats. We had his fastball up to 91 and he'll pitch between 86-91 with his fastball. We'll give him every chance to start knowing that your fallback option is at worst a LH reliever with an out pitch."
Round 6 - Josh Bell, C
Bell was drafted in the 5th round of the 2001 draft out of high school by the St Louis Cardinals as a pitcher, but elected to play at Auburn where he played several positions. This past season Bell focused on catching and seemed to improve as a result.
Defense seems to be Bell's weakness at this point, but the Jays like what they see in him. Lalonde said, "He's improving as a receiver. I saw him in the Cape Cod league and saw him again in the spring and thought he improved, but he still has a way to go. He's got good feet, he's got some good athleticism, so we think he can make some of those improvements. He has a plus arm - up to 93 off the mound - so he has the ability to control the running game. He has an excellent catcher frame. I compare him to a Kevin Cash type frame - squat and a strong lower half. He's a guy we certainly project as a catcher."
At the plate Lalonde feels that Bell can be an asset. "He has an opportunity to become an offensive contributor. He has strength, bat speed and has a feel for the bat head. His plate discipline improved this season and must continue to improve for him to realize his potential."
Bell was the fourth consecutive SEC player drafted by the Jays after taking Romero in round one. Are the Jays more focused on players from the power college baseball conferences? "I think a lot of it is coincidence, but thereís something to be said for players that can compete day in and day out in those conferences. Thatís the highest level of amateur baseball that we have to go by and so if a player is able to succeed in those type of environments, the SEC I think - even though the College World Series doesnít bear it out Ė was the deepest and toughest conference this year. It just so happens we had a little run on SEC players, but itís nothing deliberate, its just trying to get the best guy and if one of those guys is from a power conference all the better."
Round 7 - Robert Ray, RHP
If the draft was held last summer Ray would have likely been a much higher pick after a strong Cape Cod season. However, he struggled a bit this year at Texas A&M and his draft stock slipped.
"He had a few struggles that maybe that caused his stock to drop," Lalonde said. "I just think, having heard people talk, is that maybe he put a little too much pressure on himself this year and went out and didn't perform maybe to what he was expecting. But for him to be available in that 7th round was probably a little bit surprising."
Many think that his future role will be relieving as he did in the Cape Cod league last summer, but Lalonde doesn't necessarily agree. "He's got four pitches - that's kind of the interesting thing. He really flourished in the bullpen in the Cape last year but he has 4 weapons to start. I think he has a good chance to start and succeed with those 4 quality pitches."
Round 8 - Jacob Butler, OF
The Jays took their third outfield of the draft in the 8th round with Jacob Butler from Nevada-Reno. Butler played centre field in college, but Lalonde thought he would likely move to a corner in the pros. Lalonde also said that Butler's approach is what they look for in hitters. "He does things we like offensively. He's a tough out, he grinds out at bats and has some power so to get him in the 8th round we were very happy."
In previous drafts the Jays took infielders much higher in the draft. This year the Jays used 3 of their first 7 picks on OFs, and took no infields until taking high school shortstop Wes Stone in Round 11. While it may seem that there was a focus on OFs this year Lalonde notes that it's more of a coincidence. "Itís more trying to get the best available players and in our opinion this year the OF bats were above the infield bats at those particular selections. We wanted to take bats. We wanted to take offensive players that could help us and it turned out there were more OFs this year."
Round 9 - Paul Phillips, RHP
Phillips injured his shoulder in 2003 and ended up having labrum surgery which caused him to miss all of 2004. However, he was able to come back and pitch this season for Oakland.
While shoulder injuries send off red flags, the Jays feel comfortable. The shoulder was "something we really had to do our homework on and we had our doctor, Dr. Erin Boynton, scrutinize the medical records as best as she could," Lalonde noted. "She gave the thumbs up with the caveat being that he'll need to be diligent with the maintenance of his shoulder. We did our homework and think it's something that he can pitch with."
When he's on the mound Phillips is a power pitcher. Lalonde said "He's got a really good arm. I saw him pitch at 90-93 for 7-8 innings. His best pitch is his slider - he's got a really good slider at 83-85 and it can be a strikeout pitch for him. He's working on a split finger pitch that he's still trying to develop it's just not quite as advanced as the other two. He'll start to begin, maybe in a tandem starter situation with another guy where they each go 3-4 innings, but he may end up in the bullpen at some point as kind of a two pitch sinker/slider reliever with power stuff."
Round 10 - Josh Sowers, RHP
To those that follow the draft the name Sowers probably sounds familiar. Josh's twin brother Jeremy was the first round pick of the Indians in 2004. Being a twin brings the natural comparisons to your twin, but are they similar? Lalonde thinks so. "Yes, in a lot of ways he is similar to his brother. Sowers does the things we like as a pitcher. He absolutely pounds the strikezone. He has a very good slider that can really be an out pitch for him and he's aggressive, he throws stikes and he challenges hitters. He's got very good mound presence. He has an excellent feel to pitch, an excellent feel to set hitters up, he's intelligent, he's confident, and he carries himself like a professional. Tommy Tanous, our area scout, told me early on that he was one of his gut feel guys and a guy that he really liked."
Beyond the top 10
The Blue Jays took a couple of flyers on two players that were originally projected to go much higher in the draft than they did.
One player was Tyler Norrick, a LHP from Southern Illinois. He had a strong year in his junior season - similar to the Jays fifth round pick Eric Fowler, yet lasted until the 17th round. What caused him to slip? Lalonde said that, "he had told our scouts what his expectations were financially, and obviously clubs didnít feel comfortable with that so he slid a little bit in the draft. We took him to essentially control his rights for the summer to see if heís going to pitch, and if he is, and we can see more of him. Then perhaps we could have a fit there and get him signed."
Another player projected to go high that slipped in the draft was high school 1B Brett Wallace who the Jays took in round 42. Wallace had given a verbal commitment to Arizona St and teams stayed away from him knowing that. Lalonde said, "we hadnít seen a whole lot of Brett, and our area scout really liked him as a player. Weíd like to see more of him this summer to determine if it was worthwhile trying to pursue it further. Heís what we call a summer draft and weíll see how he performs for us, and whether or not an opportunity presents itself."Signing the draft picks
Currently, there are only a couple drafted players that remain unsigned. One is Brian Pettway, and the Jays are continuing to negiotiate with him. The other is 43rd round pick Connor Falkenbach who is still competing at Florida in the College World Series. The remaining unsigned players will be players who the Jays monitor over the summer, and in some cases up until the 2006 draft. How those players perform over that period will determine whether the Jays attempt to sign them.
We'd like to give many thanks to Jon Lalonde for taking the time to discuss the draft with us. Also, thanks to Gerry McDonald and Mike Green for their help with the interview and putting the article together.