It’s getting close to that time of year on the baseball calendar when reality starts to set in for the majority of teams that the minor league free agent they signed is going to be pitching 150 innings of 5.00 ERA ball this year, or that 38 year old defensively deficient first baseman on his eighth big league team is going to hit .240 in the four hole the rest of the way. Closer to home, that $12 million dollar pitcher you just traded for and are on the hook for two more seasons at $19 and $20 million dollars stinks. Needless to say, a distraction from the present reality focusing of future success would be welcome at this point. Yes, the First Year Player Draft is less than a month away. Our Blue Jays hold a fairly high selection this coming June along with two other selections in the first one hundred picks of the draft and are sure to use those selections on a number of players who should bolster a farm system that has been somewhat strafed this past year
The 2013 version of the Rule Four Draft also marks the first of our new Director, Amateur Scouting Brian Parker, who has replaced the promoted Andrew Tinnish. Tinnish has done a complimentary job these past few years assembling a very deep system that has prioritized athleticism and high-end tools. Parker is new to the position and relatively new to the organization, presumably having connected with Anthopoulos in Montreal and then continuing on with the Nationals before joining the Jays in the early parts of the Anthopoulos rein. His résumé features stints as a Director, Baseball Operations; Professional Crosschecker; Pro Scout; Assistant Director, Scouting; and Coordinator, Scouting. He is certainly accustomed to the rigors of scouting and organizing a draft, which can be a daunting task for someone perhaps unaccustomed to the amateur beat. Gauging what he might bring, the direction he might encourage, and more importantly, his negotiating ability with prospects is a difficult task and I’ll assume here he’ll toe the party line and compare well to his predecessor.
The Jays have the 10th, 46th, 83rd, 115th, 145th, 175th, 205th, 235th, 265th, and 295th picks in the first ten rounds. According to Jim Callis of Baseball America, the Blue Jays have been afforded $6,398,200 to sign these ten selections. It’s not the $8 million plus they had last year, nonetheless it should get them a few blue chippers into the ranks. Based on last year’s bonus allotments, their first pick comes with a $2,700,000 bonus, while their second comes with a $1,107,700. Remember, if a team gives a bonus of more than $100,000 after round ten that surplus goes against the rounds 1-10 allotment. The Jays would lose any allotment in the first ten rounds if the pick is not signed. Also, keep in mind the Jays will be allowed to go over that bonus allotment by up to 5% before losing any future picks. So that $6,398,200 is really $6,718,110.
Before we turn to what the Jays might do, let’s quickly go over some of the past Jays’ drafts. In last year’s draft—the first in which the new CBA’s draft rules took effect—the Jays had two first round picks and several supplementary selections. The Jays went under slot with one of their first round selections and then went over slot for almost all their supplementary and “protected” picks. Picks from rounds one to three are protected in the sense that if a team does not sign their selection they receive the same selection in next year’s draft. The Jays then used their selections from rounds four to ten to shamelessly game the new system—drafting guys who likely would not have been selected in past drafts. The key here is they agreed to sign for pennies. Take Alex Azor from last year. The Jays drafted the outfielder out of Navy with their tenth round pick and according to a Chris Toman tweet gave him $1,000 to sign. The allotment for that pick was $125,000. The Jays saved $124,000, which was then used to sign guys more highly thought of. While there were several articles which paid lip service to his selection, that the Jays were proud to be drafting a real hero. Azor, of course, has played only a few games and is now on a tour of duty and unlikely to ever play professional baseball. Essentially the Jays paid the kid a $1,000 bucks to politely get lost. These Army, Air Force, and Navy guys must love the new draft rules.
I would say expect more of this from the Jays this year. The obvious caveat here is the Jays have only three selections that are protected. They will, however, have an opportunity to go after some of the kids who have fallen for signing bonus reasons into the eleventh round and beyond. A guy such as Canadian Ryan Kellogg, who was drafted in the twelfth round last year by the Jays and has already thrown a no-hitter for Arizona State this year and seemed inclined to sign with the Jays if they had the cash on hand, could well be had this time around. My best guess then would look for the Jays sign three multi-million dollar bonus babies with picks one to three, scrubs from round four to ten, and then a few Drew Hutchinson types in rounds eleven and beyond. Much will depend on what their studies tell them on prospect success vis-à-vis draft position and volume of prospects drafted. I don’t have the time to go over the data in detail, but I would tentatively say the probability of getting a high impact player from a smaller group of projectable plus tool prospects (with higher bonus demands) might just be higher than a larger group of college seniors who have perhaps maxed out developmentally (with lower bonus demands).
If we turn now to the type of prospect the Jays have been selecting in recent drafts, the words projectable and athletic probably come to mind. It has been a welcome change in these parts to the policy employed by the previous regime that the Jays have drafted and signed a number of high school prospects with the proverbial high ceiling. That is not to say they’ve ignored the college route or polished player, but the Jays have prioritized the athletic, toolsy, up the middle ballplayer and more often than not that is the high school prospect. The balance has yielded the Jays a bevy of well-regarded prospects, some of whom have developed and remain in the organization, others used as trade fodder in this past offseason trade fest, and others who have inevitably stalled. I expect the Jays to continue to employ this policy—drafting top-end tools and athleticism with the ability to play up the middle. Simply put, the Jays have been aggressive, they have worked the system, and they have spent money. The Draft has been an exciting time to say the least for us Jays’ fans.
At this point I’d like to open up the forum to Batter’s Box readers on whom they would like the Jays to target. I have my own opinions on a number of this year’s crop and like last year will publish a short list of guys I think the Jays will ultimately target at their selections. I will say this though, I am a firm believer in geography and who is scouting a particular region. Sure California is always a hotbed, but the Jays have drafted a prep pitcher early from southern California in all of the Anthopoulos drafts. The Jays have five area scouts in California. I think they trust the people who work this region and it is no mistake that Blake Crosby who works out of Arizona, but would cover some of California won the Al Lamacchia Award last year. I also think the organization has a lot of faith in John Hendricks ability to evaluate talent. Hendricks won the Al Lamacchia Award the year before and presumably has had his hand in the scouting, drafting, and relationship building around a number of Jays draft picks out of the Carolina area. That would include Asher Wojciechowski, Sam Dyson (a noted difficult sign), and Marcus Stroman. I would say the same about Eric McQueen out of Georgia, but he is no longer listed as a scout on the Blue Jays Front Office Directory.