Batter's Box Interactive Magazine Batter's Box Interactive Magazine Batter's Box Interactive Magazine
In a large conference room at Skydome on June 7, 2004, a number of men are gathered. Toronto Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi is there, along with Director of Player Personnel Tony LaCava, Assistant GM Keith Law, and Scouting Coordinators Andrew Tinnish and Alex Anthopoulous, as well as a number of Blue Jay area scouts. It’s Draft Day in major-league baseball.

During the course of the next two days, other team officials will spend a lot of time here: Vice-President of Baseball Operations Tim McCleary, Director of Player Development Dick Scott, and Minor-League Operations Manager Charlie Wilson. Lunch will be served today and tomorrow, along with various snacks and a hot beverage purporting to be coffee.

The atmosphere is congenial, even fun -- everyone in this room knows their stuff, but there are no big egos and a lot of good back-and-forth discussions about players take place. A draft board is set up, containing the names of about 400 college and high-school players. A DVD player and TV screen are on hand, numerous laptops are in evidence, and phones stand at the ready for team officials to call each player as he’s drafted.

Now, though, there’s a different phone that’s about to be used, one that’s connected to the industry-wide Draft Day conference call. The 16th overall spot in the draft has arrived, and it’s time for the Blue Jays to make their first-round draft choice.

As it turns out, everyone in the room is happy, because the exact player they hoped to choose has become available. And the announcement of the selection -- the official word -- is made by the one person we haven’t mentioned yet, the quarterback of the entire draft process and the guy who’s running the show.

Scouting Director Jon Lalonde calmly informs the rest of baseball that “the Toronto Blue Jays select David Purcey, left-handed pitcher, from the University of Oklahoma.” Just like that, the 2004 Draft has begun for the Blue Jays; it will end 36 hours, 49 players and a whole lot of coffee later.

It all looks so simple at this juncture. But Draft Day is the culmination of months of hard work by a dedicated team of baseball men, here in this room and clear across North America. This article, the first of a two-part examination of the Jays’ 2004 Draft, will study the club’s draft preparation process; tomorrow, we’ll provide in-depth looks at some of the team’s key draft choices.

Background preparation
The groundwork for the 2004 draft was laid well in advance of June 7 -- months of scouting, cross-checking, data analyzing, conference calling and innumerable other steps in the process of evaluating the best draft-eligible players in North America. That lengthy process narrowed and focused sharply in a series of meetings this past spring.

“We had a few days of meetings [at Skydome] with just the cross-checkers and the core front-office team, then a few days with all of the area scouts leading right up to Draft Day,” Keith Law tells Batter’s Box.

Jon Lalonde confirms: “We brought in our cross-checkers, Tony, Keith, myself, my scouting coordinators Alex and Andrew, and we met as a smaller group for about four days, trying to line up the best players.

“We started out by asking all our senior staff to send us their priority lists for consideration in the top five rounds,” says Lalonde. “Those are the guys we really focused on, because those are players we’ve had multiple looks at. We can ask a cross-checker, ‘You’ve seen Player A and Player B; who’s better?’

“My job as scouting director,” he continues, “was to make sure everybody had a voice. As we went around the room to discuss a certain player, I tried to gather input from everyone who had seen him. From that, you start to draw a picture. Then you might talk about the next guy, and how they compare.”

“Jon, Alex, & Andrew did a tremendous job of organizing everything,” adds Law. “The meetings went smoothly and ended at a reasonable hour each day” -- something few organizations, let alone big-league ballclubs, can claim anymore.

Supporting players
Lalonde was particularly pleased with a significant new element in place for this year’s draft. “We had all of our area scouts here with us during the draft for the first time, and it went over great,” he says. “It’s a real advantage to have your scouts right there in the room,” for purposes ranging from eyewitness impressions to signability issues.

“The area scouts were the key to the draft this year,” Law agrees. “You can’t have a successful draft without a group of dedicated area scouts who buy in to the organizational philosophy. We added eight new ‘free agent’ scouts -- that refers to scouts who cover amateur players, as opposed to ‘pro’ scouts -- this year, including four first-time scouts, and we couldn’t be happier with how well the group turned out. There’s a lot of camaraderie on the scouting staff now, and everyone is working toward a common goal.”

Of course, even when everyone’s reading from the same playbook, there can be disagreements. “Certainly, there are areas where you feel strongly about a player, and as you start prioritizing, putting them in preferential order, there will come a time when someone will stand up and say, ‘This guy can’t go any further down, he belongs here,’” says Lalonde, who retained final-call responsibility.

“There are certainly times when people disagree, but I just try to welcome everybody’s comments, then do what I think is in the best interests of the club,” he says. “But as a group, it was unbelievable how we worked together.

“Of course,” he adds, “J.P. asks tough questions to make us justify our rankings of players.” J.P. Ricciardi is a busy man with a lot on his plate, but he’s also a scout by training, and he made sure of his personal involvement in the assessment of potential draftees.

“I have a very active hand in the decisions, and there’s a philosophy about how we go about doing it -- we’re involved,” says Ricciardi. “I saw Purcey,” but “I didn’t see [supplemental first-rounder Zach] Jackson, because I didn’t think he’d get to us, to be honest with you.”

Video evidence
These days, if you can’t be with the one you scout, you can let the one you scout come to you, digitally. “There are great DVDs out on these players,” says Ricciardi. “I watched probably 100 of those, and saw 15 or 20 guys. [Jackson’s] DVD was great, and all our guys have seen him.”

“The MLB Scouting Bureau films a handful of amateur players each spring and sends out those films on DVDs to the member clubs,” Law explains. “It’s a good way to see players you didn’t get to see in person.”

But he adds a caveat: “It’s not a replacement for scouting games in person, since the films only include maybe 20-30 swings for position players and a comparable number of pitches for pitchers.

“It’s good that we can walk out of the draft room having at least seen a little of each of our top ten or so picks,” Law says. “But there are certainly players whose bureau videos are misleading one way or the other.” And it’s important to point out that every one of the Jays’ draft choices was scouted in person; the DVDs are merely supplemental.

The competition
Nobody drafts in a vacuum, and no one prepares for Draft Day as if the other 29 clubs are simply on Auto-Select. Up to and including the day itself, smart teams are considering the kind of players other teams are aiming for and are identifying their draft strategies.

In this respect, Lalonde again cites the immense value of the club’s area scouts. “They can tell you, ‘The scout from the Cubs has been in to see this player ten times this year; I know that they like him,’” he says “[Y]ou try to gauge how the market’s going to play — who your competition is for certain players.”

On Draft Day itself, you also need to keep a close eye on other teams’ choices, if for no other reason than to get a general sense of what kind of players are disappearing. “You may not look at specific teams,” says Lalonde, “but you might be in the fifth round and say, ‘The lefties are flying off the board.’

“Once a couple of teams start to take some lefties, then everybody else says, ‘Oh gosh, let’s jump in and start getting a lefty.’ So if you want a particular left-handed pitcher at that point, you’ll have to take him. That’s what can happen.

“Catcher and shortstop are other positions where maybe this year there was a little bit more depth,” he adds. “But it’s still not a ton of depth, so if you want to get yourself a quality catcher, and they’re starting to disappear, you might have to step up.”

Draft factors
But the Jays personnel we spoke with couldn’t emphasize one point strongly enough: this is not Rotisserie Baseball. “It’s dangerous to start drafting for need, especially at the major-league level,” Lalonde says.

On Draft Day, he says, “we just looked at the board, we had our players ranked, and we decided whether this right-handed pitcher might be better than that bat. You really just try to determine the best available players for your system.”

That said, there is a time and a place for placing draft picks in an organizational context -- Day Two, to be exact. “One thing you’re trying to do on the second day is fill some needs in your system,” Lalonde points out. “Dickie Scott will let us know he needs this many catchers, and this many pitchers, so you’re trying to line up guys that you know will sign, players who are healthy.

“You’re looking for good citizens,” he adds, “players who will go out and work hard and get the absolute most out of the opportunity we’re providing for them. That really drives a lot of the [Day Two] decisions.”

The money question
Of course, a player’s skills and personality aren’t the only factors teams weigh when deciding whether to call that player’s name. As in so many other walks of life, money talks.

“Certainly you try to know the market value of the players,” Lalonde agrees. “[But] it’s something you don’t consider too much [on Draft Day], because you could lose a player. Our philosophy is, if there’s a player we like, we get him. After you sign him and send him out, nobody cares if he’s a fourth-rounder or a tenth-rounder, as long as he’s good.”

However, signability is certainly a factor when it comes to considering draft-eligible juniors and whether they’re likely to go back for their senior year or sign for a reasonable amount. “Absolutely, that’s very important,” says Lalonde, who once again credits the value of having area scouts participate in the draft process.

“You can ask them, ‘Is Player X going to sign in the eighth round?’ If he says yes, it’s full speed ahead. If he’s not sure, maybe you back off that player,” he explains. “Signability is a factor in the draft. You see players slide because of it, and you see players go early because of it. It has to be considered, and it’s weighed heavily by all clubs, not just the Blue Jays.”

High-school choices
Perhaps surprisingly, Lalonde says that signability is also a factor with high school players -- the team wants to know if they’re interested in a draft-and-follow opportunity. “You know going in if a player has a four-year school commitment, or if he’s more interested in going to a junior college, so that helps set up your draft strategy,” he says.

“Players who are going to go to junior college are obviously interesting to us from a draft-and-follow standpoint,” Lalonde says. But if the high-schooler indicates that he’s going to pursue a four-year plan to a college or university, then for the time being, “you wish him all the best.

“If you like him strongly enough, you might consider what we call a ‘summer draft,’ where you draft him -- maybe not with the intention of signing him right away -- but you follow his progress over the summer. If he continues to develop and you’re able to reach a financial agreement, maybe you sign him at that point. That’s a big part of signability,” he says. “A scout visits with the player about what his considerations are for school.”

High-school picks, of course, are a touchstone for how the Ricciardi Blue Jays are perceived in many circles -- and not without reason. In 2002, Brian Grant (7th) and Russell Savickas (9th) were the only high-school players selected before the 15th round. In 2003, the Jays didn’t draft any high schoolers till the 19th round. And this year, the club selected no high schoolers until the 20th round.

The reasons for preferring collegiate players over high schoolers are fully documented -- collegians have more experience, more developed skills, less injury risk, cost less to develop and reach the majors faster than high-school players. “I think we’ve done pretty well with the college-centric approach, with Adams, Bush, Peterson, Hill, and Banks all already at AA or above,” Law observes. “There’s no reason for a sea change in our strategy.”

But that’s not to say Toronto will never select a high-ranking HS guy. “It’s JP’s call when we can expand the pool slightly to include select high school players,” says Law. “You have to look at the draft as a portfolio of individual investments, because there’s always a non-zero probability that any individual pick produces zero return.

“And like any investor, we have a certain tolerance for risk that will vary with the status of our existing investments in players,” he says. “At some point, that risk tolerance may increase to the point that we can go for a higher risk/higher reward investment strategy in the draft.”

And Ricciardi himself has been quoted by as noting that “when we took over, we needed to restock the organization quickly and do it with college players. … I look forward to the day when we’ve come far enough as an organization that we draft a high-school player in the first round.”

Credit where it’s due
Late on Tuesday afternoon, Canadian Jordan Lennerton of Langley, B.C., becomes the Jays’ 50th and final draft pick, and the 2004 Draft is complete. Few team officials have stayed throughout the entire process, and everyone is tired, but there’s a real sense of accomplishment, excitement and satisfaction from all involved. Some people say Draft Day is the single most important event in a baseball club’s year, and they may well be right.

When there’s so much going on, with so much at stake, and with so many personalities and agendas in the mix, a major-league draft requires a leader who stays cool under pressure and gets everyone to execute as part of a team. In the Blue Jays draft room, that person is Jon Lalonde.

“Jon’s the scouting director, so it’s his show,” says Law. “Certainly, J.P. knew each high pick before we made it, but he made it clear to everyone in the room that Jon had the authority to make the decision.”

“Jon Lalonde did a great job; he’s going to be a star in this game,” Ricciardi adds. “He’s got a real good idea of what he’s doing and how to get people on board with a plan, and we’ve followed that plan for the last three drafts.”

Tomorrow: Who did the Blue Jays get in the 2004 Draft? Who are the impact players and who are the sleepers? Read Part 2 tomorrow for more insights on the newest members of the Blue Jay organization.
Decoding the Draft, Part 1 | 14 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Pistol - Monday, June 28 2004 @ 10:59 AM EDT (#54923) #
Great job. Looking forward to part II.
Mike Green - Monday, June 28 2004 @ 11:11 AM EDT (#54924) #
“You have to look at the draft as a portfolio of individual investments, because there’s always a non-zero probability that any individual pick produces zero return."

I'd go further than Keith. Most draft picks are like penny stocks, where the chance of significant return is small.

Nice job, Jordan.
_Jordan - Monday, June 28 2004 @ 11:15 AM EDT (#54925) #
I neglected to thank Kent Williams and Robert Dudek for their extensive in-person interviews of Jon Lalonde and JP Ricciardi, and to thank Jon, JP and Keith Law for making the time to speak with us.
Coach - Monday, June 28 2004 @ 12:13 PM EDT (#54926) #
Thank you, Jordan. Excellent job pulling it all together, and I know Part 2, full of scouting reports, will be great.

Lalonde was particularly generous with his time. Robert and I showed up without an appointment, hoping just to set something up for another day. "Right now is good," Jon informed us. For the next half hour, we sat in the board room, where he didn't duck a single question -- and they weren't all softballs.

Of course, we're also grateful to J.P. and Keith for their comments. The whole front office seems to recognize and appreciate that no media outlet, traditional or Internet, provides better coverage of the Toronto farm system than Da Box. That's a tribute to the hard work of our volunteer minor league reporters, and to our regular readers, for their passionate interest.
_Loveshack - Monday, June 28 2004 @ 12:17 PM EDT (#54927) #
Wow great stuff. Im really looking forward to part 2.
_Cristian - Monday, June 28 2004 @ 12:31 PM EDT (#54928) #
With every one of these articles, Batter's Box cements it's place as the best source of Blue Jays coverage around. Great job guys.
_mathesond - Monday, June 28 2004 @ 03:02 PM EDT (#54929) #
Kudos to everyone involved - both from Da Box and Da Jays - in providing this insightful, well-researched, well-written piece. I am looking forward to Part 2 even more than I am looking forward to reading Chasing Steinbrenner.
_miVulgar - Monday, June 28 2004 @ 03:34 PM EDT (#54930) #
Excellent writeup and great insight into Lalonde.

It's hard to believe such an organization is held in such disdain by the more "traditional" media outlets in this town.

Congratulations to Da Box on a unique and interesting piece.
robertdudek - Monday, June 28 2004 @ 05:11 PM EDT (#54931) #

This is truly a great read, due mostly to your composition skills.
_MatO - Monday, June 28 2004 @ 05:28 PM EDT (#54932) #
Time and time again you guys show how comatose most (not all) of the traditional media oulets are when it comes to the Blue Jays.

One of the things the draft brings up is how silly the concept of picking a high-upside player say in the 18th round is. At this point teams are already filling organizational needs and if you luck out that's great. I think at this point you have less than a minute to make your pick so you don't have much choice other than to pick from a list(s).
_greenfrog - Monday, June 28 2004 @ 05:40 PM EDT (#54933) #
Very interesting behind-the-scenes look at draft day. Look forward to the next installment.
_Finn McCool - Monday, June 28 2004 @ 06:03 PM EDT (#54934) #
congratulations Jordan on a great piece of professional journalism, and a good read too.
_jason - Tuesday, June 29 2004 @ 03:56 PM EDT (#54935) #
More evidence for the preference of College over High School players. I know a man with a son in college at Vermont - Mike M, whose last name escapes me. A left handed pitcher who has had T.J. surgery the year of his draft, he has a fatball in the upper eighties, a developing curve and a nascent slider. He had a scholership but was drafted by the Braves a couple of years ago. The scout basically said go to school. In the minors, he said, your teamates are hoping that you will fail. Your lack of success moves them up the depth chart and closer to the majors. It seems like a sad place to develop such things as team spirit and comraderie, something which college teams are more apt to develop. Just a thought.

Great read and will now go to the rest of the article. I've been looking forward to this since the draft.
Decoding the Draft, Part 1 | 14 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.