What's Behind Door Number 4 (or 9)?

Friday, September 17 2004 @ 02:04 AM EDT

Contributed by: Jordan

It seems fair to say that the 2004 Toronto Blue Jays season will be one of those events that most everyone associated with will try to forget as quickly as possible. But thankfully, in this equitable society of ours, every dark cloud has a silver lining: the June amateur draft order goes in reverse order of the previous yearís standings.

Accordingly, like a celebrity dead pool, the chief thrill for some of us at this stage lies in wondering how low in the standings (and therefore, how high in the 2005 draft order) the Blue Jays will finish.

Setting aside the grisly nature of such an inquiry (having watched quite enough grisliness at the ballpark most of the year), I decided to see where the Blue Jays were likely to finish 2004, and what sorts of prizes would await them there. First, I looked at the draft order that would be followed if the season ended today, according to the overall major-league standings (with current winning percentages in parentheses)

1. Arizona (.313)
2. Kansas City (.359)
3. Seattle (.377)
4. Toronto (.411)
5. Montreal (.415)
6. Tampa Bay (.431)
7. Milwaukee (.431)
8. Colorado (.432)
9. NY Mets (.435)
10. Pittsburgh (.452)

On the face of it, Toronto is heading for the fourth overall pick. However, there are 16 games yet to play, and with many teams bunched so closely together, the outcomes of those games will be significant. Hereís a look at the Blue Jaysí final winning percentage based on five different season-ending scenarios.
Record	Percentage
12-4 .444
10-6 .432
8-8 .419
6-10 .407
4-12 .395

As you can see, itís very unlikely that the Jays will finish so poorly (and the Mariners will finish so well) that Toronto will pick any higher than 4th. At the same time, even an optimistic forecast of a 12-4 finish would leave the Jays well short of the winning percentage currently owned by the 10th-worst team in the majors, the Pirates.

Accordingly, Toronto can reasonably expect to pick between the 4th and 9th slots next year. Where precisely in that list theyíll end up is harder to pin down. The Jaysí remaining schedule includes 6 games against the Yankees, 7 games with the Devil Rays, and 3 more matches with the Orioles. If I had to hazard an optimistic guess, Iíd like to anticipate a 10-6 record, or at worst 8-8, over the last 16 games. With so many teams in that neighbourhood, each with its own end-of-season issues, itís impossible to guess any more accurately than that Toronto will pick somewhere between 4th and 9th inclusive.

So what can the Jays expect to find in that magical draft-choice box? Itís way too early for 2005 pre-draft rankings to be released, so weíll have to wait for awhile before we see any real names. But past is often prologue, so Iíve reproduced below all the first-round draft choices in the 4th through 9th slots from 1995 to 2003 (I decided not to include 2004, since most of those players have only a handful of professional games under their belts at this point).

4th Pick

2003 Tim Stauffer P
2002 Adam Loewen P
2001 Gavin Floyd P
2000 Mike Stodolka P
1999 Corey Myers IF
1998 Jeff Austin P
1997 Jason Grilli P
1996 Billy Koch P
1995 Kerry Wood P

5th Pick

2003 Chris Lubanski OF
2002 Clint Everts P
2001 Mark Teixeira 3B
2000 Justin Wayne P
1999 BJ Garbe OF
1998 JD Drew OF
1997 Vernon Wells OF
1996 John Patterson P
1995 Ariel Prieto P

6th Pick

2003 Ryan Harvey OF
2002 Zach Greinke P
2001 Josh Karp P
2000 Rocco Baldelli OF
1999 Josh Girdley P
1998 Ryan Mills P
1997 Geoff Goetz P
1996 Seth Gresinger P
1995 Jamie Jones OF

7th Pick

2003 Nick Markakis OF
2002 Prince Fielder 1B
2001 Chris Smith P
2000 Matt Harrington P
1999 Kyle Snyder P
1998 Austin Kearns OF
1997 Dan Reichert P
1996 Matt White P
1995 Jonathan Johnson P

8th Pick

2003 Paul Maholm P
2002 Scott Moore SS
2001 John Van Benschoten P
2000 Matthew Wheatland P
1999 Bobby Bradley P
1998 Felipe Lopez SS
1997 JJ Davis 1B-P
1996 Chad Green OF
1995 Todd Helton 1B-P

9th Pick

2003 John Danks P
2002 Jeff Francis P
2001 Colt Griffin P
2000 Mark Phillips P
1999 Barry Zito P
1998 Sean Burroughs 3B
1997 Michael Cuddyer SS
1996 Mark Kotsay OF
1995 Geoff Jenkins OF

Drafting, as you can see, is close to a complete crapshoot: players youíve never heard of are selected before players on their way to All-Star Games and even to the Hall of Fame. The Blue Jays really are to be commended that so few of their first-rounders over this period have been utter washouts. But personally, if I had to choose the players from only one of these slots to start a franchise, I might actually go with the 9th overall choices Ė- it's perhaps surprising how many good players fell to that spot.

So there are two lessons to be drawn from this little exercise. One, donít invest your hopes too heavily in the player the Jays eventually choose with their first pick: heís more likely to be Josh Girdley or Kyle Snyder than he is to be Barry Zito. And two, donít start rooting for the Jays to lose as many as possible of their remaining games in order to improve their draft standing. They almost certainly wonít place any higher than the 4th overall choice, and there are as many gems available in the 9th spot as there are anywhere else.