The Blue Jays History with Drafting High School Hitters

Thursday, July 05 2018 @ 09:45 AM EDT

Contributed by: Gerry

The Jays affiliates had a tough night, all of them lost, other than Bluefield who had to go to extra innings to win and Dunedin who were rained out. In addition to the game reports, I looked at the progress of the high school hitters the Jays have drafted in the last ten years.

There was some discussion in these parts recently about how the Jays are very conservative when it comes to promoting some of their young position prospects. Samad Taylor is a 19 year old in Lansing but most of the other position players are at least 20 years old. Players like McGregory Contreras, Luis De Los Santos and Otto Lopez did not get assigned to Lansing as some thought they might have. That discussion brought to mind young hitters of the past and how they were handled by the organization. So I decided to do some research.

I looked at the draft record of the Blue Jays from 2007 through 2014 and specifically hitters drafted from high schools in the first five rounds of the draft. This represented my sample, young players coming into the system, and all of them should have a reasonable expectation of success. In total I looked at 17 hitters and the track record for the Jays is poor.

2007 started a new approach for the Jays, they drafted Kevin Ahrens, Justin Jackson, John Tolisano and Eric Eiland in the first two rounds (including bonus picks). The first three of these players spent a half year in the GCL and then were sent to Lansing at age 19. None of them played particularly well in Lansing, they had OPS's in the 660 to 700 range but all were sent to Dunedin for their age 20 season where they flopped. Eiland was more of a prospect so he was held back but he never really hit. If there was a lesson to be learned from this progression it didn't happen.

In 2008 the Jays drafted Kenny Wilson in the second round and Tyler Pastornicky in the fifth. Wilson too went to Lansing at age 19 where he didn't hit. He went back the next season and didn't do much better. To be fair to Wilson he started to hit better at age 22 and eventually made it to AAA. He is still in baseball moving between AA and AAA in the Tigers system. Pastornicky was perhaps better prepared as I recall his father was a baseball coach. He also went to Lansing at age 19 where he was more successful, hitting .270 there. He moved up to Dunedin where he was hitting .250 and then was traded. Pastornicky hit better in his age 21 season and earned a major league promotion in 2012 when he was 22. To this point he is the most successful draftee, until the next year.

Jake Marisnick was a third round pick on the Jays in 2009. He hit well in the GCL and was promoted to Lansing where he hit .220 in 127 at-bats. Marisnick was older when he was drafted and was 19 in that season. He returned to Lansing for his age 20 season where he hit .320. From there he progressed through the Blue Jays, Miami and Houston systems to get to the major leagues. To spoil the rest of the story, Marisnick is the most successful high school hitter drafted by the Jays between 2007 and 2014.

The Jays selected three high school hitters in 2010, Kellen Sweeney in the second round, Chris Hawkins in the third and Dickie Jo Thon in the fifth. By this time Bluefield was an affiliate and all three went there for their first full season. Sweeney was injured a lot and never hit. Hawkins started well but faded quickly. Thon didn't hit in Bluefield but played better in Vancouver at age 21 and in Lansing as age 22 but his performances declined thereafter.

Jake Anderson and Dwight Smith Jr. came in 2011. Anderson, like Sweeney, was injured and never hit. Smith has moved up well, like Pastornicky he comes from a baseball background. Smith went to Bluefield and Vancouver at age 19, played well in Lansing at age 20 and Dunedin at age 21 before taking a few years to get his measure of New Hampshire.

In 2012 the Jays added DJ Davis, Mitch Nay and Anthony Alford. Alford is a special case, he was drafted as a 17 year old, and he didn't get meaningful at-bats until he was 20. Alford hit well as a 20 year old, not so good at age 21, before picking it up again at age 22. Davis was also drafted at 17 but he too never really hit. Nay was drafted but didn't play until the next year when he hit well in Bluefield and OK the next year in Lansing before a series of injuries took their toll.

The Jays went all pitchers in the early rounds of the 2013 draft before picking Matt Morgan in the fourth round and Lane Thomas in the fifth round of 2014. Morgan never hit and was just released. Thomas went to Vancouver as a 19 year old but didn't hit, went to Lansing as a 20 year old and didn't hit but was better than the previous year, went to Dunedin at age 21 and improved a little and is now in AA with the Cardinals and having one of his best seasons. In 2015 the Jays did not draft a high school hitter until the sixth round, it was JC Cardenas.

Are there any conclusions to be drawn from all of this? First the sample size here is small so any conclusions are more anecdotal than proven. Also it is hard to know how much is bad drafting versus poor development. The first conclusion is that for whatever reason the Blue Jays have done a terrible job in drafting and/or developing high school hitters. Only three of 27 players drafted have reached the major leagues and only Jake Marisnick has received significant at-bats. The second thing I noted is that most of these players, particularly the unsuccessful ones, never really hit. They were busts from the start. However there are some players who started hitting at age 21 or 22 so young hitters should not be written-off until they have played a few years. I would also suggest that it was tough love to send 19 year olds, not with superstar potential, to Lansing at age 19. It should be noted here that players with a baseball pedigree, Dwight Smith, Tyler Pastornicky, Vlad Jr. and Bo Bichette, appear to be able to handle promotion earlier than others. Of course it could be because they are better hitters.

The Jays new go-slow policy for younger hitters might be a re-evaluation of the previous strategy. Move the players under 21 up slowly, allow them to have success, let them become better hitters before letting the better pitchers get to them. If the player develops more self-belief, they might be able to work through a setback. If they haven't had success that self-belief might not be there. Sons of major league players and coaches have seen this first hand and understand it better than those with no such experience. Maybe this new method will be a better approach. It can't be worse than what preceded it.


The Bisons lost 4-2. They had to face a rehabbing Masahiro Tanaka who went five innings. The Bisons scored the two runs right away, Roemon Fields led off with a single and then Richard Urena went deep to make it a 2-0 game. The Bisons only had three hits the rest of the way. Danny Jansen was 0-4 and has been in a slump since he had to take a break with a bruised hand.

Matt Tracey made his first non-rehab start of the year and pitched well. He only had one single hit off of him in five innings. Jose Fernandez followed Tracey and was hit around for four runs on six hits.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire, like Buffalo, scored early and were up 3-0 in the first inning. Jon Berti was hit by a pitch, Connor Panas tripled to drive him in and after a walk the other two runs scored on a double error by Reading. That was about it for the offense, after the triple the Cats could only add four singles in the other eight innings. Bo Bichette was 0-4 and his average is down to .270.

Like Buffalo, New Hampshire had good starting pitching but the bullpen took the loss. Justin Dillon went six innings and left with a 3-2 lead. Zach Jackson allowed two runs turning a 3-2 lead into a 4-3 deficit. He was followed by Dusty Isaacs who made it a 5-3 game. If you missed it Jon Harris is back in New Hampshire.


Dunedin were rained out on the 4th of July. It's Florida so they will have many other nice days.


Lansing lost 7-3. The Lugnuts had seven hits, Chavez Young had three of them, going 3-4. Young was a home run short of the cycle. His average is back up to .293. Jesus Navarro, who has never hit so far in his minor league career, had a hit and is hitting .320 in a very small sample in Lansing.

Maverik Buffo has been inconsistent this season. He did get through six innings but he gave up five runs on eleven hits.


The C's lost 4-3. Tanner Kirwer led the offense. He singled in the third inning and although he was erased on a force out, the runner on the back end scored when Vinny Capra singled. Kirwer added a two run home run later, his first of the season. Kirwer also doubled and finished 3-4, a triple shy of the cycle. Jake Brodt was 2-4, the other hitter with a multi hit game. Griffin Conine struck out three times.

Jose Espada pitched well through five innings with just one run allowed. But a lead off walk in the sixth was followed by a single and a double and he was pulled. All those runners came around to score leaving his final line as 5 6 4 4 2 6. Dane Johnson's son Cobi Johnson came on in relief. A wild pitch and a single let Espada's runners score but then he did not allow a hit the rest of the way. He pitched three good innings.


Bluefield had a very non-Bluefield game. The game was zero, zero after nine innings and the Jays had only three hits. In the tenth, with a runner on second, Cal Stevenson walked. Luis De Los Santos came up with the big hit to drive in the first run. Alejandro Kirk added a sac fly to make it 2-0, the final score. De Los Santos had two of the four hits and is hitting .308.

Claudio Galva pitched five shutout innings, three hits, seven K's. Grant Townsend, Mike Pascoe and Sean Rackoski pitched the last five shutout innings.

GCL Jays

The GCL Jays lost 4-2. The first three hitters of the game singled, scoring a run, and from there they had just two more hits. Jordan Groshans singled in the first run and drove in the second run with a ground out. Groshans is hitting .389. The other two .300 hitters in the lineup Leonardo Jimenez, .303, and Gabe Moreno, .364, also picked up a hit each.

Graham Spraker was the rehab starter and took the loss. Relievers, Luis Alvarez, 18 years old, and Juan Diaz, 20 years old, pitched better than Spraker.

DSL Jays

The DSL Jays lost 8-7. The DSL lineup is one of opposites. Three hitters are hitting over .300, one close to .300 and five are hitting under .210. The top four are Miguel Hiraldo who was 1-5. Jhon Solarte was 0-5 and now is hitting .318. Erickvi Celedonio went 1-4. We haven't previously highlighted the 17 year old Mexican Jose Zepeda. Zepeda was 1-3 and is hitting .313. He missed three weeks in June so has fewer at-bats than the others. The Jays used five pitchers, Brayan Mejia was the best with 2.1 shutout innings.

3 Stars

3rd star: Claudia Galva

2nd star: Tanner Kirwer

1st star: Luis De Los Santos