The Draft is almost upon us, as it will start later today at 7:00 PM EST. To the casual fan, this may not seem like such a big deal. No matter which players the Jays pick, those players will not start contributing to the big league team for a while. If they ever make it to the big league team at all, a lot of them will either fail to perform in the minors or get injured too often. However, those fans who follow the minor league affiliates closely, they'll be watching these picks working their way up the farm system in the coming years, an exciting process. Especially with the emphasis Alex Anthopoulos has put on building through the draft, this event is of monumental importance to the future of the franchise. No wonder then, that some fans put some serious effort in trying to predict which players will be picked by which team come draft day.
With the Jays picking 17th, 22nd, 50th, 58th and 60th in the first round, there is a group of draftable prospects who will almost certainly not be available to them. This includes the top three college pitchers: Stanford's Mark Appel, LSU's Kevin Gausman and USF's Kyle Zimmer, and three high school bats: outfielder Byron Buxton, shortstop Carlos Correa and, behind those two, outfielder Albert Almora. Aren't there any elite college bats, you ask? Well, there's powerful catcher Mike Zunino, who belongs in this group as well, but his BB/K rate is very unimpressive for a college hitter who could go in the top 5. The one high school pitcher who seems certain to be gone by the 17th pick is left-hander Max Fried, who is a teammate of..
Lucas Giolito is a highly regarded high school arm who has everything you want in a high school arm, and more. The "more" in this case is a recent elbow injury, which could make the power-righty slide far enough for the Jays to snap him up. The problem is that the guy is looking for a lot of money, so the Jays would have to have a lot of faith in their ability to negotiate, and to sign their other picks for less than slot, to even consider drafting Giolito. There are reasons to think they could do so, however. The Jays are not risk averse, and they know they have three chances at signing this pick, because the new CBA grants a compensation pick twice instead of once. They drafted Daniel Norris because he was thought of as unsignable, then they signed him for a non-ridiculous amount, and they could try the same with Giolito. It's best not to get any hopes up, though, as Giolito could well be gone before the Jays get their turn to pick.
"Meh" college players
Most years, the impressive college talent is gone before the middle of the first round, and this year is no different. There's polished lefty Andrew Heaney, the "underrated" Chris Stratton, undersized Marcus Stroman and sinkerballer Michael Wacha on the pitching side. On the hitting side, pickings are slim. Deven Marrero hasn't hit much, but at least he's a shortstop, while Richie Shaffer strikes out a lot and is probably a first baseman only. Stephen Piscotty can stick at third but doesn't hit for power, a concern that also drags "pure hitter" Tyler Naquin, an outfielder with a great arm, down. Another outfielder, Victor Roache, has tremendous power, but he didn't get to show any improvements in making contact due to injury. Should the injury drop him all the way to 50, he might pique the Jays' interest. Below that, the most interesting players might be a group of interesting catchers who could get a look if they fall to the second or third round. Once those later rounds begin, we could also expect a "Blue Jay special": a college reliever picked with the intention to have him start. Name to watch: Patrick Kivlehan, 3B, hit very well in college after not playing baseball for four years, and is said to be extremely signable.
Prep outfielders and other high school hitters
Besides Albert Almora, this year's class has many more interesting high school outfielders to pick from. One of the highest rated is David Dahl, who is definitely one to watch as a Jays fan following the draft. Will he slip to 17th? Difficult to tell, of course, but he's a speedy outfielder with all tools, though some question his power, and his best asset is his ability to hit for average. Of interest are also the fastest player in the draft, D.J. Davis, who also has been linked to the Jays often. Then there's Stryker Trahan, who might stick at catcher but is athletic enough to play the outfield if that doesn't work out, and the powerful Courtney Hawkins. In the infield only Gavin Cecchini seems like a good bet to stick at shortstop, while Tanner Rahier and Addison Russell likely won't, but perhaps could. Corey Seager is a highly rated third baseman who's also great at hitting line drives, while Joey Gallo is a name that often comes up because of his power, but whose strikeouts should be more of a concern, perhaps.
High school pitchers
The specialty, it seems, of the Jays' scouting staff is identifying underrated high school pitchers. Like last year, there seem to be plenty of good ones, although the signability of these guys will be a big question mark, especially beyond the second round. Lance McCullers Jr. is the highest rated prep pitcher not named Fried or Giolito, and he's a hard-throwing right-hander who used to struggle with command but has been improving on that. Ty Hensley is projected to go pretty high as well, as a relatively hard-throwing, durable pitcher with a good curveball. Matt Smoral is a very tall lefty with multiple good pitches who missed a lot of time with a broken foot. Walker Weickel's stock has dropped due to lower velocity, but he has good command of several pitches and he's got the frame to add more velocity. Zach Eflin, a late riser on draft boards, also went down with an injury for a while, but he appears to be fine. Similar late risers include Nick Travieso, Mitch Brown and Tyler Gonzales. Lucas Sims is another one who is highly rated, with projectable right-hander Shane Watson and projectable left-hander Hunter Virant, big righty Ty Buttrey and two-way prospect Carson Kelly rounding out what seems to be the top tier. There's many more that could find their way to the Jays, and I do expect them to once again go heavy on projectable high-school pitchers, until they can no longer find any signable ones.
Except for perhaps the top 10, any attempt at a prediction seems almost too crazy for words. I don't know who the Jays' scouting department like, and what kind of reports they've gotten. I also don't know who will actually drop far enough to be picked at each point. And still, I'm going to predict the first few Jays picks, choosing two players for every pick to somewhat reflect the uncertainty of how these things turn out. In fact, I'd be very happy to get two right, and expect I'll get none.
17. David Dahl/Zach Eflin - Dahl is a good defender with good line drive ability and high upside. Eflin seems like a Jays type with good present velocity, a projectable body, an advanced changeup and already good command.
22. Matt Smoral/Addison Russell - Smoral's still projectable but he can already pitch well, while Russell could stick at shortstop but also has excellent potential with the bat.
50. Hunter Virant/Rio Ruiz - Virant is a polished and projectable lefty, while Ruiz is a hitter with a lot of upside who might drop due to injury.
58. Alec Rash/- Rash seems underrated and a typical Jays righty, while Perez is a lefty-hitting third baseman like Ruiz with plenty of upside.
60. Walker Buehler/Rhett Wiseman - Buehler is a smallish righty with plenty of projection left and good offspeed pitches, Wiseman is a speedy center fielder with good bat speed, also one of the youngest hitters in the draft.
81. Teddy Stankiewicz/Brandon Lopez - Stankiewicz is another projectable righty who already has some ability to pitch, while Lopez is a shortstop who has some offensive upside as well. Who could resist the potential for a Lopez-Lopes middle infield?
Other names to watch according to my unexperienced and poorly informed self: Ty Buttrey RHP, Lewis Brinson OF, Jesmuel Valentin(-Diaz) SS, Mitchell Traver RHP, Alex Bregman C/2B, Kyle Twomey LHP, Ryan Burr RHP, Cole Irvin LHP, Adrian Marin SS/OF, Matt Olson 1B, Chase DeJong RHP, Alex Young LHP and Fernelys Sanchez OF. Thumbs up to JaysFanToronto for his amazing work, which allowed me to identify even more Jays-type players.