Yesterday, we learned that the Blue Jays will most likely not be signing their latest first round pick, the 10th overall pick of the 2013 MLB draft. This of course, immediately calls to mind the 2011 draft, of which the first round pick, Tyler Beede, also did not sign. It would be short-sighted, however, to not also recall Daniel Norris and Kevin Comer, two other picks that Anthopoulos gambled on, not knowing if he could get a deal done. Matt Smoral was another high school pitcher who demanded a larger bonus than other teams wanted to give him (because of injury), but the Jays got that one done for the large price of 2 million dollars, the same as Daniel Norris got.
I don't think it's fair to slam the Blue Jays front office for making gambles on hard to sign players, especially since they have two more chances to pick a player who does sign with this pick in the next few years (although by 2015, the pick will be unprotected and only #12 rather than #10). What could ruin this year's draft, however, is if the Jays are unable to use the money they saved in this year's rounds 3-10 on players like round 11 pick Jake Brentz, a left-handed pitcher who will need to be offered a hefty sum to sign. The Jays would be unable to spend the saved money on international free agents due to seperate bonus pools, and using the money for signing free agents would be ineffective, as the money that goes towards draftees is still far less than what is needed to sign decent free agents.
In theory, going for hard to sign players who go later than they "should" based on talent level is a good idea, and fits right into AA's theory that the club needs high upside players to build a competitor in the AL East. There are two problems I can see, however. The first is that AA's high upside players are, so far, not doing that well. Matt Smoral, Daniel Norris, and also Tyler Gonzales have very real command problems. Jacob Anderson (currently on the 60-day DL) has failed spectacularly, and Matt Dean has not been much better. There are no success stories to compensate for the failures of the 2011 (and to a lesser degree 2012) draft, although Marcus Stroman has been decent, and D.J. Davis and Mitch Nay have had solid debuts in a small sample. With the right training, one would've expected some of these guys to turn into very solid prospects, but the best they've done is holding their own. I'm aware that it's too early to really tell, but the same is true for Anthopoulos and his staff, and I would be surprised if they weren't at least a bit worried about the lack of early success from the 2011 and 2012 draftees. Did they get lucky in 2010? Did they push their strategy too far to the extreme after 2010?
The second problem I see is the lack of consistency applying the high upside strategy. Trading six years of two high upside prospects for just one year of a 38-year old pitcher just doesn't fit the strategy. Neither does trading a bunch of lesser, but still decently high upside prospects for a collection of proven players with high salaries. Noah Syndergaard is dominating AA as a 21-year old, while Jake Marisnick is hitting .286/.355/.483, also in double-A, with Justin Nicolino at a healthy 2.18 ERA in high-A, even if his strikeouts are down a bit. Don't write off the less high-profile prospects like Asher Wojciechowski, Anthony DeSclafani, Kevin Comer and David Rollins, either. These guys are not all going to be stars, but some might, and that's exactly what the Jays should've been looking for; valuable players who are under team control for a long time. I'm not opposed to trading away prospects (Stewart for Jackson -> Rasmus was a good one) but they should bring in something better than one year of Dickey (they could have just signed him to a contract as an FA after 2013) or a few years of J.A. Happ, or an overpaid veteran combined with an injury-prone star on a fair contract.
Was Bickford even the right pick, since Braden Shipley (arguably similar upside but more proven and more signable) was still available?
Has AA and his staff focused too much on upside at the cost of everything else?
Does AA need to apply the high upside strategy more consistently?
I don't have definite answers to these questions, just opinions. Be sure to give us your opinion too!