If you were even remotely interested in the MLB draft back in 2011, you've probably heard of the name Tyler Beede, the guy who got drafted in the first round by the Blue Jays, but wouldn't take their money and went on to pitch for Vanderbilt. Some other names a Jays fan might recognize, like Aaron Nola (pictured), Luke Weaver and Andrew Suarez, also find their way onto top 100 draft prospect lists. They're all players that the Blue Jays tried to sign in later rounds of the 2011 draft but went on to college to pitch quite successfully for their respective universities. However, only Beede and Nola seem to have a chance to be drafted as high as 9th or 11th overall, and be "reunited" with the Blue Jays.
The reason that the Blue Jays have two high picks this year is of course because they failed to sign last year's first-round pick Phil Bickford. Also, because the last two seasons have been bitter disappointments and MLB's draft system consoles fans of underachieving teams with the hope that things might get better in a few years. Now it's up to the Blue Jays and their team of scouts to make sure the chance of a brighter future is increased. And given that the experts are saying that this year's draft is quite deep, it should be possible for the Jays to make some good selections.
What we know about the Blue Jays drafting strategies
There have been four drafts since Alex Anthopoulos took over, and the change in draft philosophy has been radical. No longer do the Blue Jays favor college players heavily, as they did under J.P. Ricciardi (Jenkins, Arencibia). Instead, it seems that AA and his staff have focused almost entirely on high school pitchers, with the occasional college pitcher or high school hitter thrown in. The Jays have avoided drafting college position players almost entirely, although it has to be said the good college hitters seem to be a very rare commodity in the last few years.
What the Blue Jays seem to love most of all are high risk, high reward players. Whether the (extra) risk is there because these players have just recently popped up on the radar of scouts, or because they have recently underperformed despite a good track record of success, or even because they are injured, the Blue Jays will gamble on them if they see high upside. The chances of the Blue Jays taking a player with questionable defensive abilities are very low. The chance that they draft a Boras client seems almost zero. However, the chance that the Jays pick up some players that nobody expected them to pick is pretty high. Luckily, the Jays pick so high up in the draft that there is still a (somewhat) manageable number of players to consider.
What we know about the draft class
Basically every expert thinks this draft class is deep on pitching, especially from the college side. The "big three" of this draft are all pitchers, and their names are Carlos Rodon (LHP, NC State University), Brady Aiken (LHP, California HS) and Tyler Kolek (RHP, Texas HS). While they are all impressive, they don't seem to be s highly rated as last year's top three of Appel, Gray and Bryant. The depth of this class is perceived to exceed that of last year's though, and while that won't help the Astros, Marlins or White Sox much, it'll be good news for the other teams, especially one that picks twice in the first round like the Jays.
While it's possible that Rodon, Kolek and/or Aiken drop a little bit down, it seems highly unlikely that any of them will be available at the number 9 pick for the Jays to pounce on. However, there's a lot of other talent that can be considered for the fourth spot and beyond, and any of those players could drop down as far as number nine. So while that's exciting, it could well be agonizing for the Blue Jays scouting staff to have so many different options to consider. Then again, isn't that their job? Anyway, my point was that spots 4-X are very much an uncertain area. Two guys that might not get there are Nick Gordon, a high school shortstop and son of Tom, brother of Dee (wait, when did this turn into a story written by Tolkien?), and definitely a guy that fits the Blue Jays' draft philosophy. The other, high school catcher-but-probably-an-outfielder-in-the-future Alex Jackson is apparently a Boras client, which would seemingly rule him out as a Blue Jays selection anyway.
Besides Jackson and Gordon, the main players whose names get floated around for the first 15 picks are college players, and as we've established earlier, those don't get picked by the Jays all that often. The one highly rated high school pitcher frequently mentioned in the Jays' area of the draft goes by the name of Grant Holmes (RHP), but he isn't the prototypical Blue Jays high school draftee with lots of projectability. Touki Toussaint (also RHP) fits that profile more, but his delivery scares me, as do the reports of him being more of a thrower than a pitcher, which is not something I associate with recent Blue Jays draft picks at all. Are there any prep bats besides Jackson and Gordon worth mentioning? Well I suppose I should mention Michael Gettys, a center fielder who is very much a tools guy with big questions about his ability to hit. We know the Jays like those kind of guys (drafted D.J. Davis, traded for Anthony Gose) but will they value Gettys as high as 11th or even 9th overall?
On to the college side of things, where three hitters should be highlighted who play all of the three most premium defensive positions: catcher, shortstop and center field. Let's start with the center fielder, Bradley Zimmer, who is the brother of Kyle, a pitching prospect for the Royals. Bradley is praised for his tools, but there are two big question marks: one is if he is truly a center fielder (most seem to think yes), and the other is his ability to hit, as his ability to make contact has been underwhelming both this year and especially last year in the Cape Cod league, and he doesn't draw that many walks or hit for a lot of power (yet?). Keith Law really likes the guy though, I heard he ranked Zimmer 5th. Max Pentecost is the opposite of Zimmer in the sense that he crushed the Cape Cod league. Much like Zimmer though, he hits his way on base rather than draw walks to get there, and the power isn't the greatest but could improve (or so at least one scout once said). Last but not least there's Trea Turner, who was highly ranked coming into the season as a speedy shortstop who could hit, but he was disappointing early on this year. Lately, he's been on a bit of a hot streak though, and his numbers now look very much like Zimmer's and Pentecost's, except with more walks but less hits on balls in play, as well as the least questions asked about staying at his defensive position. Keith Law is apparently not very high on Turner at all, ranking him 22nd.
The quality of the college pitching is a big reason for the plethora of options the Blue Jays have at #9 and #11. Aaron Nola is the "safe" pick, a control artist who is the closest to major league ready, a description that will have Blue Jays fans screaming "not another Deck McGuire". But then, there's also the story of Mike Leake, and Jim Callis apparently thinks Nola has more upside than Leake. There's also Tyler Beede, of course, our old friend who would not take the money. Beede is almost the opposite of Nola in that he shows great stuff but his command has been lacking. It's improving, but still lacking. Then there's a trio of southpaws named Brandon Finnegan, Kyle Freeland and Sean Newcomb who all seem to be in a similar range, which is below that of Beede and Nola generally. Finnegan has faced the best opposition of the three, getting great results. He did recently miss time with shoulder inflammation, and his delivery is quite scary. Freeland has faced lesser competition, but also with great results. Freeland was also very dominant in the Cape Cod league against better opposition, but he works at a somewhat lower velocity than Finnegan and Newcomb. Speaking of Newcomb, the guy is loved by scouts, but his results are unimpressive in comparison, and the level of competition he has faced is very low. This is mainly because of issues with command, so if the Blue Jays think they can improve Newcomb's command, they could very well bet on the upside of a college pitcher rather than a high school pitcher this time around.
Last but not least there's Jeff Hoffman, a right-handed pitcher from East Carolina University. Hoffman's a pitcher with great stuff and projectability, and he was supposed to go in the first four picks before going down with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. Hoffman's track record was not great, as he only recently started getting great results, but with his strong three pitch mix with a fastball in the mid-90s, coming from a 6-foot-4 frame that likely hasn't been filled out yet, picking up the injured Hoffman will be very hard for the Blue Jays to resist. Cast your mind back to 2011, when the Jays drafted John Stilson, who was supposed to be a first round pick but dropped due to injury, or to 2012 when Matt Smoral experienced the exact same thing. Last year the obligatory "injury casaulty pick" was Patrick Murphy (3rd round), who was still recovering from Tommy John surgery at that time. Everything we know about Jeff Hoffman and the Blue Jays points to the East Carolina pitcher being a favorite for getting selected by the Jays with either the 9th or 11th overall pick. But this is the MLB draft, and the Blue Jays, so what do I know? Indeed, I know nothing.