MLB Draft Preview: Let's Talk Draft Stuff

Nick Howard playing the field for Virginia - USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft will be held in just two days, starting at 7 PM eastern time on Thursday. With the event coming up so quickly, it's time to talk some draft, discussing the possible picks and strategies for the Toronto Blue Jays.

After Scott C. profiled possible Jays targets Jeff Hoffman, Touki Toussaint and Trea Turner, and I myself made a ranking of High School pitchers, the Blue Jays' favourite demographic, I thought it was time for something different. Rather than profile specific players, let's simply talk rumors and strategies.

An interesting tweet from Kiley McDaniel, scout.com's draft expert, and a guy I hold in high regard. With "heavy hitters" we assume he means important members of the Blue Jays scouting staff, not Jose Bautista, Edwing and the bunch. Pentecost is an intriguing lad, as a catcher who can really hit, and probably can stick at catcher. If the Jays do believe Pentecost can stick at catcher, he certainly fits the profile of an up the middle talent the Blue Jays so often look for.

Here's a table of the cream of the 2014 crop, along with some recently drafted college hitters in their senior years:

Name AVG OBP SLG BB K
Max Pentecost .423 .483 .631 29 25
Trea Turner .321 .418 .516 37 25
Bradley Zimmer .368 .461 .573 31 34
Colin Moran .345 .470 .544 63 25
Hunter Renfroe .345 .431 .620 35 43
Mike Zunino .322 .394 .669 31 47
Tyler Naquin .380 .458 .541 25 37
Deven Marrero .279 .335 .437 17 16
George Springer .350 .458 .624 36 38
Kolten Wong .378 .492 .560 42 20

The reason I've only gone back as far as 2011 is because that's the year the BBCOR bats were introduced. The new bat regulations have dropped the HR rate in college baseball from 0.68-0.96 (2000-2011) to 0.42-0.52 per game the last three years, this year reaching the lowest rate since 1970. Keeping this in mind, the stats of possible Jays targets Turner and Pentecost look pretty decent when compared to Troy Tulowitzki's .349/.431/.599 line with 14 BB and 35 Ks in Tulo's junior year. Not saying Pentecost and Turner share Tulowitzki's upside (who does, really?), but they certainly seem worthy of a top 10 pick. One thing to note with Turner is that his BABIP in 2014 was far lower than his BABIP in 2013, which seems to be a big reason for him dropping on boards. It might be luck, might not be.

Some fans were upset that the Blue Jays did not draft Kolten Wong when they chose Beede with 21st overall pick in 2011, but they got Stroman as a compensation a year later, and Stro's probably the better player. Other than perhaps Wong the Blue Jays have simply not had the premium college defenders available to them that can compare to Pentecost, Turner and Zimmer, so their recent draft tendencies are far from proof that the Blue Jays will not go for a college bat at this point in the draft. One last thing about Pentecost: he was really, really impressive in the Cape Cod League, the college summer league with wood bats. Zimmer not so much, and Turner disappointed with Team USA.

Meanwhile, in an interview with Alex Anthopoulos:

AA: "[...] I’d say a big part of refining our process is maybe we’re starting to examine the level of risk we’re willing to take."

Q: How so?

AA: "Just anything. More risk, most likely, more reward, and we may just modify it slightly. It doesn’t mean we’ll be risk-averse, but maybe not take the same level of risk. We’re just trying to balance it out a little bit more as we’re going through it. That’s not to say we’re not looking for talent, upside, all that kind of stuff. We’re trying to balance it."

Considering the relative failures of the 2011 and 2012 drafts, which have seen a lot of disappointing high school picks, Daniel Norris being the exception, compared to the 2010 draft, it's perhaps not a surprise that a bit of an adjustment might be coming. The Blue Jays had a lot of picks in 2011 and 2012, but a lot of those have failed to progress in the direction of a decent prospect. Jacob Anderson, Jacob Musgrove (traded, injuries), Kevin Comer (traded), Matt Smoral and Tyler Gonzales have been hugely disappointing first-round supplemental picks. Meanwhile Mitch Nay, D.J. Davis, Christian Lopes, Matt Dean and Dwight Smith have at least moved up some levels, but they haven't taken a huge step forward the way the 2010 draft trio of Syndergaard, Sanchez and Nicolino did at the lower levels.

More Kiley McDaniel:

I hear you asking: "Well, why would the Blue Jays take a college reliever, that doesn't seem to be their style?" And you're right, it's not the Blue Jays style. But McDaniel explained in his mock that it would be a huge under slot deal, which would mean more money to be thrown at the plentiful high school arms later in the draft, and that does seem to be the Blue Jay way of recent years. Also, Nick Howard's a reliever right now, but some feel he can go back to starting, which he did pretty succesfully in his sophomore season (higher K/9 than Hoffmann in his sophomore season, for example) after relieving in his freshman year. The 15.34 K/9 Howard's sporting in his return to the bullpen is certainly impressive, but we don't know how well he'd have done in the rotation this season. There's a chance he could have been in the top 10 mix if Virginia had let him start, but he could also have been out of first round consideration altogether. Howard's also played the field for Virginia, so there's some thought he could improve when he focuses solely on pitching.

Some thoughts from Jonathan Mayo:

Are there any current players in the Majors who have a similar game to Trea Turner?
-- Sadiq R., Queens, N.Y.

You've struck on one of the biggest question marks surrounding the NC State shortstop. His plus speed makes him very interesting, especially if you think he can stick at short (most seem to). While there have been some questions about his hit tool because of some unusual mechanics at the plate, he's performed, putting some concerns to rest this year by finishing strongly. But he doesn't look like or do it like anyone in the big leagues, at least according to some scouts I spoke to. Having an MLB comparison isn't essential, nor is it necessarily a predictor of success or failure. But being able to see a big league model that compares favorably would likely help ease worries for teams looking at Turner in the top half of the first round.

While I usually don't like it when a pitching prospect needs his delivery changed, I can't help thinking that there might be a lot of untapped potential in Turner's bat if he has a swing overhaul. I don't know how risky that is, though. It didn't work for Travis Snider but I think there's also a lot of success stories in this area.

Frankie Piliere, expert from PerfectGame in a draft chat:

Comment From Rob
Are people focusing too much on Grant Holmes' size?
Frankie Piliere:
I think it has to be brought up. But, if he was 6-4 we'd be talking about where he'd go in the top 5. The lack of the prototype frame is about the only knock on him. He does everything else well. If you watch him enough and watch how he works an AB and turns over a lineup you start overlooking the size. And, it's not like he's 5-10, he's over 6 feet.

Grant Holmes is rarely mocked to the Blue Jays, but he's been linked to them quite a bit, so he's not out of the picture yet. Will Stroman's success make them more keen on smaller pitchers?

And more Trea Turner:

Comment From Oren
Is Trea Turner going to hit in the big leagues?
Frankie Piliere:
Yes. I wavered a little on this early spring, but I've seen him adjust to how pitchers were attacking him inside. He's an adaptable player who gets what pitchers are doing to him. Those guys usually end up hitting.

That's pretty darn positive, and Piliere's not some amateur, he knows his stuff.

Let's go back to Nick Howard:

Comment From John
Who would you take, Howard or Burdi?
Frankie Piliere:
Burdi is going to go higher I'm pretty sure but I like Howard because I think he can start as a pro if he wants to.
Patrick Ebert:
I've been on the same page with Frankie regarding Howard all spring. If he were a starter now we might be talking about him as a top 8-15 overall pick.

Another advantage to Howard might be that he has less innings on his arm, because he only started for one year in college. I like his delivery for the most part, although he does throw across his body. Don't think the Blue Jays will actually go the Howard route, but I can see the arguments for taking him.

Then some rumors from Chris Crawford's latest mock (he has the Jays taking Turner 9th):

No. 11: Toronto Blue Jays
Name Position School Slot
Jeff Hoffman RHP East Carolina $2.8883M
I wouldn’t call this a lock, but assuming he’s still on the board — and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t — I think this will be the direction the Blue Jays go. Other names I’ve heard associated with both picks are Touki Toussaint, Newcomb, Derek Hill and Holmes.

Derek Hill is a speedy center fielder with little power who might be the dark horse for this pick. But the guy I'm interested in here is Sean Newcomb, who gets mocked to the Mets, Phillies and sometimes Mariners quite often, but not to the Blue Jays. Newcomb's a college left-hander who throws really hard with a good, clean delivery. The problem? He's faced poor competition in college, and yet still has some command issues. In other words, he's a project despite being a college pitcher, and that type of pitcher doesn't usually go top 10. But the scouts seem to love him, so who's to say the Blue Jays don't?

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