It's hard not to get excited by the first day of this year's MLB draft if you're a Blue Jays fan. The Blue Jays snapped up three legitimate first-round talents, one of which could have even gone 1st overall had he not blown out his elbow. The guy I'm talking about is of course right-handed pitcher Jeff Hoffman, a college pitcher with a really high upside. In a dream scenario, Hoffman gets fully healthy and pitches like Justin Verlander, developing into a legitimate ace atop the Blue Jays' rotation. One of the riskier picks in the top 10, Hoffman could also struggle with injuries or even never fully regain his former stuff or command and never reach the majors. Is Hoffman going to be the next Wade Townsend (who needed TJ shortly after he joined the Rays and never got healthy again), or is he going to become the next Verlander, with a mid-90s fastball and several plus offspeed pitches? A lot of that is projection, as Hoffman's statistical track record in college wasn't all that impressive. Just as he seemed to make his breakthrough, Hoffman went down with his elbow injury, leaving his current ability somewhat in doubt.
Though he does not excite nearly as much with his upside, Max Pentecost may yet turn out to be the better pick at number eleven. Pentecost can really, really hit, and guys like that usually adapt to higher levels well, and sometimes add more power than you would expect. Just a few examples of pure hitters coming out of college: Matt Carpenter, Dustin Pedroia, Alex Gordon and Jonathan Lucroy. Pentecost is not nearly as highly regarded as Gordon, while being drafted much higher than those other three. In terms of draft position, comps would be Yasmani Grandal (hurt) and Jason Castro (over 4 WAR last season!), though Pentecost has less power than Grandal. In terms of winning Cape Cod league MVP honors as a catcher, Pentecost is like Matt Wieters. As a Cape Cod league MVP and low strikeout hitter, Pentecost is like Russ Adams. And before you "yuck, Russ Adams!", Adams' problem was his glove, not his bat. As a catcher who is also athletic and speedy enough to be a threat on the bases, Pentecost gets comped to Jason Kendall. In short, I really like Pentecost's offensive profile, but the worries are that he played against mediocre competition in college and we don't know with absolute certainty if his defense is going to be good enough.
As the 49th pick in the draft, Sean Reid-Foley might be the biggest steal in recent years of the draft, as a guy believed to be solid mid-first round pick who dropped all the way to the Blue Jays in the second round. And if you ask me how that could happen, I really, really, don't know. He's a Florida State commit, but should be signable, perhaps a million higher than the slot (1.1M) with money saved from the Hoffman (and possibly Pentecost) pick(s). The biggest red flag is Reid-Foley's delivery, which features a high elbow, and that's usually a warning sign for injuries. However, the risk of injury, which, let's be honest, is there to some degree for every pitcher picked, does not outweigh the potential benefit of getting an extra first-round quality arm. The great thing about Foley is that he already throws four solid pitches, and throws them all for strikes, so he's not the same kind of risky pick as the 2012 draft's Matt Smoral, who was ranked in the first round region at the time.
Still on the board
Starting at 1 PM EST, the draft will continue with rounds thee through then. Today, the draft should move quickly, and there should be no cringe worthy analysis from the likes of Harold Reynolds. With lots of intriguing options still available, let's divide them into different categories.
There's plenty of guys who will need to be signed over slot value from this point on, and they include:
Jacob Bukauskas - UNC commit, probably unsignable, great stuff and youngest in the draft.
Mac Marshall - LSU commit, maybe signable if a lot is saved elswehere? Multiple plus pitches from the left side
Dylan Cease - Vanderbilt commitment in hand and injured. Hard throwing righty, and I mean upper nineties hard.
Jakson Reetz - Committed to Nebraska and probably wants to go there. I really like his swing and he's expected to stay at catcher.
Keith Weisenberg - Stanford commit, projectable with a really short stride delivery.
Cobi Johnson, Florida State commit, also a down season, but has father in Blue Jaus organization who is a pitching instructor.
Possibly signable High School kids
These guys have either committed to lower profile schools, or weren't projected to go higher than the second round and could therefore have lower dollar values in mind.
Carson Sands - smooth delivery with low-90s fastball from the left side. Florida State commitment in hand, won't be super cheap.
Matthew Railey - athletic outfielder, probably not a CF, with the ability to hit, teammate of Sands and also commited to Florida State.
J.J. Schwarz - like Reetz, he's a good defender at catcher and has power potential. Committed to University of Florida.
Milton Ramos - very good defender at shortstop, questionable bat, committed to Florida Atlantic.
Mitch Hart - committed to Southern California. One of the youngest players still available, both polished and projectable at the same time.
David Peterson - athletic 6'6 southpaw committed to Oregon. Colorado native, so will the Rockies pick him just in front of the Blue Jays?
Kevin Padlo - young third baseman who plays all out (insert Lawrie comp) and has good bat speed and power potential, committed to San Diego.
Trenton Kemp - great athlete who should stick in center field, committed to Fresno State.
There's still a lot of college pitching available, but with few standouts. Chris Oliver, James Norwood, Chris Ellis and Brett Graves all throw hard from the right side, but none of them gets a satisfactory number of Ks. Lots of (somewhat) soft-tossing lefties in there, too, which I'm not going to list.
Zech Lemond - Rice pitcher who got himself injured before he could truly prove himself as a starting pitcher.
Eric Skoglund - At 6'6 or 6'7 tall (MLB pipeline disagrees with itself here) and still projectable, Skoglund might be the most attractive option out of the low-90s college southpaws for the Jays.
Jeremy Rhoades - University of Illinois pitcher who's got one of the best K-rates left on the board. Pegged as reliever despite low-90s fastball, good slider and durable build.
Sam Howard - Best combination of velocity (90-93) and K-rate from a lefty available at this point. Pitches for Georgia Southern, which hasn't faced the best competition, same as with Rhoades.
Jake Cosart - Brother of Jarrod, hard throwing junior college guy with a curveball that could be good. Hard to tell what you're getting in Cosart.
Josh Prevost - Top college senior pitcher still on the board. Stands tall at 6'8 and throws a sinker. Talk about downward plane.
The least exciting of the demographics in this class, there are nevertheless still some intrguing players available
Jordan Luplow - Good contact skills and decent power. Like Pentecost (pure hitter, good Cape Cod performance) but without the premium position, although Luplow could be a good defensive right fielder. Would be great value at this point.
- After a down year with the bat, Anderson still has upside as a hitter who may or may not be able to man second or third base. It's not much but Anderson is one of the highest ranked college hitters still available.
Grayson Greiner - In a good class for catchers, Greiner, who is unusually tall for a catcher, is one of the solid options left on the board. Greiner's defense is his calling card, but the bat isn't that bad, either.
I would go with Luplow, before the Cardinals snag him up and turn him into another Matt Carpenter. Zech Lemond is the only other intiguing option out of the college class. If signable I'd prefer Jakson Reetz out of the high school class, followed by pitchers Carson Sands and Mitch Hart. That's assuming the Jays don't have the money for Mac Marshall.