The MLB First-Year Player Draft is a yearly event that plays a big role in determining the future success of many of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball. In early June (June 4th this year), commissioner Bud Selig will host the event, which spans three days, announcing the teams that get to select one of the available players to negotiate a contract with. The Houston Astros get to pick first because of their terrible performance in 2011, while the Blue Jays first pick at number seventeen. The Blue Jays will also have the 22nd pick as compensation for not coming to terms with last year's first round pick Tyler Beede. The Jays have also been awarded compensation for losing Jose Molina, Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch, in the form of the 50th, 58th and 60th picks. That 60th pick will be the last pick made on day one of the draft, and the Jays will have made the most selections, tied with St.Louis, with five first-rounders. AL East rivals the Yankees, Rays and Orioles will have picked only once, while the Red Sox get three selections on the first day. From the second round onwards the Jays will simply have one pick per round.
The importance of this event, now less than three weeks away, is easily explained: most of MLB's players have come through the draft, only those players from Latin America and Asia signed as international free agents have not been picked in a draft. And now that the new Collective Bargaining Agreement has put a limit on international spending in Latin America, the importance of the draft might be even greater than it has been. Toronto Blue Jays' General Manager, Alex Anthopoulos, has made the draft a priority from the start of his tenure. He has smartly acquired draft picks through free agent compensation, expanded the club's scouting department and spent good amounts of money to sign draft picks with high bonus demands. In this first preview we'll look at what the Jays' strategy has been in the past two drafts, and how the new rules will affect that strategy.
While the amount of money a team can spend on the draft is now limited, the amount allocated to clubs' bonus pools is not that far off what they spent last year. The Jays can still spend an amount near what they spent last year without getting hit by a penalty, like the loss of future first-round picks. One problem is that picks beyond the third round that fail to sign will be lost completely, and the bonus pool will shrink accordingly. So a team can not use the money they save by failing to sign a draft pick on other draft picks, making it more risky to pick players with high bonus demands.
The Blue Jays' Strategy
High Upside Position Players
The Blue Jays know that it takes a lot to win in the toughest division in baseball. GM Alex Anthopoulos has therefore made it an organizational strategy to look for players who could become stars. The downside to that type of player is that they have a bigger chance to never even reach the Majors, because their projected development is based on speculation. But if they do fulfill their potential, these players are exactly what is needed to compete with the very best. So, the kind of position players the Blue Jays will select in a draft are players who can play an important defensive position competently while also having the potential to become a good hitter. Although he was drafted before AA took over, Jake Marisnick would be a great example. Adeiny Hechavarria, also, and although he wasn't drafted, he was signed as an international free agent by Anthopoulos. The Jays' GM will be hoping that Jacob Anderson, a 2011 draftee, can follow in Marisnick's footsteps to become a top prospect quickly.
Big, Strong, Projectable Pitchers
While we shouldn't assume that Pat Tabler has had anything to do with who the Jays have selected in their drafts, it is remarkable how many Tabler-approved pitchers the Jays have selected. Not only have the Jays selected mostly tall pitchers, they've also made it a priority to select those who could still add some muscle to their frame and possibly improve their velocity even further. Alex Anthopoulos has also said that the Jays' scouts don't simply look at velocity, but look at the velocity a pitcher can throw strikes at. The Jays' scouting department has already uncovered multiple gems that were underrated coming into the 2010 draft in Justin Nicolino and Noah Syndergaard. They'll be hoping that fellow surprise picks Joe Musgrove and Jeremy Gabryszwski can have the same success.
Players who are injured in the year of the draft
Sam Dyson, John Stilson and Mark Biggs are all examples of players who saw their stock drop due to injury. The Jays gambled on their health and signed them anyway. Of course, a team will control a drafted player for a long time, so it makes sense to look beyond current injuries to the player's long-term chances of success. However, especially with pitchers, the chance of recurring injuries should not be overlooked. With the new rules in place, the Jays may look for less risky picks, especially in the case of injured high schoolers, who will probably not want lower their demands and go to college to prove they're healthy.
Players who have a down year in the year of the draft
This category is somewhat similar to the last one. These are players who were not injured, but dropped in the eyes of scouts for other reasons. The Jays have gambled on the idea that these players would return to previous form, whereas other teams shied away from them because most scouts seem to be largely focused on recent performance. Kevin Comer, Christian Lopes, Matt Dean and Andrew Suarez (did not sign) are examples of this kind of player that was highly rated at the start of the season but dropped as the draft approached. Like the injured players, I do expect more of these guys to go to college because their demands will be based on their previous reputation, while teams will be hesitant to gamble on a comeback year.
Best player, regardless of position
You might have heard this before, but it's worth repeating: the Jays will not draft for need. Is there a lack of second basemen in the system? Yes, quite probably there is. But the Jays know that their picks will take a long time to develop, and by 2016 or so the organizational picture could look very different from now. Additionally, Alex Anthopoulos is one of the most prolific GMs on the trade market, and he'll trade excess pitchers for position players if he has to. He already turned Shaun Marcum into Brett Lawrie, and Zach Stewart plus others into Colby Rasmus. He'll probably do things like that again.