For a European sports fan like me, the whole idea of using a draft to distribute young players over the teams in the competition is initially a strange one. In most sports, a young player is free to sign with the team of his choice, which usually ends up being the team that scouts them first, or the team that offers them the most money. I find it interesting that the United States, so closely associated with the principles of free market economy, of all region countries is the one that regulates its sports this way. Personally, I do like the idea of having a draft that helps bad teams get first chance at premium talent, giving the fans of those teams something to cling to. The most obvious recent example of the MLB draft turning a team's chances around is the Washington Nationals, who went from laughing stock to contenders in a few seasons. Since the move from Montreal just before 2005, their highest picks have been Ryan Zimmerman (4th overall), Ross Detwiler (6th overall), Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper (both 1st overall) to boost their team's chances immensely.
Not only is there anecdotal "proof" that having a high pick in the draft will help a team, there's also statistical research that indicates a high pick is much more likely to prove valuable than a lower pick. With the Blue Jays having their first pick at number 10 this year, their chance at getting a premium talent seem quite exciting. However, their most recent draft pick in that area of the draft, Deck McGuire (11th overall in 2010), is a reminder that far from all first rounders become stars. Ricky Romero (6th overall in 2005) was valuable for a few seasons, but in hindsight most fans probably agree that Troy Tulowitzki (picked 7th overall) would have been a much better pick. Most recent first round picks by the Blue Jays have not been great, with Kevin Ahrens, David Cooper, Chad Jenkins and David Purcey providing little to no value to the big club. Travis Snider never fulfilled his potential with the Jays, unfortunately.
It might be a bit too harsh on the Jays' general managers or scouts to blame them for not producing as much talent from the draft as the Tampa Bay Rays have done, for example. Ricciardi's drafts did produce Aaron Hill, Shaun Marcum, among others. It's also important to consider that making decisions on these young players is very hard, especially in the case of high school players, who play against players of wildly different quality and who still have a lot of development time ahead of them. The term "crapshoot", often coined to describe the draft, refers to a dice game called "craps", and it's easy to see why many would think that the success a team has in drafting baseball players is purely down to luck, even if they're not rolling actual dice. It would be a bit too simplistic to completely dismiss the work of scouts, though, as the aforementioned statistical research does indicate that teams do a good job at picking up the better talents early in the draft. Much harder to determine, though, is whether having a large scouting staff (like the Blue Jays do) is actually better than simply going by the rankings provided by Baseball America. Alex Anthopoulos' expanded scouting staff has (probably) resulted in a few surprising draft picks, like Noah Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino, Jacob Anderson, Joe Musgrove and Kevin Comer. But there's far too little data to determine whether the Jays' scouting staff is above average in determining a player's likely future value.
Going into the 2013 draft, it's unclear what Alex Anthopoulos
and Andrew Tinnish (the Blue Jays' scouting director Assistant GM) will be going for. Last year's draft saw them selecting a few players who were rated highly by most analysts, but dropped, as opposed to 'hidden gems' that were not as highly rated by most. One type of player that we've not seen the Blue Jays zone in on is college hitters, though one of their few picks from that demographic, Andy Burns, has been very succesful thus far. It's probably safe to assume that the Blue Jays will simply pick the BPA, or "Best Player Available", whether it's a right-handed college hitter or a left-handed high school pitcher or any other type of player. One thing to note is that the Blue Jays seem to value injured players (Matt Smoral, John Stilson) more highly than other teams, and they seem more likely to take risks in general. Anthony Alford is a good example of the Jays looking for upside over 'safe' picks.
Next week, we'll look at the players the Jays might be looking at with their 10th overall pick. Only thirteen days until the draft! Are you as excited as I am?