This edition of Aspiring Jays is likely going to be a bit shorter than usual, because I stayed up until sunrise to follow the draft live, and now I have a headache. With the Jays only picking once in the second round, I should probably have gone to sleep after the Jays had made their 10th overall pick. The first round moved forward at a glacial pace, and why? So that we could listen to Harold Reynolds spouting his uninformed opinion and making a fool of himself. Before I get caught up in discussing the million ways that the draft coverage could be better, though, let's talk about the Blue Jays.
At the time Alex Anthopoulos took over from J.P. Ricciardi as general manager, the Blue Jays did not have a great drafting reputation. Many fans didn't like the fact that Ricciardi took so many college players, and when he did go for high schoolers (like Kevin Ahrens, Justin Jackson, Kenny Wilson and John Tolisano) they usually busted pretty quickly. So in came "savior" Alex Anthopoulos, who expanded the scouting staff, and seemed to go the opposite route, focusing mostly on high school players with upside. The early returns on Aaron Sanchez, Justin Nicolino and Noah Syndergaard were so good that this new approach was almost universally embraced by the fans, including me.
When it was time to prepare for the 2011 draft, we knew the Jays would be looking for upside, and we had a feeling they would go with some big, projectable pitchers. Anthopoulos & Co. surprised us all by selecting Tyler Beede, Jacob Anderson, Joe Musgrove and Kevin Comer where they did, as those players were not projected to go that high. At the time, I (and probably most other fans) was optimistic about the Jays' scouting staff to uncover diamonds in the rough, due to the early success of the three high school pitchers mentioned earlier. Besides "upside" and "projectable", now it seemed the Jays focused a lot on players who were injured, or had their stock drop in some other way during draft season (Comer, Lopes, Biggs, Stilson). Unfortunately, Comer and Anderson weren't good last year, and Musgrove had shoulder problems. Comer and Musgrove were traded to the Astros, and Anderson was not found to be good enough to make Lansing this year. The 2011 draft is not looking that great at the moment.
In the 2012 draft, the Blue Jays cut back on surprise picks, and instead went with some guys who dropped in Stroman and Smoral, and an upside guy who went right where he was projected to go in D.J. Davis. In addition to continuing the trends of going with upside, projectability and injury-related droppers, the Jays added another "keyword" to the mix: athletic. With both Stroman and Gonzales, the Jays added some pitchers who were not big and projectable, but supposedly very "athletic". Mitch Nay was another name to add to the list of Musgroves and Syndergaards as a late riser who the Blue Jays gambled on, hoping his recent performances were indicative of a true jump in ability. Most of these players are in extended spring training right now, so it will take a while to get a read on how advanced they are. Stroman has pitched decently after his suspension ended, but there's some concern about the amount of hard contact he's given up.
And now the 2013 draft. With the 10th overall pick, the Blue Jays passed over Shipley (who was supposed to go either 6th or 7th) and "reached" for Bickford, who was rated much lower. Both Shipley and Bickford are athletic (check), have upside and projectability (check) and saw their stock rise late (check), though Shipley's stock rose early enough this year that teams were on to him much more than they were on to Bickford, even though Bickford did get rumored to go 8th to the Royals at some point. With both pitchers offering similar upside to the ignorant observer, it's somewhat controversial to go for Bickford over Shipley, as Shipley at least has a highly rated changeup, whereas Bickford is called a one pitch pitcher. Also, not drafting Shipley might look bad on AA in a few years, but few would hold him accountable for not drafting a pitcher projected to go 15th-25th or something. Apparently Anthopoulos is not worried about job security, even though the past two seasons have not exactly been great.
The second round pick by the Jays, Clinton Hollon, is also a bit of a mystery. He's not projectable, but probably athletic (check) and had some injury problems and concerns (check). Does the Hollon pick, in combination with Bickford, mean the Blue Jays are above all else looking for big fastballs? With the success of Syndergaard and Osuna, it makes some sense to believe in the power of a premium fastball with command. I also think that fastballs are a bit easier to scout than breaking balls, and much easier than changeups. High schoolers rarely need to throw changeups, and they rely on deception a lot more than movement (or velocity, of course). As for breaking balls, they're also thrown less often than fastballs, and I think a breaking ball's movement matters less than people think. Roy Halladay, for example, has a curveball with unimpressive drop compared to other curves, but his command of the pitch makes it a truly elite pitch nonetheless. So, I'm not opposed to the direction the Jays are taking here, but I'm surprised that Shipley didn't fit what they were looking for.
As for Hollon, we don't know what his bonus demands are, but they're unlikely to be very high. It's possible that he was chosen to save some money and go for Kyle Serrano, Ryan Boldt, Connor Jones or Jonathan Denney with the 3rd round pick, which is the last one that is still protected. Since rounds 4-10 are unprotected picks, but do count towards the amount of money the Jays can spend, don't expect any big names in those rounds. The upside picks will likely continue in the 11th round and onwards.