In this year's MLB Draft, the Blue Jays first pick at number 29. The Blue Jays have always had a higher pick in the draft since 1984, when the Blue Jays had forfeited their first round pick by signing free agent Dennis Lamp. Not since the draft in which John Farrell was drafted (as well as Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux) have Blue Jays fans had to wait this long to see their team select an amateur player. In 1994 the Blue Jays had to wait until the 28th pick to select their grand prize...Kevin Witt. The picture painted by this historical 'overview' is quite clear: picking this late is not something the Blue Jays, or their fans, are used to. The Blue Jays could have had the 16th overall pick in this year's draft, but forfeited it by signing Russell Martin. However, they did get compensated for losing Melky Cabrera to free agency with the 29th overall pick.
Couple the low first pick with the fact that the Blue Jays have no extra picks, unlike in most of Anthopoulos' drafts, and pre-draft excitement for Blue Jays fans seems at an all-time low. But with the 29th, the 56th and the 91st picks in this draft, the Blue Jays still have a chance to add some impressive talent to their farm system. Last year's 29th pick, for example, was infielder Alex Blandino, currently hitting .319/.405/.448 for the Reds' high-A affiliate. In 2011, the 29th pick was Giants infielder Joe Panik, who is playing very well for them right now. Mariners infielder Brad Miller fell to the 62nd pick that same year. Need I remind you that Devon Travis was only drafted in the 13th round, while Matt Carpenter was drafted in the same round, three years prior? Unexpectedly, this seems to be turning into an argument to draft more college infielders, even if I hadn't intended that. Fine, Anthony DeSclafani, not an infielder, drafted in the 6th round by the Jays, also an example of late round value. There are plenty of talented players to draft in later rounds, it's just a lot harder to find them.
I hope I've convinced you to become at least a little bit excited for this year's draft. Unfortunately, while there will undoubtedly be good players available when the 29th pick comes around, it is very difficult to predict which players exactly are going to be there, and even harder to predict who the Blue Jays will take. With so many options, the easy narrative might be found in a recent Blue Jays stereotype: the solid pitcher who is injured and will therefore scare off teams that otherwise would be sure to select him. The Blue Jays' selection of Jeff Hoffman last year did nothing to dissuade us from linking every single injured pitcher to the Toronto Blue Jays.
The 2015 draft has three high profile injured pitchers, two of whom have had Tommy John surgery this year. Brady Aiken is of course well known as last year's first overall pick, so his talent is without question. Michael Matuella was an early favourite for getting picked first overall until he had a somewhat disappointing start to the season, followed by the surgery. Here's something Fangraphs' Kiley McDaniel had to say about those guys:
"I’ve found that fans, particularly semi-informed ones, think their team should take Matuella or Aiken in the top 10-12 picks because rehabbing injuries are automatic (Giolito, Hoffman, etc.) for these guys and these guys are really good. It isn’t that simple and these guys are different than those guys."
There are persistent rumours about Aiken's elbow being in much worse shape than just needing Tommy John, while Matuella was already dealing with back problems before tearing his UCL, which may have caused him to throw with worse mechanics. The third major injured pitcher is Nathan Kirby, who strained his lat and has shown diminished velocity and command this year. Before the season, Kirby seemed to be a surefire top 10 pick, probably top 5.
The injuries to the three pitchers has created a lot of extra uncertainty in this draft class, as no analyst really knows which teams will take a risk on these injured pitchers. But wait a minute, isn't there one team that you can be sure of to take a risk? I'm not referring to the Washington Nationals (Giolito, Purke) who don't have a 1st round pick, but of course the Toronto Blue Jays. The situation isn't that simple, however. Many mock drafts still mock these pitchers to go before the 29th pick, and even if they drop, don't associate the Blue Jays with them. Baseball America explicitly excludes the Jays, saying:
These teams remain the most likely landing spots for injured pitchers because they have multiple picks, with the exception of the Blue Jays, who have their first pick at 29, and the Yankees.
The reasoning behind this is that Blue Jays, unlike in previous years, have quite a small bonus pool available to them, and these pitchers will likely require a bonus much higher than slot. There are only six teams with lesser bonus pools, so financially the Blue Jays look unlikely to be able to offer these pitchers what they are likely looking for. It's possible that the Blue Jays will select college seniors in later rounds again and offer them peanuts in order to free up some extra bonus money, like they did in 2012 (to free up money for signing Matt Smoral). However, I personally find it somewhat unlikely that they would do this just to go all-in on a pitcher with severe injury questions. Yes, they have drafted injured pitchers before, but the Blue Jays have not dedicated an entire draft to one injured pitcher yet, is what I am saying. Of course, come draft day we'll still be watching closely if the names Kirby, Matuella and Aiken come off the board before 29.
What about that other Blue Jays draft stereotype then, high school pitchers? While there are certainly high school pitchers worth watching in this draft, that subject will have to wait until a future draft preview. Until then, please leave us your thoughts on these injured pitchers and what you expect the Blue Jays to do.