In something of a surprising turn of events, yesterday the Blue Jays signed their 24th round draft pick, Reggie Pruitt, with Jim Callis of MLB.com reporting the bonus as $500,000. Though Pruitt, a 6'1" / 170 pound OF from Kennesaw Mountain HS in Georgia, was the 772nd player selected, that was in no way reflective of his talent level as he was a consensus top-200 in the pre-draft rankings. Rather, he was a Vanderbilt commit, which is considered one of the toughest schools from which to sign players away, and on the third day of the draft Pruitt tweeted that he was going to go that route.
Pruitt fits the Jays' profile to a tee, as a very projectable but high risk high school outfielder with the tools to be a good defensive CF. His standout ability is his speed -- among the best in the draft -- rated a 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale by Kiley McDaniel's rankings at FanGraphs and 70 by MLB.com. Splitting the difference, that would put him roughly in the highest 10% at the MLB level. He has a good arm in the outfield, recorded as high as 93 MPH on throws, and is considered to have good fielding instincts.
The bat is the big question mark, with the consensus being that his swing is choppy, can get started late, and can get long at times. There will be a lot of work to do now that he's in pro ball, and a complete overhaul may be necessary. Unfortunately, the Jays don't really have a great track record successfully doing this in recent years, but Pruitt does have some strong building blocks with good hand-eye coordination and good bat speed due to fast twitch hands. So there's the potential to hit for average, and he could grow into some decent, if still below average, power. Here's a slo-mo video of his swing:
Ultimately, this pick is a lottery ticket, as if Pruitt's hitting ability doesn't develop then it's difficult to leverage defensive and baserunning abilities beyond perhaps a role/bench position. Conversely, if things come together than he can be an all-around, impact MLB player. This is similar, if not quite the same level of raw tools, to the profile of D.J. Davis when the Jays took him 17th overall in 2012, or even a Michael Gettys last year (who went in the second round). I dislike the Jays drafting that kind of profile really high, since the risk of a bust is even higher than usual and there's so much talent still on the board that has to be passed over for that risk.
But taking that kind of risk down the draft board makes a lot more sense. There's now the opportunity cost of the slot money that could have been used elsewhere, but especially with what Pruitt signed for the risk/reward consideration seems quite favourable. Consider that Anthony Alford signed for $750,000, and that wasn't even to play baseball full time. Or that Anthony Gose signed for $772,000 back in 2008 before there were spending restrictions. Granted, both had even more premium raw tools, but are in the same boat where if they didn't or don't hit, it won't really matter; and if they do, they can be impact players.
Among top 10 round picks, only 2nd rounder Brady Singer remains unsigned, with indications immediately after the draft that he would sign around the slot value of just under $1.1-million. Prior to signing Pruitt, the Jays were $565,000 under their slot allocations. As Pruitt was drafted after round 10, the first $100,000 of this bonus is exempt, so only $400,000 counts towards slot, leaving $165,000 in slot room.
However, that understates their real flexibility, since the first $100,000 of any bonus to anyone other than Singer doesn't count. Additionally, they can spend another 5% while triggering only financial penalties, potentially giving them another $270,550 to play with, or $435,500 in total. Interesting remaining targets for that money include Marrick Crouse (11th round), Chandler Eden (17th), Kyle Davis (29th round).