In the past week, we've discussed the shift the Blue Jays have made in the last five years from largely taking college players to high school players. The reality of drafting elite high school players is that by virtue of scholarship offers, they'll have more options and be harder to sign, in some cases being virtually unsignable. The result has been that the last couple years Blue Jays fans have watched unsigned 2010 and 2011 draftees such as Kris Bryant (18th round 2010, 3rd overall 2013), Aaron Nola (22nd round 2011, 7th overall 2014) and Luke Weaver (19th round 2011, 27th overall 2014) turn up as elite first rounders three years later.
For the most part, these players were only taken where they were because they had made it clear they were very unlikely to sign even if teams did not have limits on what they could offer them. So to call them "ones that got away" is something of a false premise, especially starting with the 2012 draft when spending restrictions kicked in and there was only so much money to go around and a number of these picks were essentially back-up plans against other players not signing. Nonetheless, the pattern of 2013-15 will replay itself in 2015, as several top round draftees on Monday and Tuesday will be unsigned Blue Jays picks from 2012. With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of these guys.
In the 33rd round, the Jays selected a 6'3", 160 pound RHP from Missouri named Jon Harris, a classic projection play. In 2015, having filled out to 190 pounds, with two good seasons and a stellar junior season at Missouri State under his belt and his fastball up to 92-94 and the potential for four average or better pitches, he's likely to end up in the first round and perhaps even the top of the first round. He's ranked 10th by MLB.com and Perfect Game, 13th by FanGraphs, and 25th at Baseball America. Harris has a good chance to make it three years in a row that an unsigned Jays pick ends up in the top half of the first round.
The highest drafted unsigned pick in 2012 was 11th rounder Grant Heyman from New York, a highly athletic multi-sport guy in high school who turned down a bonus offer "near six figures". After a year at the University of Miami with little playing time, Heyman transferred to a Nevada junior college for 2014 and had a big year, but also made himself draft eligible last year. He was taken in the 8th round by Arizona and signed for slot of $157,700, and put up a .315/.356/.428 line in the Northwest League. This year he's hitting .273/.336/.403 in low-A.
In the 12th round, the Blue Jays took the highest ranked Canadian, Ryan Kellogg. He ended up at Arizona State University, where he immediately stepped into their weekend rotation as a freshman, no small feat for a good teams in a power conference. His season was highlighted by a no-hitter against Oregon State, who went to the College World Series. Over three years, he went 28-6, 3.50 ERA, 212 strikeouts against 62 walks in 321 innings, plus 37 strikeouts and 3 walks in 41 innings last summer in the Cape Cod League. Kellogg has been an excellent college performer due to strong command, but doesn't have huge raw stuff. He was best in college with his fastball in the high-80s, though can get into the low-90s, without a plus secondary pitch.. He's ranked 131st by BA, 171st by MLB.com, and 183rd by PG.
In the 17th round, the Jays took Matt Rose, a 6'4" RHP from Florida who ended up a Georgia State. While he's pitched all three years (less and less), he's now primarily a position player with some huge raw power. He hit 11 home runs in 2014, upping that to 16 this year (NCAA leader 19). He played both 3B and 1B, so his ultimate position is up in the air. He's ranked 227th by PG and 274th by BA
Moving down to the 29th round was a 6'4" LHP from California, Cole Irvin, who caught my interest at the time for reports of advanced pitchability. There's a lot of similarities to Kellogg. He ended up at Oregon, and had also jumped into their weekend rotation as a freshman, going 12-3, 2.48 ERA in 116 innings. Unfortunately, he missed all of last year after having Tommy John surgery in early February, and was really up and down this year coming back. He`s draft eligible, but probably returns to Oregon to build his value. Ranked 311 th by PG and 337th by BA
There's three more guys to note. Devin Pearson was taken in the 30th round, and had a huge breakout junior season this year, hitting .337/.385/.561. Brandon Lopez was drafted in the 34th round, and has been the starting SS at Miami, hitting .303/.395/.424 with solid defensive tools and frustrating inconsistency. Finally, Jose Cuas was the last pick in the 40th round out of New York, and has shown serious power at Maryland with 11 HR this year. He's ranked 411 by Perfect Game.
The obvious name here is Phil Bickford, who went 10th overall due to an elite fastball though unrefined secondaries, but did not sign. He had a decent freshman year at Cal State Fullerton working out of their bullpen and as a mid week starter, with a 2.13 ERA and 74 K in 76 innings, but his fastball velocity was down. He went to the Cape Cod League last summer, and was a monster working as a reliever with a 2.25 ERA, 33 K in 20 innings. Most importantly, his fasbtall velo was back up to the mid-90s and slider took a big leap forward as a secondary weapon. Then he left Fullerton for junior college in Nevada, to make himself draft eligible. Predictably, he posted huge numbers, with 166 K in 86.2 innings against lesser competition. There's still questions about whether he's a reliever or starter at the end of the day. He's ranked 21st by MLB.com, Fangraphs and PG, and 27th by BA.
Update: Baseball America reports that Bickford tested positive for marijuana in a pre-draft drug test.
The Jays took OF Zack Zehner in the 7th round last year from Cal Poly, after trying to sign him the year before as he was transferring from a junior college. Unexpectedly, he changed his mind and decided to return for his senior season after Cal Poly made a deep postseason run. As a senior, his power output increased a bit (11 HR up from 7), but was mostly in line and Poly didn't make the NCAA tournament. He'll likely be a cheap senior sign for someone.
Overall, the Jays have clearly done a good job identifying projectable high school players. It would be nice if they could have landed a few of these elite college guys at the time, but they can't force players to sign and only have so much money to go around. Blue Jay fans will just have to get used to seeing former draft picks going really high in the future, especially since there's more coming down the pike in 2016 and 2017. But that's a story for another time.