With the first two days and ten rounds of the 2016 Rule 4 Draft in the books, it's now possible to make some assessments and snap judgments about this draft class and the Blue Jays strategy. Yes, there's still 30 more picks to come today, some of which could be significant prospects; and we need to see who signs and for what, much less how the draftees perform - but the bulk of the talent has been allocated, some important trends are clear and there's some interesting takeaways.
First and foremost, it's pretty clear that the new front office has resulted in some changes to the draft playbook, despite most of the other actors being heldover. For starters, the Blue Jays took three college position players in the top five rounds, which is more than the total for the entire 2010-15 time period. In that same time, they have only given out four bonuses of $250,000 or more to college position players, and just one more in the $100,000 to $250,000 range.
That said, it's possible this was a shift that was already underway, and at most merely accelerated. Of those four $250,000 bonuses, two of them came last year (Carl Wise and JC Cardenas in the 4th and 6th rounds). If we assume that all three college picks this year will easily clear that, then the trend for the last four drafts is literally 0, 1, 2, 3.
But what is really suggestive of a change in philosophy is the complete lack of high school pitchers drafted in the top 10 rounds. That's right: zero, none, nada when the number by year for 2010-15 has been 5, 10, 3, 5, 2, 3. One has to go back to 2008 for the last time they didn't draft a high school pitcher, and 2009 for the last time they didn't sign one. It's possible the draft board just didn't line up right for the Jays, but it's pretty loud that they didn't take any.
That said, I don't want to read too much into it. Last year, Cleveland took high school pitchers with their top three picks, so it's not like the new guys have a huge aversion to that demographic. Moreover, for all we know they've got some slot dollars saved up to go after a premium high school arm in the early rounds today. And when I was playing around with lining up short season assignments there were lots of options, so it's not like it's going to blow open a massive organization hole.
Yet, for all this significant change, there was a lot that didn't change. Starting at the top, the Jays took a college pitcher (even from the ACC). And for as different as rounds 2 through 5 were, rounds 6 to 10 felt very familiar: a raw, multisport athlete way off the board in D.J. Daniels; a college pitcher from a midmajor in Andy Ravel (like Travis Bergen last year, or even Matt Boyd in 2013); a pitching project out of junior college in Kyle Weatherly (like Grayson Huffman and Dan Leitz); and a few picks to save some slot dollars presumably. They even filled their quota for a pitcher out of the University of Florida's bullpen.
So while some are calling it a return to the Riccardi years, that's not really accurate. There's a number of upside plays here, players who are development projects. Even the college picks are not just polished performers. T.J. Zeuch has upside, Zach Jackson could theoretically start, Josh Palacios is very much an upside play who is not proven in college. Even looking more in depth at Andy Ravel last night, it looks like there could be some upside there, in that comparing him and his stuff to where he was 3/4 years ago, it doesn't seem like he's filled out much or his stuff's bumped up as much as normal or to the degree expected.
Which brings me to J.B. Woodman and Cavan Biggio, who share, I think, an interesting commonality that is also reflective to some new thinking. The few significant bonus college hitters the Jays did take tended to be players who showed well with wood bats against quality competition in the Cape Cod league, namely Max Pentecost and Carl Wise (Andy Burns too, but he wasn't great though he was a year younger than most). As described in their individual posts, that was not really the case for either Woodman or Biggio. Neither produced at a very high level in their freshman and sophomore seasons.
However, both were much improved in their junior seasons. Woodman absolutely torched the SEC the last couple months, which was a lot of pro calibre pitching. Biggio lifted his batting average by 50 points, mostly due to having a BABIP more in line with quality prospects (and it was also good on the Cape, his overall BA was dragged down by a high strikeout rate). It could be a fluke, without further context it's hard to say. But in both cases, it looks like the Jays are betting on the spring 2016 breakouts being real.
Overall, while I'm not over the moon with what the Jays did in the top 10 rounds, I am encouraged by the increased balance. Vancouver should be a very exciting team to follow this summer, with Zeuch, Woodman, Biggio and maybe Palacios ticketed there. If the hitters in particular continue where the left off, the 2016 draft class could look quite promising by the end of the summer.