With the 2017 Rule 4 Draft complete, it's time to make some assessments and snap judgments about this draft class and the general strategy. Granted, 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.
At a high level, one thing is crystal clear: between this year and last year (even with a change in scouting director), there has been a significant organizational shift towards college players. Last year they had 11 picks in the first 10 rounds and chose nine college players; in 2017 they also had 11 picks and chose 10 college players. Between the two years, that's 19 of 22 picks on the first two days going to the college side. Within the top two five rounds (since college players dominate the back end for most teams), 10 of 12 draftees are from the college side.
The front office can claim all they want that they're just taking the best player/value available, but that kind of skew doesn't happen without at least some preference for college players in determining what constitutes the best value available. Or more likely, a strong preference.
The shift is even more jarring considering the high school heavy drafts that preceded it. The most significant way to measure this is in actual resource allocation. From 2010-15, my estimate is about 64% of draft spending went to high school players. Last year it was down to 30%, and this year will likely come in a little lower.
The temptation for many will be to see this as a return to the wasteland of the Riccardi drafts, especially given that Mark Shapiro oversaw a very similar - and similarly ineffective - strategy as GM in Cleveland concurrently. And truthfully, it's a nagging doubt for me as well. It's not that picking a ton of high school players proved to an unequivocally successful strategy (there were certainly plenty of busts). But some balance would be nice. It's particularly striking that not a single high school pitcher has been drafted in the top 10 rounds, an area in which the Jays had invested most heavily with some spectacular successes.
That being said, looking at the actual players selected at the very top, it's hard to argue that they were reaching for college players, as they were all chosen around or below of the public consensus talent rankings. Logan Warmoth hit his way into the first round, and it will be interesting to see how the future unfolds for him and the player selected immediately after, Jeren Kendall, who was a 1-1 contender a year ago.
In many ways, they are complete opposites: outfield vs. infield; Kendall with multiple standout tools whereas Warmoth more solid across the board; Kendall with major questions about his ability to hit with that now seen as Warmoth's greatest strength. Will the Jays live to regret passing up Kendall to the extent they did the last time the Dodgers picked immediately behind them (Corey Seager)?
In the back half of the top 10 rounds, it did appear the picks were made with the view of saving money against the draft pool. Most obvious were a couple of senior signs, but all the other picks from rounds 5-10 could be below slot to some extent. My estimate would be for savings of between $250K and $500K.
The question is towards what will these savings be targeted? Ideally, they were be used to add some talent draft on the last day, but I have a sneaking suspicion it might principally be directed up top. In particular, given the buzz Nate Pearson had in the mid-first round and the rumours of a deal with the Jays at 22nd overall, it wouldn't be surprising if his bonus came in well overslot. If that's the case, that's the one pick I'll particularly question. Fastballs like that don't grow on on trees of course, but he's going to be a development project and there's a lot of risk. Add in opportunity cost of slot money on top of that, and I think better value might have been available.
The other possibility to go overslot would be Hagen Danner. He was picked roughly in line with where he was expected to go, but as a UCLA commit he has better leverage than most.
Another trend was a heavy emphasis on college position players. The Jays largely stayed away from this demographic in 2010-15, but have now used 8 of their top 12 picks in the first five rounds on these players. That said, they're not playing it entirely safe, as they're making picks with more potential upside than is normal, but also with more risk or lack of track record. Lack year, it was J.B. Woodman and Joshua Palacios. This year it's Kevin Smith, the aforementioned Pearson and to a lesser extent Riley Adams.
They don't seem overly concerned with players who have higher strikeout rates, or even very high strikeout rates in college. Again, Woodman last year, but several this year had high strikeouts rates or strikeout rates that had popped (Smith, Adams, Brock Lundquist). Whether it's something they think is less predictive, or they can fix/develop, just doesn't matter as much in an age of many strikeouts or is entirely coincidental is interesting to contemplate.
Finally, if you want to be drafted by the Blue Jays, it might be a good idea to play in the Northwoods, and in particular for the LaCrosse Loggers. At one point, it seemed every other players drafted had done so.