In the mock drafts by various publications, the Blue Jays have been heavily linked to college pitchers, namely San Jacinto junior college RHP Jackson Rutledge, West Virginia junior Alek Manoah, and Texas Christian lefty Nick Lodolo. To the extent they’re available anyway, though it’s unlikely that all three would be gone in the first 10 picks.
To what extent does this reflect actual intelligence instead of imputing a connection based on the fact the organization lacks more for high end pitching prospects who would be MLB ready in the next couple years? In 2017, the Jays were very heavily linked to both Logan Warmoth and Nate Pearson, whom they eventually selected with their two picks in the 20s. Whereas last year, no one even connected them with Jordan Groshans beforehand, with the mock drafters leaning towards college pitchers like Shane McClanahan and Ryan Rolison early, and mixing in college hitters like Travis Swaggerty later.
So that’s something of a mixed bag in terms of track record under Steve Sanders, though it’s worth noting they took Griffin Conine in the second round to whom they have been connected at various points. The first two years after Ross Atkins/Ben Cherington were in charge, the Jays drafted very heavily on the college side. But last year the majority of the money went to high school players. I don’t think there’s an overriding organizational bias.
Moreover, I don’t really see a reason to have a strong preference for any demographic. Yes, the Jays are stronger on the position side than the pitching side throughout the organization. But if a few years down the road the Jays ended up with too many good position player prospects, it’ll be a really nice problem to have. As the Cubs showed, if you build a strong positional core, you can go out and acquire pitching later, using the surplus. If there’s a college pitcher they really like, by all means, take him. But it’s a generally weak year for college pitching, especially the top handful, and the last thing they should be doing is forcing a college pitcher (I don’t think they will do this).
For several weeks there has been a consensus on the top six players in the draft, all position players — college star Adley Rutschmann, Andrew Vaughn, J.J. Bleday as well higher schoolers Bobby Witt Jr., CJ Abrams, and Riley Greene. They’ve all been expected to be off the board by the time the Jays come up at #11, and that will likely remain the case, though there are some rumblings of deals being cut that could shake up the top of the draft and cause some names to slide. In the unlikely event oneof them slid (most likely one of the latter two high schoolers), I’d think they’d have to be quite tempting.
Lodolo is the least likely of the college pitchers to fall out of the top 10, with a lot of pre-draft speculation linking him to the Red seventh overall. He was the classic projection high school pitcher good present stuff in the 2016 draft, and was selected 41st overall by the Pirates but spurned them to attend TCU.
He was expected to be an immediate contributor on a team that had gone to consecutive College World Series, and while he did step into the rotation right away and was decent, he had a lot of ups and downs in both his freshman and sophomore seasons. He wasn’t the star ace he was expected to be, with overall quite similar stat lines — ERAs in the 4.30s, just under 80 innings and 30 walks, and a strikeout an inning.
That had depressed his draft stock coming into the year, but things finally clicked for him in 2019 as he did emerge as that Friday night ace, posting 2.36 ERA in 91 innings, with 131 strikeouts against 25 walks. And against a pretty tough schedule, he didn’t beat up non weak non-conference teams only to be more pedestrian against lefties.
Lodolo has a solid three pitch mix from a big angle due to his 6’6” frame. It’s not massive raw stuff in the sense of having a true plus or plus plus pitch, but he’s there’s also good pitchability. He doesn’t project as an ace, but he’s a good a bet as any in this draft to be a solid midrotation starter.
Rutledge apparently had a private workout with the Blue Jays, so there’s something tangible linking them there. Also of interest, his pitching coach at San Jacinto was Woody Williams, the former Jays starting pitcher (thanks again, Dave Stewart).
The easiest comp in many ways is to Nate Pearson, who was also a junior college draftee after not pitching much at a Division 1 program. In Rutledge’s case, it was the premier SEC program Arkansas, who left him off their playoff roster during their run to the College World Series.
The comparisons run a lot deeper than that. Like Pearson, Rutledge has a huge frame at 6’8” / 250 pounds. He’s got a big fastball that runs into the big 90s, along with two breaking balls that are potential plus offerings. Like Pearson, his curve and slider are similar shaped pitches, at different speeds.
He might not have quite the juice that Pearson has in pro ball (who does?), but after the success that the Jays have had with Pearson, it he were the pick you’d have to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Like Lodolo, Manoah has bumpy freshman and sophomore years at West Virginia, spitting time starting and out of the bullpen with decent but not overwhelming results (3.50s ERA in 110 innings, 60 walks against 105 strikeouts). Also like Lodolo, he took a big step forward in his junior year, becoming a Friday night ace with a 2.08 ERA in 108.1 innings, 144 strikeouts against 25 walks.
His breakout really happened last summer on the Cape, when he threw 33 innings with a 48/11 strikeout/walk ratio, which adds to the track record. Like Pearson, he’s a big power pitcher at 6’6”/250 with at least a plus fastball in the mid-90s. He pairs that with a decent breaking ball that will least flashes plus. His changeup is a work in progress, that plus some repeatability issues mean there is reliever risk.
There’s been some discussion that if the Jays don’t go college pitching they have interest in high school outfielder Corbin Carroll from Washington. This makes sense in that theJays have had success identifying prep hitters who have hit in pro ball (Bichette, Groshans), which is by far the hardest thing to evaluate.
Carroll is considered one top pure high school hitters in the draft, with a track record against the top pitchers on the summer circuit. The power potential is more divisive, with MLB Pipeline slapping a future 40 (below average), while Perfect game ranks him as in their top five among high schoolers for power.
Beyond that, he gets top marks for speed, so he should be able to add value on the basepaths and in the field. In some sense, a prototypical leadoff profile. If the Jays like his offensive outlook, he would make a lot of sense especially if they could cut a deal to save some money for later.