By virtue of their loss last night, the Blue Jays fell to 65-95. Coupled with Seattle pulling out a 4-3 win in the 9th inning against Oakland for their 67th win (as well as the Pirates pulling out of their September tailspin earlier in the week), they can now no longer overtake the Mariners in the standings. With the Jays holding the tiebreaker with a worse 2018 record, that also means they are locked into the 5th overall pick in the 2020 draft.
That will the highest Blue Jays pick since 1997, when they also had the 5th overall selection and chose a high school outfielder from Bowie High School in Arlington, Texas by the name of Vernon Wells, signing him to a then-team record bonus of $1.6-million. By comparison, the slot value for next year’s pick will be north of $6-million.
Wells of course became one of the best players in franchise history, ranking 3rd in games played (1393), 2nd in plate appearances (5963) and 5th in position player fWAR (24.8). He ascended rapidly through the minors, particularly in 1999 when he started in high-A and finished the year as a September call-up. In 2002 he established himself as a regular, and was a mainstay of the 2000s Blue Jays. There was of course the ill-fated $126-million extension, but that’s neither here nor there for these purposes.
As an aside, I was surprised to see that the Jays picked that high in 1997, since I didn’t recall 1996 as one of those really awful seasons that tend to result in a really high draft pick (like 1995, when they went 56-88 and got the 4th overall pick). In fact, it wasn’t, as the Jays went 77-85. So how did they end up picking 5th? I didn’t realize this, but that was prior to the formal AL-NL merger a few years later, so the leagues alternated picks regardless of records. The Jays had the 3rd worst record in the AL, and the AL picked first, so the Jays ended up 5th.
Just as 2019 was the third time the Jays had the 11th pick, 2020 will be the third time they have the 5th overall pick in the June draft. In addition to 1997, in 1981 the Jays selected HP Matt Williams from Rice University. That one didn’t work out so well, as he only pitched 34 innings in the major leagues, eight of those with the Jays to the tune of a 14.63 ERA. In late August 1985, he was part of a package sent to Texas to bring Cliff Johnson back to Toronto for the playoff push (Johnson having signed with Texas the previous offseason which resulted in the Jays getting Tom Henke as compensation).
While it’s hard too early to talk about specific players, the early read on the 2019 draft is it’s quite deep at the top, with some talk of it rivaling the famous 2011 class, or at least being the best since then. In practical terms, this means the type of player available to the Jays drafting 5th could be similar to picking higher in most years. That will be something to monitor next spring, but it’s still a long ways out.