In 1982, the Toronto Blue Jays sniffed respectability for the first time, being above .500 in the second half. Ironically, 78-84 still left them tied with Cleveland for the AL East cellar, so while they were out of the top five spots for the first time, at 9th overall they were still drafting much higher than a team within spitting distance of breakeven usually does.
Drafted/signed: 23/16 (70%)
High school/college: 10/13 (5/10 and 11/13 signed)
Pitcher/position player: 11/12 (7/11 and 9/12 signed)
After a couple drafts that went longer and focused on the collegiate ranks in contrast to the earliest years, the Jays pivoted back to that original playbook. Not only were their first three picks all from the high school ranks, but the focus was on tools and pure athleticism and they only made 23 picks as the third team to drop out. That all three of those picks (and four of five prep picks overall) can be considered some measure of success, but they combined for 31 games and had negligible impact.
Matt Stark was a 6’4”, 230 pound catcher/tight end from Los Altos HS in Hacienda, California who had a football scholarship to USC. But his preference was baseball, with his father being a softball catcher (member of the International Softball Hall of Fame) and having introduced him to the position. In the minors, he typically struggled at the plate when when first assigned to a full season level, then produced solid lines.
Added to the 40-man after 1986, he stuck with the Jays out of Spring Training as Ernie Whitt’s backup in the vacuum caused by Buck Martinez’s departure. He played sparingly and struggled as he dealt with shoulder problems, and in May was demoted to AA Knoxville. He was left exposed in the 1988 Rule 5 Draft, selected by Bobby Cox in Atlanta. But his shoulder continued to plague him, and facing surgery was released near the end of Spring Training.
Second rounder Webster Garrison was also a football/baseball star in New Orleans, as an infielder and quarterback. Despite only hitting .295 his senior season, the Jays paid him big money to bring the standout speed and throwing tools into the system. The bat never came around enough to him to break into the talented late-80s infield, and he departed after 1990 as a minor league free agent.
Third and fourth rounders Jeff DeWillis and Jeff Hearron were also catchers who got briefs cup of coffee, the former in 1987 replacing Stark and the former in 1985-86 when Martinez was injured. After these experiences, the Jays then returned to veteran as back-up backstop, bringing in a series of veterans.
Instead, the best player in this class came in the 9th round from elsewhere in the California high school ranks. Glenallen Hill showed enough promise to be added to the 40-man after 1985 despite very high strikeout rates, and came through was a breakout 1986 with 31 home runs at AA Knoxville. He spun his heels the next coupe years, including breaking his hand in a winter ball brawl.
He was left unprotected in the 1988 Rule 5 Draft were famously five Jays were taken, but he was passed over. He responded with a massive year in Syracuse (.321/.369/578) that finally got him the call in the second half (Jesse Barfield’s departure helped clear the way as well). He spent the next year and half playing part-time. Not having established himself as a full time player, he was part of the package sent to Cleveland in June for Tom Candiotti.
Finally getting everyday time, he didn’t establish himself as a regular and was flipped to the Cubs where he had a torrid run at the plate in late 1993 but nonetheless ended up a free agent. His best years were in San Francisco in the mid-1990s, but while the enigmatic Thrill posted a solid 110 career wRC+, he never fully fulfilled the glimpses of potential he flashed. The Jays would not be made to regret trading him, as Candiotti was excellent and stabilized the rotation, and brought back a long chain of talent (see below).
Notable unsigned: none
Most of the seven unsigned draftees were high school players, a couple taken somewhat early and a few being flyers at the end of their draft. Though a majority played professionally, none made the majors so 1983 wasn’t a case of identifying talent but not being able to close the deal. Lefty Mike Raczka got a brief eight game cup of coffee with Oakland in 1992.
As in the previous few years, the Jays were busy in the January draft, selecting 16 players in the two phases. Once again, they only signed a few, and most of the unsigned players didn’t play professionally.
Howard Akers was speedy dual baseball/football high school star and went on to the University of Florida on a football scholarship, where the coaches who not allow him to play baseball as well. Not willing to give it up, he transferred to Gulf Coast Community College, signing after their season. As often ends up the case in these cases, the hit tool never clicked.
Other players available: It was not a strong draft year at the top, as six of the remaining 17 picks after Stark did not make the majors and another seven had insignificant careers or impact, for a three-quarters total failure rate. That Roger Clemens guy (19th overall) worked okay okay though, and the next best career belonged to another future Jay in Dan Plesac.
Overall assessment/grade: C+. In absolute terms, this grade would be lower since the Jays yielded little (and the most productive elements of Hill’s career came later and after he had been cast loose to beyond the control associated with draft rights). But the general dearth of talent mitigates that, as comparatively 10 teams got essentially nothing from the June draft with another couple having poorer drafts than the Jays. In relative terms, they at least approached the middle of the pack (adjusted for picks).
Last Blue Jays connection to the 1983 draft year: Glenallen Hill was not only the last member of the class remaining in the organization in his own right, but being part of the deal for Tom Candiotti spawned a long lasting chain. As a Type A free agent, the Jays received two picks when he left after 1991, one of which was used to draft Shannon Stewart in 1992
Stewart debuted in 1995, and was a regular until being flipped in 2003 for Bobby Kielty. Kielty in turn was flipped for Ted Lilly that winter. Lilly departed as a Type B free agent after 2006, yielding a supplemental pick that was used on Trystan Magnuson. Magnuson was flipped in the winter of 2010 for Rajai Davis, who remained with the Blue Jays through the 2013 season — a little more than 30 years after Hill was selected.