2021 marked the 45th season in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays. It therefore also marked their 45th year participating in the Rule 4 amateur draft, as unlike the later expansion rounds of 1993 and 1998 they did not get to start drafting and building a farm system ahead of time (Colorado and Florida/Miami participated in the 1992 draft; Arizona and Tampa Bay got two whole years starting from 1996).
Every year right after the draft snap judgements are made by experts about who did well and who didn’t. But beyond the fact that these assessments usually don’t adjust for where and how teams pick, they’re highly speculative at best. The maxim is that it takes five or 10 years to know how a draft class will turn out. And even then the books may not be absolutely closed for even longer if selected players are very successful and enjoy long careers.
But very rarely does one see comprehensive assessments of past draft classes with the fullness of time, especially since in my many cases the front offices responsible are long gone by the time it could be undertaken. Accordingly, I’ve always had my eye on exactly such an undertaking: breaking down each Blue Jays draft class, a deep dive into the players but also high level assessments.
A coupe years ago, I did this for the 2009 to 2011 draft classes when the books closed on them from a Blue Jays perspective. With the lockout having having brought an always slow part of the offseason to a complete standstill and the potential for a protracted standoff, I thought it would be an opportune time to extend this analysis, starting from the beginning.
My plan is to do about three draft classes per week, and we’ll see how far we get. Depending on how circumstances develop, this may get put aside and finished next winter. In any event, this stream will serve as a central collection point for all entries. Below is some background as well as detail on how each draft analysis will look.
Today “the draft” is a singular event, but that was not always the case. It didn’t exist until 1965, instituted amid alarm over escalating bonuses being paid to “bonus babies” (culminating in Rick Reichardt receiving $200,000 in 1964). While the Jays weren’t around for the first dozen, they’ve taken part in over three-quarters now.
Until 1986, there were actually four different drafts each year: separate drafts in January and June, each with a regular/primary and secondary phase. The June draft for high school and four-year college players was the major source of talent whereas the January draft was limited to junior college players, early high school graduates, and dropouts from four-year college programs. The primary phase was for players who had not been drafted, the secondary phase of each for players who had been previously drafted but did not sign.
Until 1998, there was no set number of rounds; teams simply dropped out when there were no longer players they wanted to select, and the draft continued until the last team was done. And even from that point, not all teams participated until the end, 2009 was the first draft whose 50th round had 30 selections.
The Blue Jays were never the last team left at the drat table, though they came close multiple times. In 1987, they tapped out after the 71st round, leaving the Royals to go three more “rounds” on their own. In 1988, it was just them and the Yankees from the 68th round until the Jays finished up in round 73 leaving the Yankees to make two more selections.
The Jays went even further in 1989, going until the 75th round when they were once again one of two teams left. Alas, the Astros has another 12 selections in then, making an incredible 87 picks. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. The only other years the Jays selected more than 60 players were 1994 (64th round) and 1997 (67th round).
Of course, most of those players in the later rounds were flyers and didn’t sign. In those highest volume years, 36 signed in 1987 (51%), 31 in 1988 (42%), and 35 in 1987 (47%). The most players signed in any draft year is 40, occurring in both 1990 (71% of 56 draftees) and 2000 (78% of 51).
For each June draft class, I’ll make a chart of all players who signed with basic relevant biographical info (position, round, high school college, bonus where known, when/how they departed). As was done in the post linked above for 2009 to 2011, for players who made the majors, three different totals will be tabulated for both playing time (plate appearances/innings pitched) and value. WAR will be an average of Fangraphs (fWAR) and Baseball-Reference (bWAR).
The first is career numbers, the ultimate measure of players. The second will be control totals, that is what players did in their first six seasons of service time (approximately), since what teams are ultimately acquiring in the draft is contractual rights. The final total will be what they did with the Blue Jays. It will look like this (adapted from above for 2009). Ultimately, these totals will be sued to stack up draft classes against each other.
The same will be done for the “other” draft classes, with comments or a table on unsigned players, as applicable. I’ll comment on various draftees, and then an overall assessment of the draft will be made taking into account the results as well as picks they had.