In 1992, the Toronto Blue Jays finally reached the promised land and won the World Series. But with 12 free agents, they immediately faced the task of overhauling the roster to defend that championship. A good number of those were insignificant, but the net effects of those machinations had a big impact on the the next summer’s draft.
On the pitching side, the Jays faced the departure of Jimmy Key, David Cone and Dave Stieb from the starting rotation, representing the equivalent of two rotation spots. Owing to his injuries, the Jays were moving past franchise stalwart Stieb, and did not pick up his option or offer arbitration. Key and Cone were Type A free agents, so when they signed elsewhere the Jays picked up two supplemental first rounders, a third rounder from New York and second rounder from Kansas City.
On the position side, Joe Carter, Dave Winfield and Candy Maldonado were free agents. The latter were not offered arbitration at the beginning of the offseason under a short-lasting provision called “repeater rights”, so there was no compensation. The Jays re-signed Carter, and added Type A free agent Paul Molitor to replace Winfield. That cost them their first round pick, 26th overall. Adding another Type A free agent in Dave Stewart cost them their second round pick.
There was one other major loss, when Type A free agent Tom Henke signed in Texas for big dollars. When healthy, he was effective, but in hindsight it was probably the right move before considering that they gained the 15th overall pick and a third supplement pick. In addition, Manuel Lee (somehow) rated as a Type B free agent, so the Jays got Texas’s second rounder as well when he signed there.
As a result of all this, the Blue Jays ended up with 8 of the first 98 picks in the draft: one first rounder, three sandwich round picks, two second rounders, and two third runders. It was an opportunity to build a solid foundation for the future.
Drafted/signed: 61/30 (49%)
High school/college/junior college/other breakdown: 37/16/8 (15/9/6 signed)
Pitcher/position player breakdown: 35/26 (17/35 and 13/26 signed)
Previewing the draft, the Globe and Mail noted that while Baseball America was projecting high school infielder Charles Peterson (who went 22nd overall), “there’s also a thought they could go for a pitcher, possibly Chris Carpenter of Trinity High School in Manchester, N.H., as a first rounder. He’s the fourth ranked high school pitcher by [BA].” Peterson topped out in Double-A, so it’s fortuitous that the Jays went with Carpenter, who also played hockey in high school.
The next day, the Globe had Gillick’s assessment of Carpenter: “I think we got a good one there. He has good size, he’s 6’7”, 210...has a chance to be a power type pitcher”. Area scout Ted Lekas described him as “a power pitcher was a power-type curveball in the future” in the Toronto Star, who later when he signed reported his fastball velocity as in the 90s.
Carpenter moved quickly through the Blue Jays’ farm system, reaching AA Knoxville in 1995 after strong showings at Medicine Hat and Dunedin that put him on the backend of BA’s Top 100s. The breakthrough came in 1996, moving up to #28, and he debuted in 1997 when the Jays had injury needs. There was ups-and-down, but Carpenter held his own before a rough 2000 season.
He rebounded in 2001, and was Opening Day starter in 2002, but spent most of the year injured and required labrum surgery that effectively wiped out 2002 (his last control year). Back then, pitchers often didn’t recover from major shoulder surgeries, so the Jays elected to move on when he declined a minor league deal. The Cardinals signed him, and while he had a decent career with the Jays (870.2 IP, 4.83 ERA, 101 ERA-), it was there that he put things together and emerged as a frontline starter when healthy (1348.2 IP, 3.07 ERA, 76 ERA-).
At the end of the day, that makes Carpenter something of a mixed bag in terms of draft value. On the whole, his career is an overwhelming success story as one of the better draftees. But even had the Jays retained him, most of that success came later in his career, when he largely reaped free agent market rates for it. There was much less team control value than is usually the case for a player with a 30+ WAR career.
Alas, the Jays did not do nearly as well with the rest of their bounty of picks. In the Globe Gillick’s assessment was that “the first 100 to 150 available players in the draft were pretty good, but [he] felt the calibre of college players wasn’t particularly good overall”. Accordingly, it’s not surprisingly that the Jays went with a very heavy high school crop, especially at the top.
They whiffed on the three supplemental picks. 37th overall they took Matt Farner, a high school outfielder from Pennsylvania. There’s nothing about him in media write-ups, he never hit in pro ball and only briefly made a full season roster in 1996. 41st overall was another big (6’8”) cold weather righty pitcher from Illinois, Jeremy Lee. He had some decent seasons, but last pitched in 1998 at Knoxville.
Sandwiched in between these prep picks, 40th overall they went with a 20-year old Florida junior college lefty, Mark Lukasiewicz. Again, there’s almost nothing on him, the performance was underwhelming but he advanced up the chain, a swingman in the upper minors. He was briefly on the 40-man in late 2000, then lost on waivers to Anaheim for whom he had a couple brief cups of coffee. But overall, it was oh-for-three.
It didn’t get any better in the second round, though Tony Medrano may hold a unique distinction in MLB history. He was drafted 47th overall out of Long Beach, California with the pick the Jays received from Kansas City for Cone. Then in April 1995, he was traded to Kansas city in exchange for...David Cone, in the last year of the contract he signed as a free agent that resulted in that compensation pick. He kicked around the upper minors until the early 2000s as a journeyman infielder.
The other second rounder, received from Texas for signing Lee, was also from high school in California, but Ryan Jones was from Irvine. As a first baseman, this was all about the bat, and after posting solid performance had a bit of a breakout in 1996 with a .271/.351/.453 line at Knoxville that got him added to the 40-man. Unfortunately, that was the highwater mark as he regress statistically and never made the majors.
Several other 1993 draftees did make the majors, though few of them with the Jays. The exception was third rounder Mike Romano called up late in 1999 for three appearances, including mop-up duty in an 18-4 shelling at the hands of Cleveland that I attended.
13th rounder Adam Melhuse out of UCLA had the best career, 311 games from 2000-08 after he was a minor league free agent post-1999. The other two were lost in the Rule 5 drafts of 1996 and 1999, respectively. 17th rounder Mike Johnson pitched 218 poor MLB innings (6.85 ERA), and draft-and-follow 54th rounder Jim Mann had a handful of innings from 2000-03.
One last draftee who bears mentioning was 4th rounder, Joe Young, another big (6’4”) righty pitcher but from Fort McMurray, Alberta. “A tough competitor who throws hard”, he was also a good hockey played who played in the WHL before focusing on baseball. He advanced slowly through the lower levels, with three years in Medicine Hat/St. Catharaines, but a promising 1996 in low-A (157 strikeouts in 122 innings) landed him on the 40-man. But that too was the pinnacle, as he struggled in the upper levels.
Given how heavy the Jays went on the high school side, it shouldn’t be surprising that they signed relatively few players (just under half of the 61 drafted. Though interestingly, while only 40 of the high school players signing was not unusual, they only signed just over half of the four-year college players either.
What is perhaps surprising is that they didn’t identify any future MLB players in the course of all those picks. In fact, very few went on to even be re-drafted and play professionally. They also tossed away a couple picks towards the top of the draft, with the fourth/sixth/seventh round picks all in the top 250. That’s a small demerit, but ultimately it’s not like those rounds were full of MLB contributors.
Other players available: As discussed, Carpenter was more than worthy of where he was picked, even just based on the lesser version in his Jays days/control years. That being said, Torii Hunter did go five picks later to Minnesota (who also took Jason Varitek 21st, though he didn’t sign).
The entire 14-pick supplemental round turned out to be a wasteland, but there was talent on the board. Scott Rolen went 46th overall as the fourth pick of the second round, and Jess Suppan a few picks later. Needless to say, landing one of them would have made this draft, and the 1990s, a few different story. But the truth is, in the end, it just wasn’t a very strong draft year.
Overall assessment/grade: C. The Jays did fine with their first round pick, even if Carpenter’s career was back-weighted and he was more a solid starter than frontline starter in his control years. Even without realizing any other MLB value, that would be a decent outcome more in line with a B grade if not for all the extra picks. That significantly raises the bar for success, and not hitting on some of those picks had significant impact later in the decade.
Last Blue Jays connection to the 1993 draft: The lack of success of this draft class is evident in how short lasting an impact it had on the big league team. By the end of the 2000 season, just Carpenter remained. When he elected free agency after 2002, the last connection was severed to the 1993 draft not a decade later (despite being skewed to high school players).