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Assessing the 1994 Blue Jays draft

Their last signed pick turned out to be the best one

Baltimore Orioles vs. Toronto Blue Jays

In 1993, the WAMCO Blue Jays bludgeoned their way to repeating as World Series champions, dropping their 1994 draft positioning to 28th after the first round of expansion since they joined the junior circuit in 1977.

Unlike after 1992 however, there was no wholesale turnover in the offseason that had major draft implications. Acquired as a rental, Rickey Henderson left as a free agent with no compensation despite ranking as a Type A free agent since the Jays had agreed not to offer arbitration as a condition of him approved the trade. Jack Morris, Mark Eichhorn, and Alfredo Griffin also departed as free agents

The interesting free agent case that could have had draft implications was the other midseason acquisition, Tony Fernandez, who was a key upgrade and rebounded strongly after coming over. The Jays were initially interested in bringing him back, but Fernandez sought a multi-year deal and declined their one year offer before filing for free agency. Also a Type A free agent, he didn’t find any takers and was still on the market in early December when the Jays had to decide whether to offer arbitration.

The Jays were cutting payroll from the record $51-million level of 1993, and had already re-signed Dick Schofield with #4 prospect Alex Gonzalez waiting in the wings. Fearing he’d be awarded a salary of around $4-million, they didn’t offer arbitration. Not working out a deal worked out poorly for both sides. Even without compensation, Fernandez didn’t find suitors and had to settle for a one year deal under $1-million in March. The Jays could have really used his production at shortstop in 1994.

Their only free agent signing of any note was re-signing Danny Cox, so all their draft picks in 1994 were intact.

Drafted/signed: 64/36 (56%)

High school/college/junior college/other breakdown: 39/18/7 (17/16/3 signed)

Pitcher/position player breakdown: 36/28 (21/36 and 15/28 signed)

Players signed

1994 June signed corrected

Overall, the 1994 draft class had 36 players signed, but many of those were short lasting. Only 20 of them were still in the organization when the 1996 season began. Surprisingly, that including a trio of top 10 round high school draft picks, so it seems something went seriously wrong along the way there.

the 28th overall pick was used on a high school shortstop from Jacksonville, Kevin Witt, who was ranked 39th overall by Baseball America and was committed to the University of Florida. The Toronto Star report referenced Cal Ripken in that at 6’5” Witt was much larger than the positional prototype. But even then, the value here was in his bat, and there was already talk of a move to third base, a position he had played previously.

Witt stayed at shortstop for his first three professional seasons, though committed 48 errors in his of 1995 and 1996. In 1997, he not only moved off SS, but right across the defensive spectrum to primarily 1B. Likely not coincidently, he broke out offensively with a .289/.349/.539 line with 30 home runs at AA Knoxville after previously posting solid but unspectacular lines. That landed Witt on the backend of Baseball America’s Top 100 list at #99 despite being the loss of positional value.

He followed that up with a good year in Syracuse in 1998, earning the late-season call-up. Seemingly poised at age 23 to emerge as a big league regular, in 1999 he had another good year at Syracuse but struggled in a short run with the Jays. Back then there where plenty of veteran thumpers, and with Delgado in was hard to break into the lineup. He regressed in the third season at Syracuse in 2000 and became a minor league free agent after the season. He bounced around for a while in AAA, but was ultimately a AAAA type for whom the production didn’t translate to the highest level.


Second rounder John Crowther came from a small D-II school in South Carolina that I had never heard of and has produced only one other draft pick, Coker College (now Coker University). The 6’4” righty was their closer with fastball velocity up to 96, so this was a play on pure stuff. Alas, the control was lacking in pro ball and he topped out in Dunedin.

Most of the next dozen picks were high schoolers who didn’t work out, but one who did make it to the majors was 15th rounder Gary Glover. He advanced slowly through the system, but statistically thinks seemed to click for him a bit in late 1998 or 1999. He was briefly called up in at the end of 1999, but flipped for Scott Eyre after 2000. He posted a couple decent seasons for the White Sox as a swingman.

After Witt, the most notable signee was shortstop Andy Thompson out of high school in Wisconsin. the Jays landed him with a hefty $350,000 bonus (second round money), with Pat Gillick getting involved to close the deal (something he rarely did, with the likes of John Olerud and Shawn Green. Thompson too moved off shot, immediately to third base and then eventually to left field.

He to posted solid-to-impressive batting lines in the way up, including 30 home runs in 1999. But other than a brief look in 2000, he never got a big league shot between being blocked with the Stewart/Cruz Jr./Green outfield and not banging the door down in a high offensive era.

Instead, the high school shortstop who made the biggest impact was the last high the Blue Jays signed, Chris Woodward in the 54th round from California. He didn’t hit a whole lot on his way up the system, but staying on a middle infielder that was constantly in flux (especially when Gonzalez was injured) got him to the show by 1999. He was up-and-down the next couple years, up for good in 2002 which was likely his best season.

He hit 13 home runs, including three in an August game against Seattle (that I was at). He never carved out an enduring starting role, and J.P. Riccardi elected to move on after 2004. He bounced around the majors as a utilityman for another half decade, making for the best career among 1994 draftees.


Unsigned draftees

1994 June unsigned

Once again, it was a numerically high school heavy draft with a ton of late round flyers who didn’t sign. If there’s any takeaway, it’s that not only did they not identify any future big league talent, but hardly any of these players were redrafted out of college of played profesionally.

Fourth rounder Brad Freeman was drafted out of high school in Mississippi, but was born in Tennessee. So was 19th rounder Chris Freeman, drafted out of the University of Tennessee, so if there’s a relation there this may have been a gambit like what the Jays attempted in 2011 drafting Aaron and Austin Nola. Interestingly in the very next round they drafted a third Freeman (Matt), from Florida. Chris signed and played a couple years; Brad went Mississippi State and was re-drafted in 1997 and 1998 (12th and 7th round).


Summary

1994 draft summary

Other players available: Jay Payton was taken immediately after with the first supplemental pick, and Troy Glaus went early in the second round but did not sign out of high school (ironically, almost the same spot Scott Rolen went the year before, who he was later traded for). But the next significant player was A.J. Pierzynski in the third round, so it’s not the case that the Jays missed on obvious targets sitting in front of them. Javier Vazquez went late in the 5th round, and Placido Polanco in the 19th round.

Overall assessment/grade: C-. Woodward had a decent run, and Glover a couple decent years, so they didn’t get absolutely nothing. Even Witt wasn’t a complete whiff in that he was ranked as a top prospect before not working out. Finding eight or nine players who made it to the majors is also something, but ultimately, they got very little major league value. That’s mitigated only by the fact by picking at the bottom without extra picks, but the effect was clear in the late-1990s when there was no help coming from the farm.

Last Blue Jays connection to the 1994 draft: Woodward stuck around until the end of the 2004 season, when he was sent outright and opted for minor league free agency, closing the books on the 1994 draft a decade later. He returned to the organization in 2011-12, briefly promoted in September 2011 and thus finished his major league career where it started. Since then he’s crossed over to the dark side to become manager of the Texas Rangers.

Various other transaction chains from trading Davey, Halperin and Glover petered out in the early 2000s (Davey—>Segui—>Fullmer—>Brian Cooper; Halperin—>Plesac—>Tony Batista; Glover—>Scott Eyre).