When the Blue Jays traded Ryan Borucki on Sunday after designating him for assignment a week ago Tuesday, it was not only marked the departure of the longest tenured player in the organization, but another milestone as well. Borucki was also the remaining the last remaining member of the 2012 MLB draft class in the organization, thereby closing the books on the 2012 draft class for the Blue Jays exactly 10 years to the day that the draft kicked off on June 4th, 2012.
The 2012 draft was a transition point, as it was the first in the era of slotting and hard draft spending pools. After finishing 81-81 in 2011, they the 17th overall pick, and they also had the 22nd overall pick as a result of not signing 2011 first rounder Tyler Beede.
It was also the last draft where it was commonplace to have accumulated extra early picks from losing free agents the previous winter. The Jays were masters of this under Alex Anthopoulos, and this was their last bite at the apple in exploiting this loophole. They had three sandwich picks at 50th, 58th, and 60th overall for losing Type B free agents Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, and Jose Molina (they had hoped to get picks for Type A free agent Kelly Johnson as well, but he accepted the arbitration offer after the new CBA changes froze his market).
All told, having five picks in the top 60 gave the Blue Jays one of the larger draft pools and opportunity sets despite not picking near the very top. It was the heady days of the Lansing Three, and the expectations and anticipation were very high as the early returns from the 2010 and 2011 spending sprees tantalized. While the paint is not fully dry in that careers of several players are ongoing, we can now look back at what the Jays realized.
I’ve listed all draftees who made the big leagues, as well as those who didn’t but received significant bonuses. All WAR figures are the average of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference, with four totals that have relevance in my view. The first is the player’s total career WAR to date. The second is the WAR produced while in team control years, which is essentially what teams are paying for with bonuses. The third, “draft WAR” is the subset of that directly traced to the draft, so excludes anything after the initial contract is severed (by release, free agency, etc). The final is what was produced for the Blue Jays. The final column is remaining year of control for the player, since while the books are closed for the Blue Jays, they are not totally closed for the players.
The Blue Jays signed 33 of the 44 players they selected. Despite already having one of the larger pools in the draft, they made the strategic decision to essentially punt their picks in rounds 4-10 with senior signs, banking about $1.5-million to reallocate elsewhere. Most of that went to Matt Smoral, Anthony Alford and signing Borucki. Thus their draft class essentially came down to betting on eight players who received large bonuses, as well as seven others on Day 3 who received ~100K bonuses that didn’t count against the pool (none panned out).
At the top, D.J. Davis was a bust, never really hitting in the low minors and failing to reach Double-A. It’s doubly as painful considering the very next pick was Corey Seager to the Dodgers, followed by Michael Wacha (who has had a nice career). The other big what-if is that Lucas Giolito went one pick earlier to Washington after sliding down the board, and seemed like a quintessial Anthopoulos gamble. Notably, the Nationals only picks ahead of the Jays because Chris Sale blew a save the last game of the 2011 season and the Jays swept the White Sox.
By contrast, Marcus Stroman proved to be incredible value. I can remember Jim Callis (then of Baseball America) on the draft broadcast not quite pounding the table, but opnining he was being overly discounted due to his height. Shortly after the Jays popped him, and despite the hiccup of the PED suspension, Stroman rapidly ascended to the big leagues in 2012 as a frontline starter.
The compensation pick gambles on high school also did not turn out. The big (literally, at 6’8”) upside play was Smoral, but he dealt with injuries and never got on track. Mitch Nay also dealt with injuries and was a solid performer moving up the chain but never more (he’s had some good years in the upper minors since). Tyler Gonzales was an off-the-board who didn’t work out at all and was out of baseball two years later.
The promise instead came from first Chase De Jong, then Alford (once he focused on baseball), and then finally Borucki once he got healthy around 2016 and started moving up the ladder. De Jong’s solid stuff and command resulted in good success in the lower minors, but resulted in him flatlining. Just making the majors represents a considerable achievement, though ultimately essentially as an up-or-down replacement level pitcher.
Not that long ago, Alford looked like an inspired bet on tools as he turned into a top-100 prospect. But between injuries, stagnating the the upper minors and an influx of outfield competitors in 2018-19, the opportunity never really presented and he ended up out-of-optioned in 2020 and squeezed off the roster mid-season as the Jays contended. Ultimately, it doesn’t look like he’ll put it together and deliver on the promise and stardom hoped for.
Thus it was Borucki who was the last hope for a second significant major league contributor. Falling down the draft board in the spring due to an elbow injury, the Jays took a flyer in the 15ht round and landed him with the very last of their draft pool. He eventually required Tommy John, and other arm issues prevented him from getting to short season ball until 2016. Then he rapidly ascended through the minors, looking like a plausible mid-rotation or backend starter with a quality mix.
That’s exactly what he was when he debuted in the second half of 2018, posting a 3.87 ERA in 13 starts as one of the few bright lights as the Jays tore down the roster around him. Unfortunately, 2019 ended up largely a write-off to injury, and the Jays decided his future was as a short reliever. His velocity ticked up and he even had a run of good success in 2020, but the strike throwing wasn’t there.
In the end, I can’t help but wondering if he’s just not suited to be being a two pitch, max effort guy. His success previous was built on pitchability (and having a very good change-up). I’ll be interested to see what comes of his career, as it is he’s already the second most successful of the 2012 draftees.
It’s also worth noting that there remain links to the 2012 draft in the organization, with value attached. Stroman brought back Anthony Kay as well as Simeon Woods-Richardson, who in turn was part of the package for Jose Berrios. De Jong (along with Tim Locastro) brought back the extra international spending money from the Dodgers to mitigate the penalties from landing Vladimir Guerrero Jr. And of course most recently Borucki brought back Tyler Kennan.
Overall, five players from this class made the majors, as well as three of the unsigned players (Cole Irvin, Daniel Zamora and the recently faced Jose Cuas). Mitch Nay could plausibly make a sixth at some point. The adage is that getting one quality regular makes a draft successful, and the Jays certainly got the former that with Stroman.
In that sense, it could be considered a success, but having so many extra early picks considerably raises the bar for success. The lack of any kind of supporting depth contributors is glaring. This was an opportunity to set a foundation for the future, and in the end producing less than 20 draft WAR is disappointing. Overall, my grade would be in the C/C+ range.