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2022 MLB Draft: an unconventional opportunity to infuse the farm system

Losing Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien now provides a modest bonus

2021 Major Leauge Baseball Draft Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The 2022 MLB Draft gets underway this weekend, now part of the All-Star break rather than its traditional early June slot in the calendar. As usual, it will unfold over three days, with the Round 1 starting at 7 PM eastern Sunday, rounds 2-10 Monday afternoon before concluding with the last 10 rounds Tuesday afternoon.

The tradeoff for their success in winning 91 games last year is that the Jays will pick 23rd overall, the lowest their first pick will occur since 2015 when they lost their first round pick for signing Russell Martin but in turned gained the 29th overall selection as a compensation pick for losing Melky Cabrera. Nevermind the indignity of picking three spots after the World Series champions despite not making the postseason (which will change starting next year).

Interestingly, this will be the first time in franchise history they choose 23rd, having had the 22nd pick three times (Steve Karsay, 1990; Marcus Stroman, 2012; and Logan Warmoth, 2017) but also never the 24th. That pick comes with an associated slot of $3,075,300.

Realistically, that means that the Blue Jays will be locked out of the very premium talent at the top of the board, the highest prospects who offer the highest perceived upside, probability, or combination thereof. Conversely, as the names above suggest, there will be plenty of future value still on the board waiting to be found or unlocked.

The major difference and opportunity however lies in in what happens after the first round. Unlike last year, when the Jays forfeited their second round pick for signing George Springer and didn’t pick again until the second day and third round (91st overall) after taking Gunnar Hoglund with the 19th overall pick, in 2022 they will have four more bites at the apple in top 100.

The first of those is their second round pick, 60th overall ($1,216,100 slot value). Then in the sandwich round they have the two compensation picks for losing Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien. Those are back-to-back, 77th and 78th, with slot values of $846,500 and $833,200. Not exactly the bonanza free agent compensation used to be, but still nice to have. Then finally the Jays have their own third round pick, 98th overall ($623,200).

While picking towards the end of the first round necessarily limits the opportunities set over which they have no control, what all these picks do is give the Blue Jays significant strategic flexibility that will be really interesting to watch. With an overall bonus pool of $8,367,700 that is mid-sized (16th biggest), there is a number of different ways they can deploy it.

The first would be to mostly play it straight up, more or less taking players who will sign around slot and landing around five top-100 talents to infuse the farm system. That would be a similar scenario to what the Jays did in 2017 when they landed Warmoth, Nate Pearson (28th), Hagen Danner (61st), Riley Adams (99th), and Kevin Smith (129th). By money around, they could maybe land another one or even two depending how the board shakes out.

On the flip side, inevitably there will be a few major slides down the board, especially on the high school side, as deals get cut and the unpredictable occurs. If the right player slides, they could look to “punt” a couple of those lower picks to package money into that first round pick. The overall pool depth could allow them to offer $4.5-million or $5-million (10th or 12th overall slot) to a single player, which wouldn’t usually be the case at the 23rd pick.

Relatedly, it also raises the possibility of engineering a player to fall to them. If they really liked a player who didn’t go by the 10th or 12th pick, but was likely to be gone a dozen pick later, they could say we’ll give you that kind of money if you tell other teams to pass (or at least, that’s the price).

A hybrid strategy in between would be to play it pretty straight with the first pick, and then look to land another top-50 player or two later, either by consolidating value or punting later picks and funneling the money up. So they could land a $3-million player in the first round, maybe a $2-million player in the second round, and another $1-million player. Or a $3-million player, a $1.5-million player (playing the second round pretty straight) and then two or three more $1M+ players. To some extent, this is what they did in 2018 with Adam Kloffenstein in the 3rd round, though that hasn’t really worked out.

Last year I noted in the draft preview that while the degree of difficulty for bringing talent, and especially premium into the organization now that they’re firmly in the contending cycle is much higher, to a certain degree “it’s not where you draft, it’s who you draft”. One year later, we can see how that plays out. The jays took Ricky Tiedemann 91st overall with their second pick, and after dominating low-A into high-A, he’s now easily a top-100 overall prospect. Replacing those kinds of finds will the key.

Over the coming days, we’ll some of the names the Jays have been linked to, but the main emphasis will be breaking down the actual picks since the reality is so much is out of the Blue Jays hands at this point.