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2022 Draft Preview and Names to Watch

Too many words about players the Jays probably won’t end up picking

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MLB: Toronto Blue Jays-Workouts Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

After Matt laid out the Jay’s draft situation yesterday, I wanted to give an overview of what the 2022 draft looks like, and how that shape will affect the Blue Jays’ options. The first thing to note about this year’s class is that it’s generally considered to be relatively thin, especially on the pitching side. There are some exciting names at the top, but no undeniable slam dunk #1 like there is some years (e.g. Adley Rutschman in 2019, Bryce Harper in 2010). That doesn’t directly matter for the Jays, who are picking after the consensus top names are long gone, but it does open things up and raise the possibility of more teams ahead of them trying to cut deals to move money back to later picks, which could cause some players expected to go in the teens to fall and increase the general chaos.

The second thing is that the pitching crop has been decimated by arm injuries. Dylan Lesko, a Georgian high schooler projected as at least a top ten and likely a top five pick, went under the knife in April and will now likely slide into the teens. On the college side, Alabama’s Connor Prielipp, Mississippi State’s Landon Sims, Arkansas’ Peyton Pallette and Connecticut’s Reggie Crawford all looked like certain top 50 and likely first round picks last year before each going down with elbow injuries. Adding to the chaos are the situations of East Carolina’s Carson Whisenhunt, a potential first rounder who is healthy but was suspended for the entire 2022 season by the NCAA for a positive drug test, and Kumar Rocker, last year’s #10 overall pick who’s back after failing to sign with the Mets due to issues with his post-draft physical. He’s impressed in 20 innings with Tri-City of the Independent Frontier League, but the undisclosed medical issue is presumably still in play and makes him a total wildcard anywhere in the back half of the first round or early second. The cumulative result is that it’s possible that no pitcher goes in the top 10 for the first time in over 40 years (it last happened in 1979), and that there are a wide variety of guys who could go anywhere from the 20s to the 50s.

Another fun note is the preponderance of large adult sons near the top of the draft. Andruw Jones’ son Druw is the consensus number one prospect and projects very much like his dad as a potentially elite centre fielder with big power but some questions about his hit tool. Jackson Holliday, son of Matt, as well as the sons of long time utility infield Lou Collier (Cam) and Pro Bowl NFL tight end Eric Green (Elijah), all seem likely to go in the top 10 and possibly the top 5. If that didn’t make you feel old enough to crumble into dust, Carl Crawford’s son Justin (more on him later) is likely to go in the middle of the first round.

The Top of the Draft

The Orioles pick first. While Druw Jones is pretty widely agreed to be the best prospect in the class, he’s not hugely separated from Holliday, Collier, Green, Atlanta high school shortstop Termarr Johnson, Cal Poly shortstop Brooks Lee, or Georgia Tech catcher Kevin Parada in the top tier. That’s lead to speculation that Baltimore might try to cut a deal with someone else in that group, or even a lower ranked player, to spread out their pool and try to get multiple shots at first round quality talent. GM Mike Elias has gone that route before, in 2020 with the selection of Heston Kjerstad #2 overall, and famously in 2012 with the selection of Carlos Correa at #1 over the heavily favoured Byron Buxton (a player whose draft profile wasn’t totally unlike Jones’). Of course, he’s also played it straight when he has conviction in the top prospect available, notably with 2019’s selection of Rutschman. Between the #1 pick, a competitive balance round A pick (#33 overall) and a competitive balance round B pick (#67 overall, acquired from the Marlins in trade), Baltimore has a near-record $16.9m to spend, which will give them a lot of power to shape how the first few rounds play out.

Which direction Baltimore goes will set the tone for the first third or so of the first round, although things broaden out after the names mentioned above go, probably all in the top 10.

Other Teams to Watch

The Mets don’t pick until 11th, the compensation pick for failing to come to terms with Rocker last year, but then go again at 14. They also have a compensation pick before the third round as a result of losing Noah Syndergaard to the Angels. That gives them the third largest bonus pool after Baltimore and Arizona (who pick 1-2 and also have competitive balance picks at 33 and 34).

Within the division, the Red Sox pick 24th, right after the Jays, and have the 18th largest bonus pool, two slots below Toronto. In addition to their usual picks, they have #41 as compensation for failing to come to terms with second round pick Jud Fabian last year and #79 as compensation for Eduardo Rodriguez going to Detroit. The Yankees pick 25th, right after the Red Sox. They neither gained nor lost compensation picks, so their bonus pool is 26th. The Rays pick 29th, but receive a competitive balance pick in round B (#70 overall), which bumps their bonus pool up to 20th.

The Blue Jays’ Situation

Toronto picks 23rd. The way the board is expected to play out, there will likely be a run on the second tier of college bats beginning somewhere in the early 20s, and they may be in a position to have their pick of that group. Most of the public rumors surrounding the pick suggest that’s the most likely course of action, although they’ve also been tied to a few college pitchers who fit generally in that range, and a handful of high schoolers on both sides of the ball. With their extra money, the Jays are an a strong position to either stop the slide of a higher ranked prospect who falls through the cracks in the teens, or to try to cut a deal and move some money to the second and compensation rounds where they have three total picks. Realistically, it’s impossible to know where things are going this deep into the draft. By the early 20s there will have been three or four different runs that affect the course of later selections, and with talent leveling off after the first dozen or so picks the range of players who could defensibly be considered the 15th-23rd best prospect in the draft is very wide. Below, I’ve collected every name that has been publicly linked with Toronto in the past two months by five major public prospect evaluators (Baseball America, The Athletic’s Keith Law, MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis, ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel, and Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen). Some of these guys won’t make it to 23, and some may be options at 60 with the second pick. There’s a good chance the name they call isn’t on this list, but I hope to at least give a flavour of the kind of talent that will be available.

The College Outfielders:

Dylan Beavers, California

BA: 26 KL: 51 ESPN: 14 FG: 45 MLB: 22 Avg: 31.6

Beavers is a very big (6’4”, 206) and ultra-athletic right fielder. He has huge tools, including at least plus raw power, a plus arm, and above average speed, allowing him to project as a very good defender in right and possibly allowing him to handle centre field. The question is his hit tool. He has an unusual setup, which Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen compares to Christian Yelich’s, and an unusual swing during which he struggles to control his long levers. He may need to totally rebuild his setup and swing in pro ball, and even if he’s able to will probably never have more than a fringe average hit tool. If he gets there, though, there’s star upside because of the potential for power production and defensive value. It’s a very high risk but potentially high reward profile.

Chase DeLauter, William and Mary

BA: 19 KL: 35 ESPN: 17 FG: 21 MLB: 18 Avg: 22.0

DeLauter is a bit of a mystery box, with just 323 College PA. His swing was a mess early this season against high end competition, but he figured it out and hit .437/.576/.828 in 24 games before missing the rest of the year with a broken foot. He also raked in the Cape Cod League, the best college summer wood bat league, last summer with more walks than strikeouts. That’s important to his profile because he didn’t face great pitching in the Colonial Athletic Association in college. Because of those stats, teams that lean heavily on statistical models likely see DeLauter as a top 10 talent in the draft, and one may take him before he gets to 23 (he’s been pretty heavily tied to Cleveland for this reason). Scouts have more concerns, because his swing is a bit stiff looking, although he’s never had an trouble making contact and has undoubted plate discipline and raw power. There’s some disagreement about his speed, but he should end up solid in right field.

Sterlin Thompson, Florida

BA: 35 KL: 19 ESPN: 36 FG: 46 MLB: 29 Avg: 32.2

Thompson is a big and physical lefty (6’4”, 200) with a beautiful swing and the potential for plus power, although his approach is geared more for line drives right now. He raked against good fastballs in the SEC, but has shown a notable weakness to breaking balls that could be a problem against high level pitching. He’ll have to hit, as he has only fringe speed and is just OK in right field. He’s played a lot of second base this summer and could be tolerable there as a pro if he hits enough, ala Steve Pearce or Max Muncy.

Jordan Beck, Tennessee

BA: 36 KL: 14 ESPN: 11 FG: 70 MLB: 23 Avg: 30.8

Beck is another prototypical right fielder (6’3”, 213) who hits right handed and possesses big power, a big arm and above average speed. He’s deferred to a superior defender in Drew Gilbert (below) at Tennessee, but some scouts think he could handle centre as a pro. As with Beavers, there are questions about his hit tool. His swing can get long and he’s overly aggressive, at times looking like he’s guessing what’s coming, which has lead him to strike out about twice as often as he’s walked in college and to strike out a full third of the time in the Cape Cod League last summer (a yellow flag for a bat-first prospect). If the approach can be ironed out, the upside is 30 homer potential with solid defensive value.

Drew Gilbert, Tennessee

BA: 24 KL: 18 ESPN: 11 FG: 16 MLB: 32 Avg: 20.2

Gilbert has rocketed up draft boards this summer playing an excellent centre field while being the best hitter on the best team in college baseball. He’s small, listed at 5’9”, 185, and as such will probably never be a huge power producer although his exit velocities are apparently surprisingly strong. He has excellent plate discipline and the plate coverage to reach out and make solid contact on the outside third and the bat speed to catch up to heat inside. Defensively, he’ll definitely stick in centre and should be plus there, with plus speed and a plus arm in addition to solid instincts. Even if the game power is limited, Gilbert profiles as a top of the order table setter who get on base and adds value with the glove, in the mold of a Brett Gardner or Adam Eaton. If those exit velocities turn into some game power, there’s potential for more.

This is the demographic that it seems the Jays are most heavily tied to. DeLauter seems likely not to make it to 23, and my read on the most recent mocks and rumours is that Gilbert is also likely moving over the Jays spot. Thompson most often seems to be mocked a little below them, but wouldn’t be a reach. Beavers and Beck are divisive, but it seems like there’s usually someone who thinks they can figure guys like that out and the upside if they’re right is huge, so they’ll likely go above their consensus ranks.

The College Infielders:

Zach Neto, Campbell

BA: 16 KL: 9 ESPN: 12 FG: 5 MLB: 17 Avg: 11.8

Neto has dominated the Big South Conference for three years, compiling a ridiculous .403/.500/.751 line. Facing better competition and working with a wood bat in the Cape Cod League last summer, he kept on raking, with a .304/.439/.587 line and as many walks as strikeouts (8). He has a wild swing with a huge leg kick, but he rotates well enough and has quick enough hands that it’s never hurt his ability to make lots of contact. The big motions allow him to get to average power in spite of a small-ish frame (6’0”, 190). Defensively, most scouts think he’ll stick as a shortstop and be above average to plus there, with plus speed and a plus arm to go with good athleticism.

Cayden Wallace, Arkansas

BA: 53 KL: 70 ESPN: 42 FG: 47 MLB: 31 Avg: 49.2

Wallace is a solid third baseman (6’1”, 205) with a direct swing that produces quality contact and the potential for above average power. He’s had a bit more swing and miss than is ideal due to an over-aggressive approach, and while he’s a great low ball hitter there are some concerns about his ability to catch up to MLB level heat at the top of the zone. Defensively he should stick and be average, with a plus arm. He appeared to be taking a step forward as the season progressed, hitting better against SEC pitching than he did against the weaker non-conference schedule and clubbing nine home runs in Arkansas’ last 11 games of the season.

Peyton Graham, Oklahoma

BA: 31 KL: 26 ESPN: 69 FG: 10 MLB: 28 Avg: 32.8

Graham is a big, lanky athlete (listed at 6’4” and only 185). He’s unusual for a college prospect in that his body isn’t a finished product and he probably has room for 20+ pounds of good weight left. As lean as he is, there’s already above average or plus raw power there. Defensively, he’s a good enough athlete to stick as a shortstop with plus speed and he has a huge arm built for the left side of the infield, although if he bulks up he may move to third where he should be a good defender. He’s a free swinger and doesn’t currently recognize breaking balls well. Early in the season he had trouble controlling his swing and struck out far too much, but made an adjustment in early April and caught fire, slashing .370/.454/.721 the rest of the way against high end Big 12 talent. Graham is more of a project than is typical for a college player, but the upside as a power hitting shortstop is sky high.

The Jays are somewhat less likely to end up picking from this demographic. Since he was mocked to Toronto early on, Neto’s stock seems to have risen significantly and at this point it would take a significant unexpected slide for him to get that far. Wallace, conversely, seems to be going lower. Graham is the name that seems to have been linked the most often, especially recently.

The College Arms:

Landon Sims, Mississippi State

BA: 34 KL: 69 ESPN: 52 FG: 59 MLB: 44 Avg: 51.6

Sims was a dominant reliever in 2021, striking out 47% of the batters he faced and posting a 1.44 ERA in 56.1 innings in the best college conference. He got a chance to start in 2022, but blew out his elbow three starts into the season and got Tommy John surgery in mid-March. He has two elite pitches, a fastball that sits 93-95 and gets up to 98 with excellent spin metrics, and a wipeout slider that has curveball movement but comes in at 85, as well as a barely used change that’s apparently average. He has the athleticism and control to at least try starting, but his most likely outcome is as an impact reliever. Before his injury, there was some talk of him potentially going early to a playoff team and jumping right into the major league bullpen, the way Garrett Crochet did for the 2020 White Sox, but his injury means he won’t be available until next year.

Cooper Hjerpe, Oregon State

BA: 32 KL: 55 ESPN: 46 FG: 29 MLB: 34 Avg: 39.2

Hjerpe is a tall, lanky (6’3” 200) lefty who doesn’t have massive raw stuff (a fastball that sits 90-91 and touches 95 and a slider and curve that are average, plus an above average changeup) but has dominated because of an extremely funky delivery and a true sidearm release point that creates incredibly difficult angles for hitters and causes all his stuff to play up. His command is also plus. He was one of the best performing pitchers in the country this year, striking out 40% of the batters he faced while walking only 5%.

He has the look of a back end starter, although if his funk plays as well against pros as it did in college he could be more than that. He could also move extremely quickly as a multi-inning relief weapon if he can sit closer to the top end of his fastball range in shorter stints.

As with DeLauter above, Hjerpe is a guy who will be beloved by statistical-model oriented teams but viewed with more skepticism by scouts.

Gabriel Hughes, Gonzaga

BA: 22 KL: 30 ESPN: 30 FG: 33 MLB: 26 Avg: 28.2

The best currently healthy college pitcher in the country, Hughes is a big righty with a classic workhorse power pitcher’s frame (6’4” 220). He’s always had impressive stuff, with a fastball that sits 93-94 and touches 97 with good carry up in the zone to miss bats and a low 80s slider that flashes plus but isn’t there consistently, as well as a change that fades nicely but that he needs to improve the consistency on. He took a big step forward with his command in 2022, and now projects for average there. Overall, the package is that of an innings eating #3/4 starter.

The three arms here represent a mix. Hjerpe is unconventional, but if they want someone who can contribute soon he might make sense. Sims has big upside, but also a lot of risk. Hughes is the best of the three, but his status as the best college pitcher on the board is more of a comment on the state of the class than on him. Still, it seems like he’ll probably go fairly high just by virtue of there being no one above him in his demographic and be gone before the Jays pick.

The Prep Bats:

Justin Crawford, Las Vegas, NV.

BA: 18 KL: 23 ESPN: 44 FG: 13 MLB: 13 Avg: 22.2

Crawford is lanky (6’3” 175), with lots of room on his frame to add muscle as he matures. He’s an exceptional athlete, at least a 70 grade runner on the 20-80 scale, and projects as an above average centre fielder in spite of an arm that’s fringy for the position. He has good bat speed and a knack for making solid contact, but not much present power (although that might come as he fills out). He’s a very high variance prospect, but there’s star potential.

Jett Williams, Rockwall, TX.

BA: 15 KL: 11 ESPN: 25 FG: 17 MLB: 21 Avg: 17.8

Wiliams is short but solidly built (5’8” 185), and he has one of the best pure hit tools in the draft, showing a knack for barreling up everything in spite of a high effort swing. His size limits his power projection, but he’s not a slap hitter. A plus hitter with a strong arm, he might stick at short but more likely will move to second or centre field as he ages.

Tucker Toman, Columbia, S.C.

BA: 40 KL: 34 ESPN: 15 FG: 54 MLB: 35 Avg: 35.6

Toman has rare bat speed, especially for a switch hitter. He has the potential for plus power production, especially from the left side, and although there’s some swing and miss in his game the quality of his contact tends to be good. His performance was uneven through the showcase season, at worst chasing everything and looking overmatched and at best barreling elite velocity from both sides of the plate. He’s a fringe average runner and athlete, and while he has the potential to play third base as a pro he may have to fall back to left field, so the bat will have to produce to carry him.

Toman is the single name most often linked to the Jays, although most often as a fall back. Keith Law describes him as their ‘plan B’ if their preferred college hitters are gone and they’re looking for a fall back option to cut a deal. Crawford and Williams were linked to the Jays in one or two early mocks so I included them, but it seems unlikely they’ll make it to 23.

The Prep Arms:

Brandon Barriera, Plantation, FL.

BA: 17 KL: 31 ESPN: 13 FG: 25 MLB: 15 Avg: 20.2

Barriera is a slightly undersized lefty at 5’11” and 171lbs, but his height doesn’t measure his heart. He’s an excellent athlete who projects for above average control in spite of some violence in his delivery. He has huge arm speed and can touch 99, although he mostly sits in the low 90s. His best secondary is a plus slider with big horizontal run. Like most high end prep pitchers, he rarely uses his change up, but apparently has some feel and his arm speed should sell it. He gets high marks for his intensity and demeanor on the mound.

Robby Snelling, Reno, NV.

BA: 21 KL: 31 ESPN: 32 FG: 64 MLB: 16 Avg: 32.8

Snelling, a big (6’3”, 220) lefty, has been one of the biggest risers in the country this spring, so he may be more highly ranked on team boards. He has a prototype workhorse starter’s body (he’s a four star prospect as a linebacker but looks set to choose baseball). He features a fastball that sits 92-93 and can touch 96, but the draw is a tight curveball in the high 70s that’s one of the best in the class. He needs to continue to develop his change up. His delivery is mostly clean, and he throws strikes at at least an average rate and may have above average command in time. He visibly shifts his hand position between the fastball and the curve, though, and that might become a problem if it tips more advanced hitters off as to what he’s throwing.

High school pitching seems like the least likely demographic for the Jays to chase, both because it’s not a direction they’ve gone in the first round under this front office, and because there isn’t a great fit. Barriera will most likely go before they pick, and 23 seems a little high for Snelling (although he won’t make it to 60 so if they really like him it still makes sense to jump).