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Early thoughts on the 2022 draft class

It will be interesting to see how the Jays juggle their picks into their draft pool

MLB: MLB-Draft Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2022 Rule 4 Draft in the books, it’s now possible to reflect and make some assessments and snap judgments about the Toronto Blue Jays draft class and the general strategy employed. Granted, we need to see who signs and for what, and of course how the draftees develop and perform in the fullness of time — but the talent has been allocated, some important trends are clear and there’s some interesting takeaways.

Five picks in the top-100 gave the Jays some strategic flexibility in how to deploy their pool, subject to how things developed above them. We’ve seen them do this before, in 2018, when they essentially traded the 12th overall and 3rd round pick for late first rounder (Jordan Groshans) and first round supplemental pick (Adam Kloffenstein) in terms of bonus. Relatedly, we’ve also seen quite varied approaches to dividing up the spending pool on the international market.

To some extent, the Jays did choose to concentrate their resources. Effectively, they traded from the late-first round to perhaps the mid-first round to land the top high school lefty pitcher in Brandon Barriera. More significantly, they landed a late-first round type talent with Tucker Toman in the late second round. The net cost of this is trading down a number of their later picks: the 3rd round pick into a 4th or early 5th rounder, a similar overdraft with their 5th round pick, and taking senior signs with their even numbered picks on day two.

Demographically, the biggest surprise was taking a high school pitcher with the top pick. in the Shapiro/Atkins era, the Jays had not taken a high school pitcher in the first round. While not shying away entirely, it was by far the area of least spending. They had been increasing investment there in the last few cycles after shying away entirely in 2016-17 with Kloffenstein (2018), Kendall Williams (2019, 2nd round) and Irv Carter (2021, 5th round). But those were lower down, not the very top guys in the class, who can define a draft class.

Conversely, college pitching will be the laggard in terms of investment this draft cycle. Perhaps that’s not surprising given the volume of notable injuries, but not using one of the one of the five top-100 picks is still somewhat striking to me. In terms of volume, they made up for it on the second and third day (it will be the bulk of what they sign), but that tends to be the case regardless. And for the most part, it’s reliever depth; there’s not an obvious starting pitcher prospect.

The final thing to note is the balance of picks in the last 10 rounds. Fully half are high school players, each of whom is individually is less likely than not to sign (just by the nature of the process). It’s prudent to have insurance in case something happens at the top, but the volume is noteworthy. The opportunity cost is lessened by the fact that teams can again give out as many $125,000 to undrafted players as they want—assuming they’re still available—but the sheer number is still interesting. Are some more than insurance (the bonus math is difficult, see below).

In terms of the position players selected, what strands out is the emphasis on hit tools. There has been clear recent focus on the hit tool over power in the international market with Leo Jimenez, Estiven Machado and Manuel Beltre as centerpieces of their classes and Orelvis Martinez is the only really big dollar counterexample.

The 2022 draft class seemingly extends that domestic side. Josh Kasevich and Alan Roden especially are extremely high contact, limited power hitters relative to the typical profiles of their positions. Doughty is a bit more balanced but also fits the hit over power profile. Conversely, Toman does not exactly fit the profile, as a power hitter with some questions around his contact ability, but more examples lean the other way. Even Peyton Williams, whose IB/DH profile will necessarily be driven by power output, has shown a quality hit tool ability.

A couple thoughts on what’s driving this strategy. First, as contact rates in MLB continue to decline, they’re betting that pure hitting ability has become undervalued. Second, given their heavy investment in tech and player development, they think they can coax more power performance out of highly skilled hitters more easily than they can teach sluggers to make contact. The hit tool is the hardest thing to evaluate, and the early returns of recent IFA hitters are mixed at best, but the success of lower profile players like Gabriel Moreno and Alejandro Kirk, plus the ascent of late round pick Spencer Horwitz, give a template for how this strategy might look when it succeeds.

Thanks for Tom M for providing his thoughts and input that went into the above, particularly as it relates to the last few sections on the centrality of hit tools and potential motivation(s) underlying it.

Let’s turn to the financial implications. Below is a rough estimate of how I see things coming together, as well as some possible scenarios (conservative and aggressive are from the Jays perspective):

2022 draft estimates

It was reported almost immediately after the pick by The Athletic’s Maria Torres that Barriera’s bomus would be “way over slot”. My Immediate thought prior to that was over slot, something $3.25- to $3.5-million, but it wasn’t obvious to me that it would come in well above that. Seemingly, there wasn’t much demand for high school pitching, he still went roughly in line with where he was supposed to, and unless one is highly motivated to go to college that’s still a lot of money to pass up.

But it may be the case that part of the reason he got down to the Jays at the 23rd pick was a bit of a engineered fall. Given the initial reports, I originally figured $4-million as a base, roughly slot after the 15th pick. Above, it’s at $3.8-million (more on why momentarily), which was roughly slot for the 17th overall pick and still 23% over slot. Conceivably, it could be even higher than that, though, and conversely, the absolute floor would be something like $3.5-million to qualify as “way” over (+14%).

Toman is the other draftee who will obviously come in overslot, as a high school player projected more in the late first round. Eric Longenhagen at Fangraphs reported he was telling teams the pricetag was $2.5-million, a number almost certainly meant to dissuade them once a deal was in place with the Jays. In any event, there’s essentially no way that could fit that into the Jays’ pool with Barrierra already overslot.

Initially, I had the number at $1.5-million, but as Tom pointed out, that’s an awfully large discount to the floated price (40% from $2.5-million), and representing slot at pick 51/52, it is a bit low compared to the talent ranking, especially given his option. So I bumped it up to $1.7-million, roughly double slot, more in line with pick 46.

Realistically, it could be even more than that given his leverage, $2-million would be the end of the competitive balance round where it’s conceivable he goes on talent. But as we’ll detail below, I just don’t see how it fits into the draft pool. Indeed, just to get him to $1.7-million, I had to bump Barriera down from $4-million.

Conversely, it’s not out of the question that the bonus comes in more modestly over slot if his goal was not to maximize the bonus, most importantly to end up the right spot (or handful of spots). This would be akin to when Bo Bichette was drafted, turning down other teams higher up, and like Bichette Toman has more sophisticated advice with his father being a long time D1 head coach. And even if so, that has limits.

As a quick aside, if it the case that the Jays’ system is a preferred developmental destination, especially among draftees best positioned from an advice perspective to know the importance, it’s a very good sign indeed.

Turning to the rest of the picks, the other first day picks were college juniors, and for the most part they tend to sign around slot if and when picked near their rankings. That’s my baseline for both Kasevich and Doughty. Perhaps the Jays could squeeze out a little bit of savings, but neither really has inventive to cut a deal. On the flip side, there’s no indication either really slipped or were engineered to landing with the Jays, and again it would be hard to see where the money comes from to do so.

Segueing to the four college seniors selected, this is obviously where savings come, with total slot of $1,058,400. My baseline just puts in a nominal $25,000 for the first three and $10,000 which results in just under $1-million (93% of the slot). They can and probably will whittle that down even more, maybe $5,000 and $10,000 bonuses, but in absolute terms it doesn’t move the dial much, maybe freeing $50,000 total.

That leaves the four juniors. Roden was the most prominent, and while he was a bit of “reach” compared to the rankings, he was a very legitimate prospect who likely to go sometime soon thereafter (college hitters tend to jump up boards). He should save the Jays some money (they almost have to), but it’s hard to see a big cut. The base case of $500,000 represents mid-4th round slot. Perhaps there could be a little more, $400,000 would be early 5th round slot, but I couldn’t see beyond that.

The last two picks in Peyton Williams and Harrison Devereaux were pretty “straight up” picks in terms of where they were ranked, so the expectation would be they end up around slot. Perhaps a little could be squeezed at the margin, but neither really has any reason to cut a deal. 6th rounder Mason Fluharty is roughly in the same talent bucket; that pick was likely made to secure guy they liked and save a little money. Like Roden, he’d likely have gone in the next couple rounds, so the base case is some limited savings. Maybe he gets cut down to the $200,000 range.

The bottom line big picture: if the Jays probably save roughly $1-million on the college seniors, maybe $200,000 on the juniors, plus the $400,000 from going 5% over slot, that gives them about $1.6-million to play with for Barriera, Toman and/or any other high school signings from day three (perhaps they can get to around $1.8-million if if they squeeze the juniors harder).