The MLB draft is upon us, beginning Sunday evening and running through Tuesday afternoon. It’s shaping up to be a big year, although unfortunately the Jays aren’t situated to be major players this time. Still, it’s always a fun couple of days, and we’ll get a new set of prospect to start dreaming about.
Rounds 1 and 2 will take place on Sunday evening, starting at 7:00pm ET. They’ll be broadcast on TSN2. Rounds 3-10 will begin at 2:00pm ET on Monday, and rounds 11-20 will begin at 2:00pm ET on Tuesday. Monday and Tuesday aren’t televised, but MLB.com will have a webcast and a live tracker.
Blue Jays Picks
The Blue Jays pick 20th in the first round. After that, they don’t select again until the third round (89th overall), because they forfeited their second round pick when they signed Chris Bassitt after he turned down the Mets’ qualifying offer. They have all of their other picks, but the combination of a relatively late first pick and no second rounder, compensation, or competitive balance picks means they have the 5th smallest draft bonus pool.
The Jays’ Draft Strategy
This front office hasn’t really had a clear tendency with their early picks. In the past five drafts, they’ve covered all four quadrants in the first round: college hitting (Austin Martin in 2020), college pitching (Gunnar Hoglund in 2021 and Alek Manoah in 2019), high school hitting (Jordan Groshans in 2018), and high school pitching (Brandon Barriera in 2022).
One trend they have shown is a willingness to pay for premium talent. Some teams tend to try to save money on their first round pick to allow them to afford better talent in later rounds. This front office has done that only once, when they picked Groshans 12th overall and signed him for $800,000 below slot value (he’d been expected to go in the 20s), allowing them to give a late first round size bonus to Adam Kloffenstein in the third round. That was an unusual case, though, in that Groshans and Kloffenstein were high school teammates and the Jays may have had an opportunity to work out a package agreement before the draft.
On the other side, twice in the last three years they’ve spent well over their first pick’s slot value to get a player who’d been expected to go significantly higher but ended up sliding on draft day (Barriera and Martin). They’ve also gone over slot for premium talent in the second round several times, including Bo Bichette and Hagen Danner early in their tenure and Tucker Toman last year. Lacking a second rounder in 2023, the first is their chance to go big if that’s what they want to do.
Given the depth of the class this year, there’s a very good chance that a consensus top half talent slides to 20 this year. It’ll be hard to go far over slot in the first this year without punting several of their round 3-10 picks to free up money, though. It’ll also be hard to know who will make it all the way to 89, making it risky to cut a deal at 20 and try to move money back. With the depth of the class and the relative weakness of the farm system right now their incentive is probably to play it straight and pick the best player who will accept roughly slot value. That could easily change if someone they love falls, though.
Overview of the Draft Class
This year’s draft is considered the deepest in a long time. Back in 2020, the draft was cut down to 5 rounds due to the pandemic. As a result, a lot of talented high school players who would normally have signed over-slot deals in the middle rounds instead went unpicked and ended up enrolling in college. Because players who enroll in university are required to stay for three years under MLB draft rules, that bumper crop of college talent is just re-entering the draft now. It’s also a solid year on the high school side, making the total talent pool extremely strong.
There is a consensus top 5, any of whom would be considered solid #1 overall candidates in an average year. LSU outfielder Dylan Crews is most evaluators’ number one, a prototypical slugging outfielder with big power, feel to hit, and the speed to play centre field. Next up is his teammate Paul Skenes, who’s often described as the most MLB-ready college pitching prospect since Stephen Strasburg. The big righty sits about 99 with his fastball, and backs the heat up with two plus off-speed pitches and strong command. Behind those two are Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford and high school outfielders Max Clark and Walker Jenkins, all of whom has star upside.
Who have the Jays been linked to?
Everyone, basically. Picking 20th always means you’re at the mercy of the teams above you, and because of the depth of the class there are even more possible permutations than usual. Below, I’ve highlighted the four players who have most recently been mocked to them by Baseball America, Keith Law, Fangraphs, or MLB Pipeline, as well as briefly noting all the other guys they’ve been linked to in the last six weeks or so. The total is 16 names, and honestly there’s a good chance the eventual pick isn’t here. Rather than fixating on any one name, I’d suggest using the list as an overview of the kind of talent that’s expected to be available.
MLB Pipeline: Thomas White, Left Handed Pitcher, Phillips Academy (Mass.)
White is the top left handed pitching prospect in the class. He has the prototypical starter’s build at 6’5” and 220lbs, sits 92-96 with his fastball with potential for a little more as he matures, and shows potential for a plus changeup and an above average curveball. His command needs work, which is typical for a long limbed high school pitcher like him, but he has the athleticism to suggest he can get to average in time.
White’s a somewhat divisive prospect, with Baseball America ranking him 14th but the other outlets having him in the late 20s. High school pitchers are always high risk, but if a team is confident they can help him dial in his command there’s a lot of upside. The second half of the first is also a bit of a dead spot in terms of pitching, so if a team wants to go that way White is the clear fit.
Keith Law: Blake Mitchell, Catcher, Sinton High (Texas)
The best high school catcher on the board, Mitchell projects as a solidly above average defender with an excellent arm. He has big power, but also a lot of swing and miss at the plate. He won’t need to hit much to have a role given his defensive tools, and with his power there’s star potential if a team believes they can fix his swing.
The rankings mostly have Mitchell a bit ahead of #20, but not a lot, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he were still on the board when Toronto is up. Teams don’t draft for need, especially when looking at high school players, but the system is now thin at catcher.
Baseball America: Nolan Schanuel, First Baseman, Florida Atlantic University
Schanuel lead all division one hitters with a cartoonish 1.483 OPS this season. He struck out only 14 times all season while hitting 19 home runs and walking 71 times. Granted, Conference USA is not elite competition, but those numbers will play anywhere. Schanuel is one of the best pure hitters in the class, but he possesses only solid-average power. As a first baseman, that puts a lot of pressure on his hit tool to justify his playing time. The prospect lists mostly have him in the late 20s because of that risk.
This is a profile the Jays seem to like, though. Schanuel is essentially the premium version of Alan Roden, their third round pick last season who’s off to a very strong start in high A this year, and is also similar to Spencer Horwitz, the 2019 24th round pick who’s already significantly exceeded expectations by earning a cup of coffee in the majors this season. They seem to value the hit tool very highly (it’s been a major trend in their International Free Agent signings too). Schanuel has the best one they’ll have access to this year.
Fangraphs: Arjun Nimmala, Shortstop, Strawberry Crest High (Fla.)
Nimmala is the youngest prospect of note in the draft class, still a few months from his 18th birthday. He’s also going to be the first Indian-American prospect drafted in the first round after growing up playing cricket before switching to baseball, which is cool. He’s expected to stick at short and probably be above average there, and he generates great bat speed and eye-popping raw power in batting practice. Through most of the draft process, he’s been expected to go well ahead of where the Jays pick. He’s struggled with swing and miss on the showcase circuit this summer, though, and the most recent reports are that his stock is sliding somewhat as a result of concerns about how much he’ll hit.
If he is available at 20th overall, that would represent a significant fall from where he’d been expected to go until recently. There’s significant risk and scouts’ most recent looks don’t sound like they’ve been great, but on the other hand if a team believes they can fix his swing he has the kind of massive upside that isn’t usually available late in the first round. That might be too exciting to pass up if he does fall. The Jays are also reported to be a team that uses statistical models as a significant part of their draft evaluations, and such teams tend to covet youth in their picks.
There are a lot of college bats that profile in the teens on talent, and at least one or two will probably slip to 20. That includes Tommy Troy of Stanford, who’s capable of playing anywhere on the infield, hits well and has sneaky power at 5’10” and 197lbs, TCU’s Brayden Taylor, a third baseman with an excellent eye and hitting ability but average tools elsewhere, Vanderbilt’s Enrique Bradfield, an elite runner and centre field defender with a solid hit tool but little power, Matt Shaw, who’s hit for average and power at Maryland but who will have to move to second base as a pro and likely won’t be great there, Ole Miss’s Jacob Gonzalez, who has his for power and contact in college but whose swing might not work as well against pro pitching and who will likely move to third, and Wake Forest’s hulking third baseman Brock Wilken, who has questions about his hit tool and eventual defensive home but boasts enormous power.
On the high school side, there are a few hitters with significant upside who fit at roughly where the Jays are selecting. Aidan Miller combines one of the best high school hit tools on the board with significant power and a likely third base fit as a pro, Kevin McGonigle also boasts an excellent hit tool and average power potential, plus a strong baseball IQ that might allow him to stick at shortstop in spite of fringy athleticism, Colt Emerson is also a likely shortstop with a a strong hit tool and solid tools across the board, and Dillon Head is an excellent runner and plus defensive centre fielder with good feel to hit but limited power.
A couple of other prep pitchers are in the Jays’ potential range. Charlee Soto has the potential for three plus pitches in his fastball, change up and slider, but a history of shaky command. Travis Sykora touches 101mph and has the potential for average command, but his secondaries need development. Both are mostly ranked a bit below where Toronto picks, but neither will make it to the third round so if the Jays are high on one they may jump.
The one group they haven’t been publicly linked to is college pitchers. That’s the one demographic that’s relatively thin this year, and not many fit in the range of 20th. Florida righty Hurston Waldrep, who has a deep arsenal of plus pitches but reliever command, and Kent State lefty Joe Whitman, who has above average command of mostly average stuff (although his slider is a weapon) are the two who make the most sense in that range, but neither has been rumoured to the Jays in a mock draft.