Davidi: Even with fewer picks, Jays seek upside

Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos (Nathan Denette/CP)

TORONTO – Expect the Toronto Blue Jays to continue eschewing the conservative route in pursuit of high-ceiling upside during this week’s draft under new amateur scouting director Brian Parker, whose tolerance for risk won’t be influenced by a lack of extra picks.

Over the previous three drafts, predecessor Andrew Tinnish had 15 extra selections to work with and used them to stock up on the likes of Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino, Daniel Norris, Marcus Stroman and Matt Smoral.

This week Parker – who moved into his role after two seasons as a pro scout and another year as a professional cross-checker with the Blue Jays – will have only the typical allotment of 40 picks to work with when he runs a draft for the first time, including No. 10 overall.

Minus all the compensatory bonus picks strategically accumulated by GM Alex Anthopoulos in recent years, Parker won’t have the luxury of volume to cover for any swings and misses, increasing the onus on his team to get assessments right.

Despite that, he insists no philosophical adjustment is needed.

“The last few years they’ve had a bunch of extra picks, and they’ve used them well,” Parker, who spent five years as assistant director scouting and director of baseball operations with the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals before joining the Blue Jays, says in an interview.

“For me, I don’t think we need to be safer, we’re still looking for upside, we’re looking to bring impact players into the organization and with the new rules for slots and money, we’ve got a plan and we’re going to attack the draft and see what we can do.

“We’re always looking for impact players to bring into the organization.”

The last time the Blue Jays didn’t have any extra picks in the draft was 2008, and once Anthopoulos took over from J.P. Ricciardi following the ’09 season, he made a conscious effort to accumulate looming free agents who could provide a season of service before being converted into compensatory picks.

Combined with an aggressive draft budget and a vastly expanded amateur scouting department able to blanket the continent, the Blue Jays quickly stuffed their farm system with coveted prospects, many of which remain, others of which have been traded for big-league help.

Last year, the slotting system that assigned a specific value to each spot and left each team with a spending cap exceeded only at risk of financial penalty and draft pick forfeiture was meant to rein in that kind of approach.

Recommended slot value of the Blue Jays’ selections through round 10:

Round Overall Slot
1 10 $2,921,400
2 47 $1,168,200
3 83 $650,800
4 115 $446,100
5 145 $334,000
6 175 $250,100
7 205 $187,400
8 235 $156,900
9 265 $146,500
10 295 $136,800

Yet teams like the Blue Jays found their way around those rules by using their picks in Rounds 4-10 on players unlikely to be drafted, offering them $1,000 they were all too happy to take in order to sign, and then spending the remaining cap space on elite talents that went under-drafted.

Having four extra picks in 2012 – Nos. 22, 50, 58 and 60 – made it easier to pull the plug on Rounds 4-10, but Parker may be willing to employ a similar strategy if the right scenario presents itself. For instance, the Blue Jays can create nearly $1.6 million in cap space by punting the same picks this year.

“We have to see what’s available to us and we have to be ready,” he explains. “One thing we’ve done this spring is made sure to scout all the top players from Day 1. We’re going to stay flexible come draft day and see what’s available to us and we’ll go in a direction when it comes our time to pick. But we’ll be ready to go in any direction.”

Either way the No. 10 selection, a silver lining to the misery of 2012, affords the Blue Jays an opportunity to land an elite talent from what’s being described as a solid but unspectacular draft class.

Speaking in general terms, Parker sees “some interesting high school guys, both in high school and college there are some left-handed pitchers available this year, there’s some good depth with the catchers, especially high school.”

Given that, some of the players linked to the Blue Jays like high schoolers Reese McGuire, a catcher, Trey Ball, a left-hander/outfielder, and Austin Meadows, an outfielder, make some sense.

Another player worth noting is San Diego State third baseman Kris Bryant, who was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 18th round in 2010 but is likely to be a top-five selection this time.

Still, the Blue Jays have been pretty good at cloaking their intentions in recent years, with no one really seeing their choices of Deck McGuire in 2010 and Tyler Beede in 2011 coming ahead of time. A few analysts had them on outfielder D.J. Davis last year, but the selection of Stroman, with a compensatory pick for failing to sign Beede, was somewhat of a surprise.

“We’re going to have a choice of some very good players,” Parker says vaguely. “We have some guys that we like that we think are going to be there, and we’re going to have quite a few options available to us at the 10th pick. That’s all you can ask for, is when you’re ready to pick that you have multiple guys that you can go with.

“With the uncertainty right now of who’s going ahead of us and all that, to our advantage because of the size of our staff, we’ve been able to see a lot of guys multiple times. If somebody falls, we’ll be ready to consider anyone.”

The challenge, of course, is in landing the right guy.

While the jury remains out on their more recent first-rounders (not including supplemental picks), the Blue Jays haven’t been good with their opening choices since 2000, with only Aaron Hill (2003), Ricky Romero (2005), and J.P. Arencibia (2007) making any sort of significant impact.

Factoring in where they’re picking and the lack of margin for error, this year they really need to nail it.

“We’re looking for as much high ceiling talent as we can bring in,” Parker says of the club’s overall draft philosophy. “We’re looking for athletes who can impact the game both offensively and defensively and we’re looking for young arms that can pitch at the top of a rotation. In general terms, those are the kind guys we’re looking for and those are the kind of guys we’ve drafted over the last few years.

“It’s an exciting time. I know all of our scouts and all of our guys who have been travelling and been away from home this spring, this is what it’s all been about. It’s the culmination of a year-plus of work and digging and getting to know the players and the families.”

All that remains now is making the right calls, a task so much easier said than done.

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