TORONTO – Frontline starters and all-star position players are extremely hard to acquire, and even when they are available there’s typically a high price attached, either in terms of dollars or trade chips.
Rarely can teams add high-impact players to their farm systems without giving up much in return, but on Wednesday evening, the Toronto Blue Jays will get that chance when first-year scouting director Shane Farrell makes the first of his five selections.
The question is, who will the Blue Jays pick at No. 5 overall? At this point, they aren’t publicly ruling out any of the top draft prospects around the country, but before long they’ll likely have a clearer sense of what to expect from the Tigers, Orioles, Marlins and Royals – the four teams picking before them.
“We’ll probably know more the morning of Wednesday, as information is starting to trade hands a little bit,” Farrell said on a conference call with reporters Monday morning. “Right now it’s tough to say, and we still want to process everybody at the top of our board equally and make sure we’re spending enough time on those guys, as important of a decision as it is to be made.”
Still, the latest mock drafts from Baseball America, Keith Law of The Athletic, MLB Pipeline and Kiley McDaniel of ESPN suggest the Blue Jays won’t be landing Spencer Torkelson, the powerful Arizona State first baseman, Austin Martin, the versatile Vanderbilt product with exceptional hitting skills, or Asa Lacy, the Texas A&M left-hander whose power stuff has allowed him to dominate the SEC.
So, assuming those three players will be off the board when the Blue Jays make their pick, who might Farrell select? If the draft unfolds as expected, the options will include a middle infielder who hits everywhere he goes, the top high school position player in the country and some college arms with ace upside…
Nick Gonzales, 2B/SS, New Mexico State
Weight: 190 lbs
Mock Drafts: Baseball America: 7th to Pirates | Law: 6th to Mariners | MLB.com: 4th to Royals | ESPN: 6th to Mariners
When Gonzales hit .347 as a freshman at New Mexico State, he was just getting started. He hit .432 as a sophomore and won the Cape Cod League MVP last summer with a .351/.451/.630 slash line. Then, in his abbreviated junior season, Gonzales hit .448 with 12 home runs in just 16 games.
Now he’s among the top position players available thanks to a compact swing that generates impressive bat speed. MLB Pipeline compares him to Keston Hiura, who broke out for the Brewers last summer.
While some suggest Gonzales might not stick at shortstop, that’s perhaps a less pressing concern for the Blue Jays given the presence of Bo Bichette. Meanwhile, Cavan Biggio’s versatility would give the Blue Jays options if Gonzales were to rise quickly through the Toronto farm system.
Zac Veen, OF, Spruce Creek, Fla. High School
Weight: 190 lbs
Mock Drafts: Baseball America: 2nd to Orioles | Law: 4th to Royals | MLB.com: 8th to Padres | ESPN: 4th to Royals
With a smooth left-handed swing and emerging power potential, Veen’s considered the top high school hitter eligible for the draft. Whether he stays in centre field is an open question, but his offensive ability gives him tremendous upside regardless.
On paper, the Blue Jays’ system could certainly use an impact outfielder, but this front office won’t draft for need. After all, teams only get so many chances to make a pick this high in the draft. Talent will drive the selection for the Blue Jays, and they’ll figure out the organizational depth chart later.
Max Meyer, RHP, Minnesota
Weight: 185 lbs
Previously drafted: Twins, 34th round, 2017
Mock Drafts: Baseball America: 6th to Mariners | Law: 8th to Padres | MLB.com: 5th to Blue Jays | ESPN: 5th to Blue Jays
Even if Meyer’s smaller than most ace pitchers, there’s no denying the stuff or the results. His fastball and slider both grade as 70 pitches on the 20-80 scouting scale, according to MLB Pipeline. In four starts during the abbreviated 2020 season, those pitches were too much for college hitters, as Meyer posted a 1.95 ERA with a 46:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27.2 innings.
Between Lacy, Meyer, Louisville’s Reid Detmers and Georgia’s Emerson Hancock, the Blue Jays have plenty of high-upside college arms to consider.
“It seems like a deep class in college pitching this year,” Farrell said. “I think we’ve seen an increase in velocity at the amateur level over the past few years and that seems pretty evident this year more than ever. We’re entering this draft very open to all demographics and the entire player pool trying not to be hyper-focused on one individual or one subset of players.”
Emerson Hancock, RHP, Georgia
Weight: 213 lbs
Previously drafted: Diamondbacks, 38th round, 2017
Mock Drafts: Baseball America: 5th to Blue Jays | Law: 5th to Blue Jays | MLB.com: 6th to Mariners | ESPN: 9th to Rockies
Hancock had a dominant sophomore season last year, posting a 1.99 ERA with 9.7 strikeouts per nine and 1.8 walks per nine at Georgia. A lat issue sidelined him last summer, and he wasn’t quite as dominant in 2020 before the season was cut short, pitching to a 3.75 ERA. Even so, his 34:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio was better than ever, and the stuff is there.
Hancock’s fastball sits in the 94-97 m.p.h. range but it’s his change-up that may be his most impressive offering. MLB Pipeline grades the change as a 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale and that pitch prompted McDaniel to compare him to Reds ace Luis Castillo.