Blue Jays’ draft day optimism well-founded? Let’s wait a few years

The Blue Jays selected Logan Warmoth 22nd overall in the 2017 MLB Draft (Gerry Broome/AP)

TORONTO – Whether it’s hyperbole or genuine optimism, there’s an abundance of praise heaped on recently-drafted players every June.

For Braves scouting director Brian Bridges, fifth-overall pick Kyle Wright looks like the best player in the draft. For Angels scouting director Matt Swanson, 10th-overall pick Jo Adell has a “ceiling (as) high as anybody.” For Rangers scouting director Kip Fagg, eighth-round pick Tyreque Reed’s “kind of a right-handed Prince Fielder.” And in Seattle, Scott Hunter told 17th-overall pick Evan White “you had me at hello.”

Does anyone ever leave the draft room disappointed? Some drafts go better than others, maybe, but they’re all good.

“You feel best when players you had ranked high on your board fall to your picks,” said one MLB scouting director. “When that doesn’t happen, you don’t feel quite as good afterward.”

Those drafts are rare, though. When executives speak glowingly about the prospects they’ve selected, it’s not an act.

“I’ve never heard of any team that did not think they had killed it in the draft,” said a former scouting director. “Rightfully so because you better believe in the guys you took.”

In the experience of the five big-league evaluators contacted by Sportsnet Thursday, just about everyone feels great about their draft afterwards. Here’s why: Scouts and front office types spend seven straight days together in a conference room talking about the same players over and over. By the end of that week, they’ve reached an internal consensus. And because error bars are wide on amateur prospects, those rankings will inevitably differ from the big boards in the 29 other conference rooms across North America. As a result, many teams end up with the players they wanted.

So when Steve Sanders says he “couldn’t be happier” with the Blue Jays’ top picks, it’s hard to know exactly what that means. On the one hand, players like Logan Warmoth, Nate Pearson, and Hagen Danner look like objectively intriguing prospects. On the other hand, every team sounds optimistic immediately after the draft.

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That’s where a neutral observer like Jim Callis offers valuable perspective. Based on what we know now, Callis ranked the Blue Jays’ draft class fifth among the 30 teams. More complete assessments will require years of patience.

“It’s tough,” Sanders said Thursday. “I think it’s an ongoing process. Part of what makes the baseball draft so unique is it can take a while to really see where these players end up. But it’s something we continue to look at moving forward. It’s not something where we sit back and wait three or five years until checking back. We’re constantly monitoring progress. It’s our role to continue to learn—learn from our successes, learn from our mistakes.”

We can concretely say this much about the Blue Jays’ 2017 draft: they selected just 10 high school players, with the rest of their 41 picks coming from college and junior college ranks. That’s not a sign that the Blue Jays are philosophically opposed to high schoolers or intent on stocking the upper minors, though. Sanders said they simply chose the best players available. If some advance quickly through Toronto’s system, even better.

“We certainly feel there are some guys that have a chance to come out right away and move pretty quickly,” Sanders said.

It’s the perfect time of year to dream—like opening day except all 30 teams have a legitimate shot at emerging with the best draft of all. As of today, no player has failed a physical or picked college over the pros. Considering all of the work that went into the Blue Jays’ draft, they have good reason to feel hopeful.

Across baseball, practical realities will soon set in. The ubiquitous post-draft optimism will give way to contract negotiations and first professional assignments. Only then will we start to determine whose optimism was well-founded, and whose was mis-placed.

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