Blue Jays hope to benefit from keeping high school friends together

Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins, left, and president and CEO Mark Shapiro. (Nathan Denette/CP)

TORONTO – As their draft stocks rose while starring on the field for their high school team, the Magnolia Bulldogs, Jordan Groshans and Adam Kloffenstein often imagined what it might be like if they ended up with the same big-league club. The teenagers, who live three minutes apart on the same street, have known each other since Grade 6, developing an increasingly strong friendship, pushing and supporting each other along the way.

“We’ve talked about it for a while, how cool would that be to get drafted by the same team, but we didn’t think it was going to happen,” Kloffenstein said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s pretty wild that it’s actually happened, we’re both happy, we both got what we wanted. Crazy.”

The Toronto Blue Jays hope to benefit from allowing the talented Texas teens to begin their pro careers together after selecting Groshans, a hard-hitting shortstop, in the first round, 12th overall, Monday and then Kloffenstein, a big right-hander with mid-90s velocity and four pitches, in the third round, 88th overall, on Tuesday.

To pull it off, they had to manoeuvre the system after selecting Groshans, whose slot has an assigned value of $4,200,900, and find ways to reallocate money in their $7,982,100 spending pool to give Kloffenstein first-round money in the third round.

The No. 88 spot has an assigned value of $652,900, but the 17-year-old is believed to have been seeking $2.5 million to pass on a commitment to Texas Christian University. Exact figures aren’t yet known, but the Blue Jays were able to settle on a price in advance with both players.

“This draft went all crazy, just not predictable at all,” said Kloffenstein. “I was getting some calls, getting some offers real late first round, then end of the supplemental (first round) but nothing that was too much to look at. I had my number, but at the 13th pick, the Blue Jays called Jordan and congratulated him and said, ‘We want your boy, we want Koff, too, we’re going to get him at 52, do you think he makes it to us? Will he take it?’ So he called me and I was like, ‘Hey man, if I’m still there and they can get to the number, then yeah, obviously I’d take it.’”

The Blue Jays didn’t end up taking him at No. 52, using their second-round pick instead on Duke outfielder Griffin Conine, the son of longtime big-leaguer Jeff. That pick had an assigned value of $1.4 million, and given what Kloffenstein was seeking, the Blue Jays must have figured they could get Conine up high, create some bonus pool spending room and still get the pitcher.

That meant an anxious night of waiting for Kloffenstein, who was surrounded by family and friends, including Groshans and his family, at home Tuesday when the Blue Jays called his name.

“The wait was rough,” he said. “Man, it’s been a whirlwind, it’s been crazy, some of the best hours of my life, that’s for sure.”

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While Groshans did damage at the plate for Magnolia, Kloffenstein ruled the mound, posting a 1.25 ERA over 78 innings with 113 strikeouts against just 19 walks. He throws a fastball that has touched 96 m.p.h., with heavy sink and complements it with a curveball, a slider/cutter that he can manipulate in different ways and has feel for a change-up.

“I’ve prided myself on pitching and not just chucking it since I was 14 or 15,” said Kloffenstein. “I hate walking people. This year I had 19 walks, and that’s still a little more walks than I’d want to have. I want to make guys hit it, I want to make my defence work and make guys put the ball in play.”

The mature approach will serve him well in pro ball, which he’s excited to begin even as there are some nerves about taking the next steps.

Groshans’ presence will offer some comfort the way it has since their junior years, when they realized they both were intent on getting drafted and making a career in baseball and pursuing that goal together.

“Having your best friend by your side and getting to go through it together is definitely a little bit of a relief, having someone to turn to,” said Kloffenstein. “This doesn’t really happen. Most people come in (to pro ball) blind, don’t really know anybody or anything like that.

“Hopefully we get to room together.”

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The Blue Jays’ fourth-round pick was Sean Wymer out of Texas Christian University, where Kloffenstein was headed, a right-hander the team believes has a chance to be a starter in pro ball. They selected one other prep player, catcher Addison Barger, in the sixth round, while adding three college seniors – Christopher Bec (5th), first baseman Jake Brodt (9th) and centre-fielder Cal Stevenson (10th) – and two college juniors.

The Blue Jays can exceed their $7,982,100 spending pool for picks in the first 10 rounds, but teams with an overage of 0-5 per cent are charged a tax of 75 per cent, while overages beyond that threshold are penalized with the loss of future picks as well as an escalating tax.

Players selected in rounds 11-40, which take place Wednesday, can receive a bonus of up to $100,000 with any overage counting against a team’s pool.

The Blue Jays, while still looking to add players with the potential to make a big-league impact, will also fill in organizational needs on the final day of the draft, having already done plenty of work in the first two days to get perhaps the best hitting/pitching prep teammates in the draft.

“(Groshans) has got a little bit of bragging rights for being chosen higher up,” said Kloffenstein, “but we’ll see how that goes when we get out there.”

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