Blue Jays insist drafting college players isn’t new philosophy

Ben Nicholson-Smith joins Eric Thomas to talk the pair of picks the Toronto Blue Jays had in the first round of the MLB draft.

TORONTO – Through their 11 picks in the first 10 rounds of the draft, the Toronto Blue Jays have selected 10 college players versus only one high school, second-round pick Hagen Danner.

Last year, in the first draft under new president and CEO Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins, former amateur scouting director Brian Parker made two prep school selections in the opening 10 rounds: shortstop Bo Bichette and outfielder D.J. Daniels. In 2015, the last draft under former GM Alex Anthopoulos, three high-schoolers were taken in the first 10 rounds, four in 2014, five in 2013 and five in 2012.

So, amateur scouting director Steve Sanders, is that sign of a shift?

“Not at all,” he replied Tuesday evening. “Our plan was to take the best player available to us and often times, regardless of position or demographic, the way the draft board lines up is how the board has presented itself to us. We certainly have to work within some bounds of a signing bonus pool and how we allocate those funds. That factors into some of our decisions. All in all, our view is to take the best player available and that’s what we’ve done.”

The Blue Jays selected Riley Adams from the University of San Diego in the third round, a 6-5 catcher Sanders feels can stay behind the plate despite his size and offer offensive upside. Maryland shortstop Kevin Smith went in the fourth round, a good defender who may offer some offence as well in the eyes of the Blue Jays.

From the fifth round onwards the Blue Jays appear to have over-drafted some players, at least based on independent third-party rankings, perhaps with the aim of creating some room within their signing bonus pool of $8,231,000, the 13th largest among the 30 big-league clubs.

Roughly $6.1 million of the Blue Jays’ bonus pool is allotted from their two first-round picks and their second-round selection, with the rest of the total coming from picks 3-10. Players selected from the 11th round onwards can be signed for up to $100,000 without counting against a team’s pool.

Signing players for less than their spot’s allotted value allows a team to reallocate their pool room, creating opportunities to overpay players who have slipped or to buy a high-schooler out of college. The Blue Jays worked the system in such fashion to sign Anthony Alford in 2012 and Rowdy Tellez in 2013.

“One through 11, the guys we’ve taken thus far, we feel really good about their abilities as players regardless of what we end up signing them for,” said Sanders. “We’re excited to have them in the organization and obviously value them.”

One name of note is University of Texas first baseman Kacy Clemens, the son of Roger, a player with no leverage in negotiations as a college senior selected in the eighth round. He posted a slash line of .305/.414/.532 with 12 homers, 49 RBIs, 40 walks and 67 hits this season for the Longhorns.

“Kacy does everything well on both sides of the ball,” said Sanders. “He’s got great instincts. He’s having a tremendous season. Our area scout Brian Johnston has gotten to know Kacy extremely well. Kacy brings a professional at-bat to the plate. Obviously growing up around the game, the feel for the game is there and (he) has put things together really well in his senior year. We’re excited to have him.”

After selecting rocket-throwing right-hander Nate Pearson at No. 28 on Monday, the Blue Jays took only three pitchers Tuesday, using three of the day’s final four picks on right-hander Colton Laws, left-hander Zach Logue and right-hander Justin Dillon.

The 7-4 ratio of position players-to-pitchers is also in contrast to the way the Blue Jays drafted under Parker and Anthopoulos, when an emphasis was placed on stock-piling arms early in the draft for currency in trade and use with the big-league team.

“We’re not even at the halfway point now. These are just 11 of 41 players we’re going to take this year,” said Sanders. “How (Wednesday) shakes out is still to be seen. By the end of it, we hope to have a balanced group of position players and pitchers and we’ll obviously need to fill out the rosters at the lower levels, which may dictate some of our decisions in the final few rounds. But until then, we try to stick to the plan of taking the best player available while being cognizant of the innings and at-bats we have for these guys in the minor-leagues.”

The Blue Jays are expecting draft picks to soon start filtering into their facilities in Dunedin, Fla., for physicals as contracts are worked out. Talks are already underway, building on the pre-draft discussions that typically take place between players and teams.

“It’s a fluid process,” said Sanders. “Our goal is to not only take impact players but get them signed and playing as soon as possible. It’s obviously best for not only us, but for the players and their development to get them out and start getting them ABs and innings. Those discussions are already happening and hopefully as soon as the end of the week or early next week, we’ll have guys getting their physicals done.

“We’re really focused on all of them, which is tough. There are a lot of balls in the air to juggle.”

And 30 more rounds of the draft to go.

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