TORONTO – The top-heavy nature of the way Major League Baseball signing bonus allocations are set up leaves teams in the upper half of the draft with a strategic decision to make. On the one hand, they can take an eggs-all-in-one-basket approach, selecting a player with a big price tag and paying him full slot money. Alternatively, they can pick someone expected to go a bit later in the draft, pay him a bit more than he was otherwise going to get, and then reallocate the difference in other areas to get an earlier-round talent who slipped.
Afforded the opportunity to go either way by owning the 12th overall pick in their second draft under amateur scouting director Steve Sanders, the Blue Jays employed the latter approach this week to land shortstop Jordan Groshans in the first round and right-hander Adam Kloffenstein in the third.
In between the duo they selected Griffin Conine, a right-fielder from Duke who is the son of former big-leaguer Jeff, in the second round after a down season dropped him from first-round consideration. The Blue Jays are expected to create bonus pool savings with both Groshans and Conine – Kloffenstein has suggested as much – and perhaps elsewhere in their top-10 as well, although all Sanders would say is, “we’re certainly optimistic” that both will get signed.
In diversifying their portfolio in such fashion (an approach this front office appears to prefer in many realms of baseball operations), the Blue Jays may have found a way to mitigate some risk inherent to selecting the Magnolia High School teammates with two of their first three picks this year after using their three first-rounders in the previous two drafts on collegians.
“Coming in, our goal was to use the bonus pool we had and the places we were picking to be opportunistic for what the draft gave us,” said Sanders. “So there were certainly opportunities and there were scenarios in which somebody like Adam wasn’t going to be available to us, but being prepared for the scenario where somebody like Adam or some other guys of his ability were available to us in that spot, we wanted to make sure that we were prepared to act accordingly.”
Sanders insisted that the Blue Jays didn’t reach to take Groshans, who “was going to be our pick at 12, we felt like he was the best fit for us and the best player on our board available to us.” But they had scouted both he and Kloffenstein extensively and as the gargantuan 17-year-old slipped down the draft board because interested clubs weren’t meeting his number, the Blue Jays struck a deal to get their guy.
“We were certainly opportunistic in being able to make it happen, which we’re excited about,” said Sanders. “A lot of things had to go right for that to happen, but two guys that we were certainly interested in.”
Some other draft highlights for the Blue Jays:
- Conine joins Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Kacy Clemens and Dwight Smith Jr., in the Blue Jays system. “Being the son of a major leaguer and having those bloodlines and the pedigree, it certainly plays into it,” says Sanders. “We’ve seen that on the field from him. He’s somebody that grew up around the game and it’s no surprise that that he’s as well versed in it and talented as he is. So it all kind of baked into it, but it certainly is something that made us comfortable with taking him there.”
- Conine had some first-round buzz last year after hitting 13 homers at Duke and showing well in the Cape Cod League but slipped down the draft as he struggled in his sophomore season, striking out 72 times in 216 at-bats. But after batting .211/.344/.436 through the first half of the season, he recovered to finish at .278/.402/.611. “That’s something that you don’t always get to see, somebody of that talent level go through a period of struggle, but in a lot of ways it made us believe in Griffin’s ability to persevere and deal with adversity,” said Sanders. “Seeing him come out on the other side of it and put together a good season and finish on a strong note and was certainly a positive for us.”
- A total of 19 Canadians were selected in the baseball draft, with the Blue Jays picking two of them: Right-hander Will McAffer of North Vancouver, B.C., out of Tulane University in the 25th round and prep third baseman Damiano Palmegiani of Surrey, B.C., in the 35th round. Both have played in the annual T12 tournament the Blue Jays host to showcase young Canadian players. “T.J. (Burton) and the rest of his guys do a great job (with T12),” says Sanders. “In many ways it’s the first gateway for a lot of the young Canadian amateur players to have exposure, not just to major league scouts, but also to college coaches. Palmegiani is someone we saw very recently in that type of event, McAffer, more at the collegiate level recently.”
- Noah Naylor of Mississauga, Ont., the younger brother of Padres prospect Josh, was the first Canadian chosen, going 29th overall to Cleveland. Another Canadian sibling from Mississauga, Tristan Pompey, brother of Blue Jays prospect Dalton, went in the third round to Miami. “It was a good year in Canada for the group, and we were able to grab two guys, which we’re always excited about,” says Sanders. “Obviously there was a high school player, Noah Naylor who went pretty high and he was somebody who we certainly scouted very hard. While we weren’t able to land him, it’s always good to see the Canadian talent go especially high up in the draft.”
- Baseball Canada’s fine work was again rewarded in the draft, with seven members of the junior national squad having their names called.
- The third and final day of the draft is about filling out organizational needs and taking a few dice rolls on players who have made a particular impression on certain scouts. Centre-fielder Hunter Steinmetz from Missouri State in the 11th round can has on-base skills and can run, Northern Colorado righty Troy Watson in the 15th could turn into a reliever to watch and 18th-rounder Fitz Stadler from Arizona State will garner attention at six-foot-nine. “It varies,” Sanders said of the Day 3 approach. “I mean, this is a long day, 30 rounds, and we come into it looking to find big-leaguers. At the same time we do need to fill out organizational rosters. With a few short season teams, there are a lot of players that we need so it’s certainly a balancing act. But with every pick we’re looking to add as much talent as we can to the group.”