TORONTO – The critical hours of scheming, strategizing and brinkmanship for teams, players and advisers ahead of baseball’s annual June draft are here, a make-or-break period to turn the capricious scramble of hypotheticals, proposals and counter-proposals into reality.
Draft boards, at least from the evaluative end, are largely set for Wednesday night’s First and Competitive Balance A rounds, leaving the business end of things to finalize where different players are to ultimately end up.
“A lot of fishing expeditions,” is how one advisor described the current back-and-forth, with a lot of, “would your guy take this if we picked him here,” and “if we do this here, then your guy is a fit” blowing up the parties’ message boxes.
The Toronto Blue Jays, holders of the fifth-overall pick and the ninth-largest signing bonus pool at $9,716,500, are in a strong position to be creative in such fashion.
In their most recent mock drafts, both Baseball America and The Athletic have them taking Georgia right-hander Emerson Hancock at five while MLB Pipeline predicted Max Meyer, the Minnesota righty who could find himself in a big-league bullpen this year. The Blue Jays have also been linked to high school outfielder Zac Veen, New Mexico State second baseman Nick Gonzales and Louisville lefty Reid Detmers, and what happens in the four picks before they’re up will go a long way in settling how they approach their own selection.
The Baltimore Orioles, at No. 2, could shake things up if they pass on Vanderbilt slugger Austin Martin for an under slot pick that would create savings they can use on subsequent picks.
All of which makes this home-stretch of jockeying especially important for the Blue Jays and rookie amateur scouting director Shane Farrell, who has a rare opportunity to significantly impact the farm system in this most unusual pandemic draft.
Trite as it is to say, they need to get this one right, since if things go to plan, they shouldn’t be picking this high again for a long time.
“I think a successful draft is really making sure that we’re staying true to organizational philosophies, our values and, most importantly, our process when it comes to selecting these players,” Farrell said during a conference call Monday. “Having a clear and set idea on how we want to execute each pick, how we want to put together our board and how we want to integrate multiple pieces of information from all different areas that allow us to make the right decision. Obviously, the end result of guys playing in the major leagues is the key to all that, to really tie it all together. But just from being able to control what we can, I think that the process of our draft meetings is what really leads to a successful draft.”
Amid the boiler-plate talk of best player available and not drafting for need, the crux of things for the Blue Jays lies in how they weigh risk-reward within their evaluative modelling. Does the probability Meyer offers as a big-league reliever outweigh the potential upside Veen offers? Does diversifying the portfolio by going under slot with their first pick (assigned value of $6,180,700) to overspend in the second ($1,771,100) and third ($805,600) rounds create a better balance?
Three pitchers and two position players? All college, no high school? Vice versa in both regards? Punt on the fifth pick ($410,100 for the Blue Jays) to spend on more upside earlier on?
The stakes are higher for each and every decision in a draft reduced by 35 rounds and conducted virtually due to COVID-19.
“This year is obviously different for a number of reasons, so it’s hard to truly replicate the exact conversation or style that would happen in a draft room,” said Farrell. “It’ll be a little different in our reflection, but looking toward ways we can improve communication or projects leading up to draft meetings is something we’ll take a look at.”
The pandemic has led to a total change in the scouting process for clubs, with the lack of a spring season forcing teams to take deep dives into accumulated video, background work and data-driven analysis. While the tendency has been to think of this draft as a one-off, potential disruptions to the upcoming summer, fall and spring seasons at both the college and high-school levels could make 2021 even more problematic.
There are also challenges related to how teams will onboard players they select this year, leading to speculation that few non-drafted free agents will be signed once things are done this week. Clubs can sign an unlimited number of players for up to $20,000, but with no proper minor-league season and only a limited prospect league expected to run, there’s nowhere really for them to go.
“That’s something we’re working through right now and will work closely with (farm director) Gil Kim and (assistant farm director) Joe Sclafani,” said Farrell, “to make sure players have the appropriate resources and things available for them to stay in shape and things like that.”
For now, though, the priority is deciding whom to bet on, and how to put together the most impactful package of players they can. Bet big? Go safe? It’s almost time for the Blue Jays to decide.