TORONTO – Shortly after wrapping up his first draft as amateur scouting director for the Toronto Blue Jays, Shane Farrell crashed. In the week preceding baseball’s annual talent restock, he barely slept, joking that an estimate of five hours of shut-eye might be high. But he rested easy knowing that he followed up the unexpected windfall of Vanderbilt star Austin Martin in the first round with four more collegians his scouts had been eyeing.
In right-handers C.J. Van Eyk out of Florida State, Trent Palmer of Jacksonville and Nick Frasso from Loyola Marymount, plus Louisville outfielder Zach Britton, the Blue Jays believe they’ve added more impact and depth to their farm system.
Typically, of course, every team is pleased with its work in the immediate aftermath, with years needed before a proper judgment can be made. Still, Farrell had plenty to digest from his debut in charge, coming away particularly pleased with how his group continued “to revisit hot-spots on the draft board where we felt like we needed to spend more attention and time on, making sure that we had the right order of players in that pool.”
“Identifying maybe a spot on the board where we would expect, ‘Hey, this is where maybe our second rounder comes from, this pool of six players,’ so diving into that group a little bit more. Same thing with the fourth round and things like that,” added Farrell. “That was the big takeaway, the attention to detail and how much time we spent on pockets of players. Luckily it paid off for us to select from that pool a handful of times.”
Landing Martin, who is being advised by the always aggressive Scott Boras, had to be factored into the club’s approach on the second day of the draft, with Farrell saying, “we’re certainly conscious of where we’re spending our money,” although he added “there wasn’t a premeditated plan going in.”
The assigned value for the fifth overall pick is $6,180,700, with $1,771,100 for the Blue Jays’ second-round slot, $805,600 for their third, $549,000 for their fourth and $410,100 for their fifth. Teams that exceed their pools pay a penalty on the overage and lose draft picks if they reach beyond five per cent.
“We knew certain areas where we felt like we could spend full slot and where we needed to save some, and we wanted to make sure that we weren’t sacrificing any sort of talent to the player pool,” said Farrell. “Talent was still the priority in our decision making. C.J. Van Eyk was at the top of our board when we started, Trent Palmer wasn’t far behind that. Nick Frasso and Zach Britton were two guys that we valued quite a bit in terms of our draft preparation and listening to our scouts talk and everything that we’ve looked at over the last few months since the shutdown. It’s comforting knowing that we walked away with five players that we felt strongly about in scouting conviction and in overall processing of those five players.”
In Van Eyk, the Blue Jays believe they see a future starter in someone who logged 94.2 innings as a sophomore – with 120 strikeouts against 39 walks – and tacked on 20.2 more over four starts this spring before the pandemic shut things down.
Stuff, athleticism and track record are three areas of focus in scouting pitchers and the 21-year-old checks off each one.
“It’s just the completeness of the four-pitch package,” said Farrell. “There are a lot of starter traits here. He’ll get his fastball into the mid 90s. He’s got a good feel for (his) curveball, a changeup and a pretty decent slider, too. It’s a guy that’s carried a heavy workload as a sophomore with a lot of strikeouts. We’re hoping to see the control take a step in the right direction moving forward. But we like the ability to start and hold innings, and mix his four pitches.”
Palmer carries some reliever risk but the Blue Jays feel he has a chance to start thanks to a fastball that sits in the low-to-mid 90s, and a solid changeup and slider. All but nine of his 48 games with Jacksonville came out of the bullpen so that’s something he’ll have to overcome, but as “one of the main players that our draft room really wanted to get into the system,” he’ll get some runway.
“We were excited that he was available in the third round and happy to get him into the organization,” said Farrell. “He’s made good strides from his sophomore to junior year, especially early on in the season in the short sample. We saw an increase in velocity and the quality of the slider continues to improve, the strikes took a step forward in this abbreviated look, and we think that will continue to remain the same and stay in a positive direction going forward. As long as the consistency in the strikes and the stuff remain, we’ll feel good about his chances to start. He has the ingredients, stuff and improvement in strikes that make us hopeful he can do it.”
At 6-foot-5, 200 pounds, Frasso gives the Blue Jays a different frame than the previous two pitchers, along with a major dose of athleticism. He’s also, in some ways, the riskiest pick in the cohort given that a forearm injury led to a spring shutdown.
Still, he blossomed from a walk-on at Loyola Marymount to a member of the Team USA collegiate national team in college, and had first-round chatter before his injury.
“We’re excited about the upside,” said Farrell. “He’s been throwing during the shutdown and our scout, Bud Smith, did a really good job communicating with him throughout the downtime. We were aware of his health situation, he was back throwing and we felt confident that this was an area in the draft to select a player that we had high hopes for coming into the spring. …
“There’s risk associated with every pitcher, so we’re not scared off by that by any means. It’s just finding appropriate time where the risk becomes equal to the selection. We felt like the fourth round was a comfortable landing spot for him and we can’t wait to get going.”
The selection of Britton, who shares the same name as the now New York Yankees reliever infamously left idle in the Orioles bullpen during the 2016 wild-card game against the Blue Jays, adds another outfielder to an area lacking depth in their system.
A left-handed hitter who can play in both corners, he batted .280/.395/.455 with 24 doubles and seven homers over 110 games at Louisville, although the Blue Jays think there’s more within him.
“The power is developing,” said Farrell. “This guy can really drive the ball to the left-centre gap and we think there’s a chance that those doubles start to evolve into more home-run power down the road. But this is a really, really good competitor, he plays with a ton of energy. He’s going to be an important guy in the clubhouse and on a team. So we’re excited to get him. Nate Murrie, our area scout, did a really good job in finding him early and getting to know him very well.”
Murrie was also the lead scout on Martin, although the Blue Jays had plenty of background work on him from Matt Bishoff’s coverage of him during his high school days. Bishoff is now a regional crosschecker for the Blue Jays, although his brother Brandon is the signing scout on Van Eyk. Matt O’Brien was the lead scout on Palmer.