CINCINNATI – No matter how good a scout is, or how advanced analytics become, there will always be an element of crapshoot in the draft, an inevitable by-product of trying to project what young men aged 18-22 will become three or four years down the line.
That’s how Mike Trout, arguably the best player on the planet, lasts until pick No. 25 in 2009, selected right after Jared Mitchell and Randal Grichuk. At the time he played for a small high school in New Jersey and hadn’t really been tested in any prominent showcase, allowing the Los Angeles Angels to basically steal him that low.
Big whoopsie by a lot teams on that one.
All of which brings us to the Toronto Blue Jays and Kris Bryant, the No. 2 overall pick by the Chicago Cubs in 2013 signed for a bonus of $6.7 million. In 2010, one of the club’s best drafts, the Blue Jays made the all-star third baseman their 18th-round pick, 546th overall, out of Bonanza High School in Las Vegas.
At the time Bryant had a commitment to the University of San Diego and a big price tag to forgo college. The Blue Jays, in the first year of a new draft philosophy under then new GM Alex Anthopoulos, selected several players considered tough signs early in the draft, and spent a club record $11.6 million in signing them.
Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino, Asher Wojciechowski, Sam Dyson, Sean Nolin and Dalton Pompey, along with failed first-rounder Deck McGuire, were among the bounty. There was no more money for Bryant.
“No meaningful talks at all,” is how Bryant describes the negotiations with the Blue Jays. “Just being a really good student in high school and the way the draft works, it’s kind of hard for teams to draft a guy when you don’t know if he’s going to sign or not, which I understood completely. Looking back at it, (going to the University of San Diego) is the best decision I’ve made in my life.”
Bryant went on to star for the Torero, hitting 31 homers with an OBP of .493 and a slugging percentage of .820 over 228 at-bats in his draft season. Lots of his growth took place during his three years in San Diego, an experience he valued, although he could have been bought out of school for the right price.
“There was definitely a chance, but I didn’t get offered anything, so obviously my only option was to go to school,” says Bryant. “Honestly, I would recommend college for anyone out there, I think it should be necessary to go to college the way they do in the NBA. You learn to grow up, you learn a lot of things in college that you don’t know when you’re in high school. I’m really glad I got to experience that.”
In hindsight, of course, spending money on Bryant instead of some of the other players from that draft is a no-brainer. But there are no mulligans, and you can bet a lot of teams who passed up on him in 2010 share in that regret.
Still, Bryant thinks his development in San Diego was crucial in making him who he is now, and isn’t sure how he would have handled the climb through the minors out of high school instead of college.
“Big time,” he says. “Some of the bus rides in low-A and high-A, they’re brutal and they can wear on you a little bit, your mind. You’re probably not as sharp when you go out there to play in the game and that’s what you need to learn. I was fortunate to start in double-A and work my way up from there, but I couldn’t imagine being a high school player and making my way up through the minors.”
Beyond baseball, the college experience was pivotal for Bryant, too.
“Just learning how to be on your own, learning how to grow up a little bit, do your own laundry, make your own food sometimes,” he says. “But my coaches at school were awesome. The coaching you get, there’s a lot of 1-on-1 instruction and it’s every day, too. A lot of that played into my development into the player I am today.”
A player the Blue Jays, not to mention 28 other teams, wish they had today.