MLB Draft FAQ: How does compressed format impact Blue Jays’ strategy?

What will the Blue Jays do in the MLB draft this year? How will the draft be different this time? Plus, which prospects to look out for on draft day as Arash Madani, Shi Davidi & Ben Nicholson-Smith tee-up baseball's draft.

By Wednesday evening, the Toronto Blue Jays could have their very own Dwight Gooden, Mark Teixeira or Buster Posey. Each of those players was selected fifth overall before becoming franchise players in the major leagues.

Or, they could end up with their very own Bubba Starling, Jeff Granger or Kurt Miller. Those three were also picked fifth, yet they generated a combined minus-4.3 wins above replacement at the MLB level.

Of course, it’ll be years before we know the fate of the Blue Jays’ pick. In the meantime, at least this much is clear: the Jays will have to make each of their early round picks count since there’s no way to recover with a late-round steal like Jeff Kent (20th round), Kevin Pillar (32nd round) or Orlando Hudson (43rd round).

That’s one of many challenges awaiting first-year scouting director Shane Farrell Wednesday evening, when he’ll select fifth overall. Ahead of an abbreviated draft unlike any in MLB history, here are some of the questions facing Farrell and the Blue Jays:

How does the pandemic impact preparations?

In the weeks ahead of the draft, scouts, analysts and executives would typically gather in Toronto to compare notes on players and strategy. Now, that’s obviously not possible. Zoom sessions and phone calls have replaced many of the in-person meetings that would usually be taking place, but there’s still no shortage of information to sift through.

Generally speaking, players are known to scouts years before they’re eligible for the draft, so while an abbreviated 2020 college season isn’t ideal, these players have established track records. High schoolers are harder to pin down, since they’re developing more rapidly, but last summer’s showcases give scouts a starting point and analytics can help fill in the gaps.

A greater challenge may present itself in 2021, since it appears unlikely that much amateur baseball will be played in the short-term.

What’s the Blue Jays’ draft philosophy?

The Blue Jays won’t use the draft to address a positional need or attempt to accelerate their rebuild. Instead, they’ll do what most rational teams do: evaluate the options as thoroughly as possible and pick the player who’s likely to deliver the most value – regardless of position or timeline to Toronto.

“I really think you have to separate that,” Farrell said on a conference call Monday. “It’s tempting to just gravitate toward the player that could be in the major leagues sooner than later. I think you have to enter each draft with a very open mind and really take a best-player approach. There, obviously, has been a bit of youth movement recently in baseball and we’ve seen a lot of college players over the years navigate the minor leagues a little quicker than normal, I’d say. But I don’t think that in terms of the timeline that really factors into our decision making. We’re looking for the best player for the Blue Jays that will help us win a championship and have sustained success.”

What picks do the Blue Jays have beyond the first round?

Since they didn’t lose a pick for signing Hyun-jin Ryu, the Blue Jays have five selections in total. After the first round Wednesday, the Blue Jays have four more picks Thursday: 42nd, 77th, 106th and 136th.

What happens after the draft?

A traditional minor-league season won’t take place in 2020, but teams will still want their top prospects to develop somewhere. At this point, the Blue Jays haven’t said exactly how they plan to keep their newest prospects in shape, but that’s an important question from a player-development standpoint.

“That’s something we’re working through right now and will work closely with (director of player development) Gil Kim and (assistant director of player development) Joe Sclafani,” Farrell said. “To make sure players have the appropriate resources and things available for them to stay in shape.”

There’s also an opportunity for teams to sign non-drafted players as free agents. In theory, the Blue Jays could add prospect depth that way, and Farrell says they’ve “spent a lot of time researching that group.” Like all teams, however, they’ll be facing a $20,000 cap on bonuses for non-drafted players.

How do last year’s Blue Jays picks look?

First-rounder Alek Manoah impressed at low-A Vancouver in 2019, posting a 2.65 ERA with 27 strikeouts compared to just five walks in 17 innings. The tall right-hander now ranks fifth among Jays prospects, according to Baseball America.

Meanwhile, second-rounder Kendall Williams posted a 1.13 ERA over the course of 16 innings in the Gulf Coast League where he played alongside third-rounder Dasan Brown. Brown, a speedy Canadian who was drafted at just 17 years old, posted an .800 OPS across his first 14 games as a pro.

What does history tell us about fifth-overall picks?

Along with Gooden, Teixeira and Posey, the likes of Ryan Braun, J.D. Drew and Vernon Wells went fifth overall in their respective drafts. That’s a lot of difference-making talent, but of course, there have been just as many busts over the years.

Earlier this week, Nick Ashbourne took a more analytical look at players selected in this range and his findings suggest college position players are generally a safe bet here.

Who could the Blue Jays take this year?

When you pick fifth overall, the calibre of talent available is impressive. The Blue Jays have been linked to Nick Gonzales, a middle infielder who has hit everywhere he’s gone, Zac Veen, a high school outfielder with huge offensive potential and college arms Max Meyer and Emerson Hancock. Any of those players would immediately become one of the organization’s top prospects.

Who are the best Blue Jays first-rounders ever?

Looking back, the Blue Jays drafted really well in the 1990s with Shawn Green (1991), Shannon Stewart (1992), Chris Carpenter (1993), Vernon Wells (1997) and Alex Rios (1999) all going in the first round. Of course, Roy Halladay (1995) was the best first-round pick in franchise history, making six all-star teams and winning a Cy Young Award over a 12-year career in Toronto.

More recently, the Blue Jays landed Aaron Hill in 2003, Noah Syndergaard in 2010 and Marcus Stroman in 2012. All three would go on to make all-star teams – though Syndergaard did so with the New York Mets.

Eventually, the Blue Jays hope to see the likes of Nate Pearson (28th overall, 2017) and Jordan Groshans (12th overall, 2018) become just as productive. And if all goes well, this year’s first-rounder will make a similar impact, too.

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