DETROIT – More time is needed for a full evaluation of the six Toronto Blue Jays drafts conducted under former GM Alex Anthopoulos, although with 16 players to have appeared in the big-leagues so far, there’s no arguing the amateur scouting department’s ability to identify talent.
They deserve some props.
The question with the start of the three-day draft looming Thursday night is how much things change for amateur scouting director Brian Parker under the new regime of president and CEO Mark Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins.
Certainly there is always room for improvement, and with Shapiro and Atkins coming from Cleveland, director of player development Gil Kim arriving from Texas and director of baseball operations Mike Murov joining from Boston, there is new intelligence available.
And things are going to be different to some degree, with the Blue Jays conducting a mock draft about a month ago “just so when we got to the draft room we knew how we were going to work through things, how we were going to break down players, how we were going to rank everything just so we were all on the same page,” Parker said on a conference call this week. “I think that was very valuable.”
Still, how the Blue Jays balance their various evaluations – from scouts, the analytics department and its computer modelling, the high-performance department, the strength and conditioning and training staffs – remains a point of intrigue.
Under Anthopoulos, the Blue Jays took some risks with volatile high-schoolers that paid off in Aaron Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard, remain undetermined like Anthony Alford, or have, at least to this point, not worked out in D.J. Davis. At the same time, they tried to mitigate against that exposure with several collegiate first-rounders, including Marcus Stroman, Jeff Hoffman, Max Pentecost, Jon Harris and, with Anthopoulos’s first pick, Deck McGuire.
Asked if the club’s tolerance for risk had changed, Parker said: “I don’t think so. The process is still similar in that we may take a high-risk player in the first round. Whether it’s a college or high-school player, there’s risk involved. We’ve put everything together and lined it up and we’ll see how it plays out Thursday night. As far as how we’ve done things in the past and tolerance, the board has been put together building all that in … not really worried about who’s high risk and who’s not high risk.”
This draft is especially important for the Blue Jays after Anthopoulos’s spree last summer cut through the farm system’s depth. With the 21st, 57th (as compensation for not signing Brady Singer) and 66th picks, this is an opportunity to replenish. A signing bonus pool of $6,603,300 gives Parker the option of shifting money around should someone unexpectedly drop.
Regardless of the approach, they need to leverage those picks, since they represent the best opportunity to restock the system. Of the 653 drafted players on an opening day roster this year, 386 of them, or 59 per cent, were chosen in the top 150.
Occasionally teams get a player like Kevin Pillar in the 32nd round, but the top 150 is where the opportunity lies.
“Regardless of what they do and what they need at the big-league level, we have to keep adding in players every year,” said Parker. “We’ve always taken college guys and also taken high school guys. That’s one unique thing here, we do take both sides and it gives us a lot of flexibility. We’re going to have the same flexibility this year. If the best player is a high school player, that’s who we are going to go after. If the best player is a college player, we’re going to do that as well. It keeps everything open and all of our options available, which is what we’re trying to do.”
Parker says the Blue Jays are prepared should players with medical concerns fall to them, the way Hoffman, coming off Tommy John surgery, did in 2014, and adds “whether a guy is injured or not, we’ve done the background, we’ve done the work and our guys have looked into the history of these players to figure out if it’s a good pick for us at 21.”
The Blue Jays are picking 21st for the fourth time in franchise history, having selected the late John Cerutti in 1981, J.P. Arencibia in 2007 and Tyler Beede in 2011. Stroman was selected 22nd in 2012. They’ve prepared for multiple scenarios Thursday.
“The top of the draft in the top 10 is a little bit more uncertain this year than it has been in the past,” said Parker. “There are more college players at the top in the past couple of years than there have been this year as far as premium college guys, where I think this year the strength might be a little bit more high-school oriented. There’s a little bit more uncertainty right now as far as teams at the top are going to be doing.”