The Blue Jays are set to navigate their third First-Year Player Draft with Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins Jr. (who I completely ironically refer to as the Cleveland Boys) at the helm of the organization. Based on how the drafts went in 2016 and 2017, what can we expect from them this year?
The 2016 draft class looks like a really, really good one for the Jays.
Most notably, they took a swing for the fences with Bo Bichette in the second round, grabbing the high-upside high school infielder way later than he probably should have gone given signability concerns. Bichette, who’s risen all the way up to No. 7 in Baseball America’s prospect rankings, indicated that he wouldn’t just sign with any team. He would only join an organization that was a fit for him based on a variety of things including progressive development strategies. One of those organizations was the Blue Jays.
Their first pick was used on four-year college graduate T.J. Zeuch. He had a slow start to his professional career but 2018 has been a breakout year for the big right-hander. He started well in Single-A Dunedin and has since been recalled to Double-A New Hampshire. Their first second-round pick was used on outfielder J.B. Woodman who had a mediocre year in Low-A Lansing before being shipped to St. Louis in the Aledmys Diaz deal.
Other notable picks coming from the fourth- and fifth-rounds were righty pitcher Zach Jackson and infielder Cavan Biggio. Both have had very good seasons in 2018. Biggio has put himself on the map as a top prospect with New Hampshire while Jackson has quietly put up a 2.74 ERA in just under 100 innings since going pro.
The Jays took a similar approach in 2017 as they did in 2016. They went the safe route with a four-year graduate in Logan Warmoth with their first pick before swinging for the fences with Nate Pearson with the compensatory pick they got for letting Edwin Encarnacion walk in free agency. Warmoth has had a slow start to his professional career and Pearson, after looking ridiculously good in rookie ball last summer, has struggled with injuries in 2018.
The big breakout from 2017 seems to be Kevin Smith, who Toronto grabbed with their fourth-round pick. Smith absolutely crushed Low-A over the first two months of the season, slashing a .355/.407/.639 line in 46 games before getting the call to Dunedin.
After that, it’s a little hard to judge the draft class given the fact all of these players are just in their first full season in the organization. One thing that really stands out about this draft class, though, is the volume of four-year college players selected. Of their first 15 picks, the Jays drafted 12 four-year college grads, one Junior College guy in Pearson, and two high schoolers in Hagen Danner and Ryan Noda.
What does it all mean?
The Cleveland Boys seem to lean towards taking a lot of college players at the draft. This isn’t at all surprising given their mantra of wanting to stock all levels of the system and given how much more projectable college players are than high school prospects.
I’m not going to pretend to be some hardcore NCAA follower or MLB draft expert, or anything, but, given this regime’s history and my interpretation of their strategy, I assume we’ll see the Jays use their 12th overall pick on a four-year college position player before using their second-round pick on more of a Bichette/Pearson high-upside flyer.
Based on some mock drafts, I figure the Jays will end up with a player like Jonathan India (a third baseman from Florida), Logan Gilbert (a righty pitcher from Stetson), or Travis Swaggerty (an outfielder from South Alabama). I don’t know. The MLB draft is a hell of a thing to project, but I tend to think the Jays will avoid the high school home run pick with their No. 12 overall selection.
After that, we can likely expect more all-over-the-grid selections as the front office continues to add depth to the system at all positions. The front office has done a nice job at stocking up prospects all over the diamond. They haven’t really keyed in on one area like we saw with the old front office (pitchers and toolsy outfielders galore!) and I don’t expect that to change this year.