0
Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

MLB Draft season is upon us

I go to one Jays game a month with a friend of mine who is from South Korea. His name is Jung-Ho, and he thinks the KBO is boring and he loves the MLB. He told me that the talent in the KBO is as good as Double-A baseball here. He’s a huge Giants fan, so we saw San Francisco when they were in Toronto last April.

We decided we would go see Boston in May and watch some of the players who helped hang a 2018 World Series banner alongside the others at Gate A and D at Fenway Park, which is a red-brick row of history. A championship history that I hope Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins are going to build here in Toronto – brick by brick, of course.

We met at uncle Ted’s statue outside the Rogers Centre at Gate 6. While I was standing there waiting for Jung-Ho, I remember looking down Bremner Boulevard. I saw Spiderman hustling some tourists for change, but I didn’t see a red-brick wall with championship banners anywhere. Maybe one day.

The gate was slow, so we didn’t have to wait to get into the stadium. We walked around the concrete concourse and got ourselves positioned along the right field side of the Flight Deck. We were ready to soak in some baseball. I did my Flight Deck stretches, as I got physically prepared to stand for the next three hours. My friend just sipped his drink and watched me stretch.

The atmosphere in the Rogers Centre reminded me of the bad ol’ days, as it did the last time I was there to see Buster Posey and the Giants. There weren’t too many people taking advantage of the ‘Dugout Deals’. There weren’t too many people in the stands. There weren’t too many people in the Flight Deck either. And most of the 500 Section was empty. Indeed, this rebuild is in full swing. But that’s okay because Vlad was about to write another headline. And I was going to witness it.

I remember the moment. It was as if everything slowed down around me. I felt a calm settle into the air, an unsettling calm for Rick Porcello. It was around 8:15. Vlad set foot in the batter’s box. He worked the count to two balls and one strike. The few fans that were in attendance had no idea what was coming next. And neither did I. We were going to leave the Rogers Centre with a story to tell for the rest of our lives. We had no idea that the next pitch was going to be historic. And Boston was about to become a part of our history – Vlad’s history.

Rick Porcello got the sign, he went into his windup, as his arms swung above his head. He tossed his offering, which he hung over the plate. And just like that, I heard the crack – a Carlos Delgado ball-to-bat sound. I remember watching the baseball fly towards the Flight Deck. I watched it fly 424 feet. I remember every foot of its flight. I remember looking at Jackie Bradley Jr. chasing the ball. I remember him stopping and watching it soar over the fence. I remember watching Vlad run around the bags. The future is here, I thought. The future is finally here.

***

It seems like only a short time ago Vlad was playing baseball in Bluefield. He played 62 games in the Appalachian League. He had 276 plate appearances, 64 hits, and 8 of those left the yard. The young teenager put up impressive numbers slashing .271/.359/.449 that season, as he was on his way to becoming the number 1 baseball prospect in the world. And now here he is today.

I remember in an interview back in 2017, Mark Shapiro said that if they are pinning all their hopes on two or three prospects as being absolutely crucial to their plans, and they’re at Double-A and A-ball, they’re in big trouble. He said that they need to develop a system that’s extremely productive, that has a depth of talent, understanding that some guys will be better than they think they’re going to be, many guys will not be the players they think they’re going to be because of injury or for other reasons, and there’ll be a few players that come out of nowhere that they didn’t expect. 

I guess, kind of like the way Cavan Biggio came out of nowhere last year after being drafted 162nd overall in the 2016 MLB  Draft. In 2017, Cavan struggled in Dunedin striking out 140 times in 556 plate appearances. He saw 2,318 pitches in the Florida State League, which resulted in him slashing .233/.342/.363. It was during that offseason that he worked on his approach and made adjustments to his swing – adjustments that would lead to the success he is having today.

So, here we are in the future, and Vlad and Cavan are in the MLB. One player is a product of the International ‘Prospect’ Pool, who the Jays signed for $3.9 million. And the other is a product of the June MLB Draft, who signed for full draft slot bonus of $300,000. They both hit their first home runs in Toronto in the same week. They both have hall-of-fame fathers. And they are both going to be key pieces to the Jays rebuild.

This year, the draft will be from June 3rd until June 5th, and the Jays have the 11th overall pick. But, as you all know, sometimes the 162nd overall pick sets foot on MLB turf before a first-rounder, as we are still waiting for the Jays 2016 first-round pick T.J. Zeuch to get healthy. Until then, let’s enjoy Cavan’s lefty bat and swing.

Now, it’s impossible to predict who the Jays will select, or if a prospect will go sideways or not – not even the people who get paid to guess these sorts of things get it right all the time. That being said, FanGraphs has the Jays going with Jackson Rutledge, a very large 6-foot-8 pitcher from San Jacinto. Here’s what FanGraphs is saying about the right-handed hurler:

We’re told Rutledge threw privately for Toronto recently. If Rutledge goes eight or nine, then whichever of the lefty college bats (Stott, Bishop) is left becomes the favorite. This is where Seattle-area prep CF Corbin Carroll’s name starts to get mentioned.

I have obviously never had eyes on him, but from what I’ve read, Rutledge sits in the mid-90s and kisses 99. His secondary stuff, specifically his slider and curveball, are seen as potential plus pitches. I have a hard time believing that he will be on the board for the Jays, but if he is, I wouldn’t be surprised if they select him. FanGraphs has even compared Rutledge to Nate Pearson saying that he looks much like Nate Pearson did before he was drafted.

Earlier in the month, MLB.com did a mock draft and had the Jays selecting right-handed pitcher Alek Manoah. Here’s what they had to say:

Manoah didn’t pitch well in his big matchup against Lodolo and TCU last week, but he’s still the second-best (four-year) college arm in the class and the Jays have taken big college pitchers (Nate Pearson, T.J. Zeuch) in 2017 and 2016.

I wish my crystal ball, which was given to me by my great aunt, who got it from Rance Mulliniks’ old Slovenian barber, could show me who Ross Atkins and company will select, but the crystal-y thing isn’t so clear.

The only thing I know is that in 2016, the Jays took right-handed pitcher T.J. Zeuch 21st overall and Bo Bichette 66th. In 2017, they went the college avenue again and drafted North Carolina’s shortstop, Logan Warmoth. And in 2018, they decided to kick the high school can and selected shortstop Jordan Groshans. This year maybe they choose one of the aforementioned pitchers, or maybe they hang a right on Corbin Carroll lane.

The Blue Jays are very deep up the middle now, which is why it’s understandable if you think that they are going to focus on pitching and outfielders in this year’s draft. The Jays have Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette, Logan Warmoth, Kevin Smith, Santiago Espinal, Jordan Groshans and company to cover the middle of the diamond. And, of course, some of these names are going to break some hearts, as is the case with prospects, but there is a lot of infield depth at all the levels.

Catching is another strong area for the Jays, as Alejandro Kirk, who slashed .299/.427/.519 in 21 games for Lansing this spring, continues to pound the hype drum. Kirk has a .367/.456/.551 line in Dunedin since his promotion. So with Kirk in Dunedin, Gabriel Moreno in Lansing, Riley Adams in New Hampshire, and Reese McGuire in Buffalo – someone should develop into an impact catcher for the Jays and help out Danny Jansen if he continues to go sideways.

It certainly will be interesting to see who the front office selects with their first overall pick. Will they add a pitcher? Will they look for an outfielder? Or draft the best player available? There is still the International Bonus Pools in July, and the Jays have $4,983,500 to sign themselves a talented outfielder if they decide to select a pitcher with their 11th overall pick. 

***

In the same Mark Shapiro interview that I alluded to earlier, he said that the farm systems that he had in Cleveland in the 1990s were incredible. He said that if he looked back at the names he wrote down in those three- and five-year plans, it would speak to the reality that things aren’t going to go the way he wants them to go. And I think that is important to consider when we start to gush about prospects.

As we all know, prospects are very good at breaking hearts. It’s easy to fall in love and then be reminded of the pain of the sideways. The pain that we feel when we have a hope for a Sean Reid-Foley and then lose that hope and then have a new hope return only to be lost again as he struggles with his control.

We all hope for Anthony Alford to straighten out and take over the lost Jays outfield. We all hope that Kevin Smith will bounce back from the Double-A blues. We all hope that T.J. Zeuch will return from his injury…one day. And that Logan Warmoth won’t be the first-round bust that he has sort of become, even though he’s starting to show signs that maybe he isn’t that at all.

You just never know when it comes to the players selected in the MLB draft. Even the scouts who get paid to know this stuff often get it wrong. So, let’s hope that this June the Jays get it right. It seems like they did last year when they drafted Jordan Groshans. But if they miss in the first round, there are 39 other rounds. And if they miss in those rounds, they can make it up in July when they ink themselves an international prospect.

I got to witness Vlad’s first home run in Toronto. And Cavan just hit his first, too. The future is on its way and some of it is already here. By this time next year, there’s a good chance that Bo Bichette, Nate Pearson, and Patrick Murphy will be donning Jays caps, as well.

The line up will become more intriguing as we press on during these rebuild days. And the front office will continue to build this thing brick by brick, and the June Draft has more pieces to this future puzzle. Let’s hope it leads to some banners and flags.