The Jays are proud to select… the best player available
The pandemic is far from over, with a seventh wave of coronavirus now wreaking havoc in Canada and around the world. In baseball, however, there has been a return to normalcy in the amateur and professional ranks that will be felt in this weekend’s MLB Draft.
The draft takes place later this year, with the first round starting on Sunday evening, but the 30-team preparations are much more like the status quo of how the sport operated before everything changed for the worse.
With the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions around the world, the Blue Jays amateur scouting department once again traveled and club officials had the opportunity to meet potential targets in person, instead of basing everything on video and Zoom interviews.
That should come in handy with the Jays having a slew of first picks. Their first round is No. 23, and they will also have a second round as well as a pair of compensating selections following the departures of Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray.
The extra picks should give the Jays a chance to get creative. Their first round is late due to their closeness to the postseason last year, but they sit in the middle of the pack with an overall bonus allocation of $8,367,700 (US), which ranks 16th.
“The biggest thing is we just have more access to the high-end talent pool,” said Jays director of amateur scouting Shane Farrell, who is set to oversee his third draft. “I think Sunday night is going to be a really exciting night…coming out of there with four players that we really like.”
For anyone expecting the Jays to use this draft to meet the specific needs of a team that expects to struggle over the next few years, that’s not how it works. With prospects notoriously difficult to project, it’s all about the long term. That’s why scouting directors say they’ll take the best player available, regardless of any holes that might exist in the organization.
There are only a handful of prospects each year who are ready to take a quick leap into the big leagues. Fine products like Marcus Stroman are rare, and even this former No. 22 pick took almost two years to step into a big league game. Most guys take a lot longer.
Positions don’t matter as much as some might think. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. may be the face of the franchise, but the Jays aren’t going to shy away from signing a first baseman just because they have him under contract. By the time that perspective is ready, the situation in Toronto could be entirely different. Even if not, this player can be used as commercial bait.
The current strength of the Jays system is in its pitching at the lower levels, where guys like 2021 third-rounder Ricky Tiedemann and international signing Yosver Zulueta have seen their values skyrocket. The Jays’ depth on the mound was also put to good use. Last year’s top pick Gunnar Hoglund has been traded to the A’s from Oakland as part of a deal to acquire Matt Chapman. Simeon Woods Richardson, originally acquired in the trade from Stroman with the New York Mets, was used alongside Austin Martin to acquire José Berríos.
“We really try to stay committed to our process,” said Farrell, who is the son of former Jays coach John Farrell. “I don’t think the schedule of our major league team affects the decisions that are made. The gap between amateur baseball talent and what we see here on TV is so big. Letting that influence a selection is probably not in our best interest.
One thing every team is dealing with this year is a wave of injuries in the amateur ranks, which seems to have hit college pitchers more than anyone else. Irregular schedules during the pandemic partly explain this, and while teams will always take risks on injured players, as the Jays did last year when Hoglund was drafted, there probably won’t be. so many takes at the start.
Most fictional drafts predict the top positional players in high school will be off the board by the time the Jays select in the first round. This probably explains why top pundits expect them to go for a college bat with their top pick. The Athletic’s Keith Law led them to take University of Tennessee outfielder Jordan Beck. MLB Pipeline targeted them at James Madison University outfielder Chase DeLauter.
The reality is that this is all just a guessing game, with front offices trying to disguise their targets so another team doesn’t come and trap them. Whoever the Jays pick, he’s going to be the best guy available in their minds.
“I think it’s really important to be committed to who we are in our decision-making,” Farrell said. “Just because we have extra picks doesn’t mean we have to be a little reckless or less careful with each pick. This is an important draft where we have a little more money to spend than if we just pick up directly at each turn.
Sunday night is Farrell’s Super Bowl and it will be another milestone in the Jays’ goal of achieving lasting success. It will be at least a few years before we know how Farrell did it, but his results will have a lasting impact.