Toronto Blue Jays: Best Value Draft Picks in Franchise History
With the MLB June draft taking place this weekend, we have been taking a look back at the best and worst picks in Toronto Blue Jays history.
A few weeks ago, we looked at some of the most disappointing Jays picks. This week, we're focusing on the positive.
Becoming a legitimate contender in the American League East is not easy. While the Red Sox and Yankees typically build through free agency, the Blue Jays teams that won the AL East and the World Series in the '80s and '90s had a mix of free agents and well-developed prospects.
This weekend, Jays fans will no doubt focus on the first few picks the franchise makes, but it's important to remember that occasionally the best players come from the later rounds.
There are plenty to choose from, but here's a look at some of the best picks in Jays history.
Jesse Barfield: 233rd, 1977
In the Blue Jays' first-ever June draft, they waited eight rounds before taking their most productive player.
Jesse Barfield was an 18-year-old high school player from Illinois when the Jays took a flyer on him in the ninth round. Only three years later, Barfield had made his major league debut, cementing himself in the Blue Jays outfield for the rest of the 1980s.
Barfield's rise is somewhat atypical. Coming out of high school, he never hit over .264 in the minors but managed to earn quick promotions from Low-A to Double-A in just two years.
While his minor league numbers were average, Barfield translated well to the big club, virtually equaling his Double-A numbers during his rookie year with Toronto. He only improved from there, culminating with a 40-homer, 108-RBI campaign in 1986.
Not bad for a ninth-rounder.
Barfield's Career WAR: 39.4
Combined WAR of Every Other 1977 Jays Draft Pick: -2.0
Dave Stieb: 105th, 1978
One hundred and four players were taken before Dave Stieb in 1978.
It's very rare that a franchise finds the greatest pitcher in its history in the fifth round. Stieb was scouted by the Blue Jays as an outfielder but showed enough promise with his arm that the team took a flyer on him.
In his first season in the minor leagues, Stieb was a utility player in the purest sense, starting four games as a pitcher while making 110 plate appearances. The decision to make Stieb a full-time starting pitcher was very easy after his first pro campaign.
With Dunedin in Single-A, his batting average was a brutal .192 while his ERA as a starter was 2.08.
Stieb never made another plate appearance in the minors.
He skipped Double-A and was so dominant in seven starts with Syracuse that he ended up making 18 starts with the Blue Jays in 1979, just a year after being drafted as an outfielder.
From there, he spent the next 13 seasons with the Jays, throwing up some staggering statistics. Beyond his 1990 no-hitter, Stieb threw 288.1 innings in 1982, including an unbelievable 19 complete games. A spectacular pitcher and a spectacular draft pick.
1978's First Overall Pick Bob Horner's Career WAR: 21.7
Dave Stieb's Career WAR: 57.2
Pat Hentgen: 133rd, 1986
The Blue Jays found another franchise pitcher in the fifth round eight years later.
Pat Hentgen was the last pick of the fifth round in 1986, but he was easily the best player from that group by a long shot. He was drafted as a high school player from Fraser, Michigan. The Jays did the right thing in allowing Hentgen to develop as a pitcher before trying him with the big club.
That is not to say that Hentgen did not have success in the minor leagues.
As an 18-year-old in A-ball, Hentgen started 31 games and threw 188 innings, a similar workload to a fully developed major league starting pitcher. He also won 11 games while throwing up a 2.35 ERA and a 1.090 WHIP.
He spent another two years in A-ball before moving up to Double-A Knoxville, where he had continued success.
In 1991, he made his first major league start, throwing five innings of three-hit ball. He spent another year bouncing between Triple-A and the majors before sticking in 1993.
He was an immediate ace, winning 19 games and throwing 216.1 innings.
He hit his prime in 1996 and 1997, winning the AL Cy Young in '96. Like Stieb, he is quite simply one of the best pitchers in Blue Jays history.
Hentgen's Career Wins as a Blue Jay: 107
Earl Sanders' (Blue Jays first-round pick in 1986) Career Wins as a Blue Jay: 0
John Olerud: 79th, 1989
John Olerud is not the prototypical draft steal. He was taken by the Blue Jays in the third round, 79th overall.
His value was not in how late he was drafted. His value exists in how he compares to his draft class. If the 1989 June draft was re-done today, Olerud would likely go in the top 10, if not the top five. The discrepancy between his retrospective draft position and his actual draft position is huge.
Olerud immediately made the Blue Jays roster out of camp in 1990. His only time spent in the minors was a brief stint in 2005 while with the Red Sox. He played 111 games in 1990 with the Jays, hitting .265 with 14 home runs.
The fact that Olerud became an above-average major leaguer directly after being drafted is almost unheard of; the majority of drafted players never play a big league game. Olerud slowly became one of the best hitters in the world, improving his plate discipline and power.
In 1993, he had a legendary season, hitting .363 with a 1.072 OPS. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was staggering, taking 114 free passes while striking out only 65 times. Jays fans often forget that Olerud was easily the best hitter on that championship team.
Finding the best hitter on a championship team in the third round is a major steal.
The only other first baseman taken in 1989 with a higher career WAR than Olerud was future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas
Orlando Hudson: 1,280th, 1997
Orlando Hudson is the ultimate draft day steal for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Whereas John Olerud was drafted fairly high, the "O-Dog" was picked a staggering 1,280th overall.
Issues surrounding the length of the June draft aside, Hudson is a massive outlier. Between 1990 and 1999, only 16 players drafted in the 43rd round played more than one major league game.
Of those 16 players, Hudson has easily the highest career WAR at 30.6. Funnily enough, the second-highest WAR belongs to David DeJesus, taken one spot after Hudson in 1997.
Like the few 43rd-rounders that eventually make the major leagues, Hudson took some time to develop. Hudson always hit well and only ever moved up through the minors. After hitting above .300 for two years in Triple-A, Hudson had earned a call-up.
He became the everyday second baseman the following year.
Hudson was not the most spectacular hitter, but he got on base and had nice pop for an undersized second baseman. His lowest season average with the Jays was .268. He's always been known for his defence, winning four Gold Gloves, one with the Jays in 2005.
While he became a two-time All-Star with Arizona, Hudson was one of the more popular Blue Jays of the 2000s and for good reason: You just don't find an 11-year major league veteran in the 43rd round very often.
Hudson ranks second in Career WAR amongst shortstops drafted in 1997 behind Chase Utley (76th overall) and ahead of Michael Young (149th), Chone Figgins (132nd) and Adam Kennedy (20th)