Among the big four team sports played in North America, none have an entry draft that compare in size and uncertainty to Major League Baseball.
When considering this fact I was always dumbfounded by former Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi’s rigid draft philosophy of ignoring high school prospects in favor of college players. Each team has 50 rounds to draft players and J.P. decides to all but eliminate half the talent pool.
Over the course of eight drafts, Ricciardi took a college player with his first pick in seven of them. Two have made significant impacts (Romero and Hill) whereas the others are either middling pros or have completely washed out altogether.
The one high school prospect, Travis Snider, has tantalized us with his sky high potential. If his recent AAA demotion fixes his approach then he may end up our best this decade, regardless of round.
As for this article, I’ve compiled a massive catalogue of data to determine how Toronto fared overall in each draft year since 2000. I did my best to correlate it into a succinct assessment of each class of players.
Comments are welcome.
First Pick: OF Miguel Negron (who?) - First round, 18th overall
Best Pick: SP Dustin McGowan (pictured) First round supplemental, 33rd overall
Late Round Gem: RP Vinnie Chulk - 12th round, 358th overall
Total Draftees to Play at least One Game in the Show: Four
Miguel Negron was touted as a tools-y outfielder with a promising speed/power combo much like current stars Carlos Gonzales and Carl Crawford.
Unfortunately, his power never developed as he's hit a measly 50 home runs in 11 minor league seasons. That would be OK if he evolved in to an elite base stealer but, alas, 146 swipes while being caught 83 times is not what then GM Gord Ash had envisioned for his prized pick.
McGowan, however, was on his way to becoming a rotational stalwart and possible ace before injuries derailed his career. Not having pitched since 2008, McGowan is currently making what could be his final comeback attempt, this time as a reliever and possible closer candidate. Best of luck to a great kid.
Vinnie Chulk was a serviceable reliever for the better parts of six seasons with Toronto, San Francisco and Cleveland. After a two year stint in Japan, Chulk is back stateside pitching for Oakland's AAA affiliate.
Fun Fact: Current Blue Jay and reigning HR champ Jose Bautista was drafted in the 20th round, 599th overall and Canadian Jason Bay was taken in the 22nd round, 645th overall.
First Pick: OF Gabe Gross - First round, 15th overall
Best Pick: SP/RP Brandon League (pictured) - Second round, 59th overall
Late Round Gem: None
Total Draftees to Play at least One Game in the Show: Seven—115 total games after the first two picks.
This was a bit of a wasted draft. Gabe Gross and Miguel Negron were supposed to form the nucleus of a dynamic outfield along with then young star, Shannon Stewart.
However, a career slash line of .239/40/186 over seven seasons and 657 games just doesn't cut it.
Brandon League has had a significant impact on the Blue Jays these last two years. Although no longer a Jay, he was the centerpiece of the trade that brought Brandon Morrow to Toronto from Seattle prior to the 2010 season.
Unfortunately for Gord Ash, this would be his final draft as he was fired after the 2001 season and replaced by wunderkind J.P. Ricciardi. Clearly, he would right the ship...
First Pick: SS Russ Adams - First round, 14th overall
Best Pick: SP David Bush (pictured) - Second round, 55th overall
Total Draftees to Play at least One Game in the Show: Eight
This was the draft that was supposed to announce the arrival of the J.P. Ricciardi era. Umm... better luck next time?
Russ Adams has turned out to be a disaster. After a somewhat promising 2005 campaign that saw him hit .259/8/63 with 11 stolen bases, he quickly flamed out and is no longer in the league.
Although that's much less than expected of a second-round pick.
Fun Fact: The next three picks after Russ Adams were, in order, Scott Kazmir (HS), Nick Swisher and Cole Hamels (HS). Maybe J.P. shouldn't have fired all those high school scouts.
First Pick: SS/2B Aaron Hill (pictured) - First round, 13th overall
Best Pick: SP Shaun Marcum - Third round, 80th overall
Late Round Gem: 3B Ryan Roberts - 18th round, 530th overall
Total Draftees to Play at least One Game in the Show: Seven
In 2002, J.P. Ricciardi waited until the seventh round to draft a high school player. This draft he waited until the 19th round. Coincidentally, this ended up one his better drafts.
Hill, for all his struggles the past season and a half, is still an All-Star-caliber second baseman. When you combine the 2009 and 2010 seasons, only Dan Uggla's 64 home runs is better than Hill's 62. There really wasn't anyone else the Jays could have taken at 13 either. Unless you'd prefer career utility man Connor Jackson, who was taken 19th.
Overall, this was a weak first round with only Hill, Ricky Weeks, Nick Markakis and Carlos Quentin making significant impacts eight years later.
Our best pick of this draft was easily Shaun Marcum who we snagged in the third round. Our 2010 season opening pitcher had some injury woes but he was a warrior when healthy and both a fan and clubhouse favorite.
He pitched 600 innings in Toronto and won 37 games. However, this offseason he was traded to Milwaukee for top infield prospect Brett Lawrie. So far in Milwaukee, Marcum is off to a 5-1 start with a 2.54/1.059 slash line and a career best K/BB rate of 4.15.
Ryan Roberts is a 2011 fantasy darling after starting the season .283/7/17 for Arizona at a stat starved position (2B). Doing little to nothing for both Toronto and Texas, Arizona signed him prior to the 2009 season and has given the young man an opportunity to prove himself.
Not bad for an 18th-round pick.
Fun Fact: Current Jay farmhand/reclamation project Chad Cordero was drafted seven picks after Aaron Hill.
First Pick: SP/RP David Purcey - First round, 16th overall
Best Pick: OF/1B Adam Lind (pictured) - Third round, 83rd overall
Late Round Gem: RP Casey Janssen and Jesse Litsch - Fourth round 117th and 24th round 717th round respectively
Total Draftees to Play at least One Game in the Show: Six
For those keeping score, Ricciardi waited until the 16th round to draft a high school player.
Remember when San Diego took Matt Bush first overall ahead of Justin Verlander? Good times. The Jays didn't fare much better with David Purcey.
He failed as a starter so Toronto converted him to a reliever. That didn't work so we traded him to Oakland last month for Danny Farquhar (who we traded to Oakland for Rajai Davis coincidentally).
For the Jays, Adam Lind was clearly the prize of this draft. Since 2009, Lind has hit 65 home runs and 213 runs batted in. This includes 2011 as Lind has opened the season hitting .313/7/27 in only 32 games played. It appears he has turned the corner on his disappointing 2010 season.
Janssen and Litsch are true pros who have provided solid contributions as a middle reliever and back end starter respectively.
First Pick: SP Ricky Romero - First round, sixth overall
Best Pick: SP Ricky Romero (pictured)
Late Round Gem: SP Robert Ray - Seventh round 206th overall
Total Draftees to Play at least One Game in the Show: Three
This draft begins and ends with Ricky Romero as far Toronto is concerned. If not for his emergence in 2009, the Blue Jays would be left with Ricky Ray’s 30 innings of mediocre work across two seasons as the only draftee to hit the bigs.
Speaking of Romero’s emergence, prior to that he was widely considered to be a bust. He lacked control, allowed too many hits and his strike out rate didn’t really hint at future potential.
Never mind being labeled as the guy drafted one pick after Ryan Braun and one pick before Troy Tulowitzki.
In spite of the talk, Ricky Romero soldiered on. After a relatively strong finish to his 2008 season in AAA, Romero came to camp the following spring hell bent for leather.
Rookie numbers of 178 innings with a 4.30/1.522 slash line improved to 210 innings and 3.73/1.290 in 2010. So far this season, Romero has sharpened his skills even further as his 3.35/1.196 slash line illustrates. He’s also steadily improved his K:BB ratio from 1.78 in 2009 to 2.83 this year.
Fun Fact: Brett Wallace, once a Jay as part of the Halladay trade and now a Houston Astro, was actually drafted by Toronto in the 42nd round, 1253rd overall but didn’t sign. He was drafted again by St. Louis in 2008, although this time in the first round.
First Pick: OF Travis Snider - First round, 14th overall
Best Pick: Travis Snider (pictured)
Late Round Gem: SP/RP Brad Mills - 22nd round, 660th overall
Total Draftees to Play at least One Game in the Show: Two
Low and behold, J.P. Ricciardi actually selected a high school kid in the first round. Although perhaps it's no coincidence that current GM Alex Anthopoulos was promoted to VP of Baseball Operations a few short months prior to draft day.
Regardless, if not for Snider this would be another wasted draft class—Snider was the ONLY signed pick to play a game in the majors five years later.
Like Romero, Travis Snider was considered by many to be a bust. However, unlike Romero, Snider was once an instant minor league star who blazed a trail through four levels to make his debut in 2008. Not surprisingly, Snider has struggled with pitch selection and strikeouts and is now in AAA Las Vegas working on his approach.
Although, when you consider that 13 of the first 30 picks in 2006 were high school players, and until last year only Snider and Clayton Kershaw had made it the show, it's clear that he’s still young and needs a much longer leash. A lot of these kids (Eric Hosmer, Hank Conger, Aaron Crow etc) are making their rookie debuts this season whereas Snider has been here since 2008.
Fun Fact: Current Jay farmhand and occasional call up Brad Mills was selected by Toronto in the 22nd round but didn’t sign. Toronto got their man though as they drafted him again the next year in the fourth round and promptly signed him.
First Pick: 3B Kevin Ahrens - First round, 16th overall
Best Pick: SP Brett Cecil (pictured) - First supplemental, 38th overall and C J.P. Arencibia first round, 21st overall
Late Round Gem: SP/RP Mark Rzepczynsky - Fifth round, 175th overall
Total Draftees to Play at least One Game in the Show: Five (including Kevin Ahrens)
Remember Justin Speier? Me neither. Apparently he was once a Blue Jay, lost to free agency prior to the 2007 season and Toronto was compensated with a supplemental first-round draft pick. We then used that pick to select Brett Cecil.
Thanks for the good times Speiersie!
Toronto finally got some traction in 2007 as three draftees are current Jays—four if you count Brad Mills who usually gets a call when injuries strike the big club.
J.P. Arencibia is asserting himself well as he’s on pace for a 25/75 rookie season and the aforementioned Brett Cecil led Toronto in wins last year with 15.
Mark Rzepczynsky couldn’t make the club as a starter but, as a lefty specialist out of the pen, he’s been lights out.
If only we didn’t miss so badly on Kevin Ahrens. I’m sure he’s a perfectly fine young man but the supposed “next Kelly Gruber” is more like the next Miguel Negron.
Fun Fact: Current blue chip Blue Jay prospect Travis D’Arnaud was drafted by the Phillies one pick before Cecil.
First Pick: 1B David Cooper (Pictured) - First round, 17th overall
Best Pick: OF Eric Thames - Seventh round, 219th overall
Late Round Gem: SS Tyler Pastornicki - Fifth round, 159th overall
Total Draftees to Play at least One Game in the Show: One (ask me two weeks ago and the answer is zero as Cooper was called up).
This is where analyzing drafts gets a bit dicey. Any player selected in 2008 has really only had two seasons to prove himself and most kids need more time than that.
See Romero, Ricky.
However, this has turned out to be a decent draft for Toronto. First-round pick David Cooper started his minor league career off slow but, after destroying AAA pitching with a .381 batting average and a sky high 1.021 OPS, Toronto called him up after the club was ravaged by injuries. He’s since been returned to the minors but he showed a lot of patience at the plate and it seems a matter of when, not if, Cooper makes it back.
The next few picks haven’t impressed but fifth-rounder Tyler Pastornicky is a speedy SS with serious MLB potential. He’s since been traded to Atlanta as part of the Yunel Escobar deal but he’s the real deal.
Two rounds later, the Jays selected Eric Thames out of Pepperdine. He struggled with injuries and inconsistency in 2009 but in 2010 he displayed a nice power/speed combo with a slash line of .288/25/104/8/95 in only 130 games.
This season, he’s been absolutely crushing the ball to the tune of .342/6/30 with a 1.029 OPS in just 36 games. Ya, he’s good.
Update: With Adam Lind going on the DL, Toronto has just called up Eric Thames.
First Pick: SP Chad Jenkins (Pictured) - First round, 20th overall
Best Pick: OF Jake Marisnick - Third round, 104th overall
Late Round Gem: SP Drew Hutchinson - 15th round, 460th overall
Total Draftees to Play at least One Game in the Show: Zero
It’s still early, but for Toronto the 2009 draft looks like a bit of a dog’s breakfast.
First-round pick Chad Jenkins has struggled mightily and the next three players the Jays drafted all refused to sign, including Canadians James Paxton and Jake Eliopoulos.
However, with the 103rd pick in the draft, Toronto selected toolsy outfielder Jake Marisnick.
Not surprisingly, his power hasn’t developed yet but he showed a lot of speed with 23 stolen bases last year, and his defense already plays at a MLB level. Marisnick needs a few more years but he looks to be worth the wait.
Fifteenth-rounder Drew Hutchinson also looks like a gem as he has asserted himself immediately. In 68 innings of A ball, Hutchinson mowed down batters with a 2.49/1.019 slash line and a very impressive 3.32 K:BB ratio.
First Pick: SP Deck McGuire (Pictured) - First round, 11th overall
Best Pick: SP Aaron Sanchez - First round, 34th overall and RP/CL Asher Wojciechowski, first round supplemental, 41st overall
Late Round Gem: OF/LF Marcus Knecht - Third round, 113th overall.
Total Draftees to Play at least One Game in the Show: Zero
There is a lot of excitement surrounding Alex Anthopoulos' first ever draft as Blue Jays General Manager. Toronto had a whopping eight picks in the first hundred and, of their top 15 selections, they signed 14 of them.
First-rounder Deck McGuire is the safe pick. The polished college arm with a nice 91-94 mph fastball and a heavy cutter has been impressive so far in high A Dunedin as his 2.32/1.031 line and 8.2 K/9 clearly show.
However, the largest buzz surrounds second pick Aaron Sanchez. The lanky California righty has been annihilating the hitters he’s faced thus far with a 2.13 ERA and a colossal 13.3 K/9 ratio.
Former Toronto pitching guru/coach Mel Queen even went so far to claim Sanchez is a better prospect than former pupil Chris Carpenter was at that age.
Wow, no pressure kid.
The pick I’m really excited about is Toronto native Marcus Knecht. In only 328 minor league at bats, he’s gone .287/8/50/53/9 to go along with outstanding defense in the outfield.
Fun Fact: Fourteen of Toronto’s first 20 picks were high school prospects. Meet the new boss, nothing like the old boss.