Jays to seek best available picks early
Club has five of first 104 selections in First-Year Player Draft
TORONTO -- Trying to predict who might fall to the later stages of the First-Year Player Draft can be difficult, even for the experts within a team's front office. That being the case, the Blue Jays might simply aim for the best player still on the board when the 20th overall pick comes up on Tuesday night.
"Even when we got Aaron Hill," said Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi, referring to when the club used the 13th pick in the 2003 Draft to grab the second baseman, "we were sitting there saying, 'Is he going to get to us?' So, 20 is way down there, believe it or not.
"We're trying to look at the big picture. We've got five of the top 104, so that's pretty good. We've just got to try to maximize it."
Two years ago, the Blue Jays had a similar lot of picks within the first few rounds and the team varied the type of players it selected. Toronto may again try to mix up its selections, pursuing collegiate arms while also keeping an open-mind about adding high school athletes.
MLB.com will offer live coverage and analysis of the entire First-Year Player Draft on June 9-11. MLB Network will broadcast the first round at 6 p.m. ET on June 9 from its Studio 42 in Secaucus, N.J., and those 32 selections also will be simulcast live on MLB.com.
Beginning with the 33rd pick, up-to-the-minute on-air coverage from the remaining rounds will shift exclusively to MLB.com, where host Vinny Micucci will be joined by MLB.com Draft expert Jonathan Mayo and Major League Scouting Bureau director Frank Marcos.
Once the first night is done, the Draft will continue with Rounds 4-30, via conference call from MLB headquarters in New York, at noon on June 10. Rounds 31-50 will be on June 11, starting at 11:30 a.m.
Here's a glance at what the Blue Jays have in store as the First-Year Player Draft approaches:
In about 50 words
This year's Draft is San Diego State right-hander Stephen Strasburg and everyone else. Ricciardi joked earlier this week that he hopes Toronto never lands a No. 1 pick due to the type of money Strasburg could command. Jays have five selections -- two compensatory picks -- within the first three rounds.
"It's not like the NFL. In the NFL, you get those guys right away. In ours, it's four or five years away, so we have to take the best available player. Our system is in pretty good shape. You can never have enough pitching, so we'd like to add pitching any way we could. They say college-wise, it's a pitching-strong draft." -- Ricciardi, on addressing organizational needs
It's tough to nail down which player the Blue Jays will land with the 20th pick. An intriguing possibility is University of Kentucky left-hander James Paxton, who was born in Richmond, British Columbia. The fact that Paxton is a Scott Boras client pretty much takes the Jays out of the mix, though. If the Jays want to go for a collegiate arm, other options could include righty Drew Storen (Stanford) or righty Chad Jenkins (Kennesaw State). Position players who could be available and tempting with pick No. 20 are catcher Tony Sanchez (Boston College) or outfielders Tim Wheeler (Sacramento State) and A.J. Pollock (Notre Dame).
As Ricciardi noted, pitching is always a priority for the Blue Jays, who know that developing their own arms is essential for an organization that can't blow free-agent arms away with huge contract offers every offseason. The Jays have good catching depth in the Minor Leagues and some infielders developing nicely. Last June, Toronto tried to add speed to its sytem by identifying young, athletic players throughout the Draft.
Since Ricciardi took over as the Blue Jays' general manager prior to the 2002 season, the club has leaned heavily toward selecting college players over high schoolers in the Draft. As players have climbed through the Minor League ranks in recent years, Toronto has shown a willingness to grab a few high school position players in the early rounds.
The Blue Jays still tend to avoid high school pitchers in the early portion of the Draft, though. Ricciardi views high school arms as a large risk and the organization has had success with selecting college pitchers. Ricciardi said the team might be more open to taking high school pitchers as long-term projects now that the upper tiers of the farm system are well stocked with arms.
"If you look at us, whether we've been lucky or whether we've been fortunate," Ricciardi said, "college pitching has done well for us. It's gotten here quick and it's allowed us to sustain losing what we lost. So, it's a big leap of faith taking a high school pitcher. For all the good ones you see up here, the wayside is full of the ones that never make it.
"I think we'd probably be a little bit more inclined to maybe look at it now, but in the past we haven't. We have some pitching here, so we have a little bit more time to let those guys develop. Even last year's Draft, we took a lot of high school kids who are probably going to play in [Class] A ball for two or three years. We know that."
Recent top picks
On Opening Day, the Blue Jays had seven of their former first-round picks on their roster: Left fielder Travis Snider (2006), left-hander Ricky Romero (2005), lefty David Purcey (2004), Hill (2003), right fielder Alex Rios (1999), center fielder Vernon Wells (1997) and ace Roy Halladay (1995).
Here's how Toronto's most recent first-round draftees have fared so far:
2008: First baseman David Cooper (17th overall in last June's Draft) is currently at Double-A New Hampshire and was hitting .245 with two home runs and 18 RBIs through 52 games. In his professional debut in '08, Cooper hit .333 with five homers, 51 RBIs, a .399 on-base percentage and a .502 slugging percentage between stints with three Class A affiliates (Auburn, Lansing and Dunedin).
2007: Third baseman Kevin Ahrens (16th overall) and catcher J.P. Arencibia (21st overall) were added in the first round of the '07 Draft. Arencibia, who hit .298 with 27 homers and 105 RBIs with Class A Dunedin and New Hampshire last year, has advanced to Triple-A Las Vegas this year. He's in the plans as the Jays' everyday catcher in the near future. Ahrens, 20, is currently with Class A Dunedin and was hitting .207 through 38 games.
2006: The Jays selected Snider out of high school with the 14th overall pick in the '06 Draft and he quickly soared up the organizational ladder. At 20 years old, Snider made his debut with the Jays last August. In 157 games between four levels in '08, Snider hit .279 with 25 homers and 104 RBIs. Snider made Toronto's Opening Day roster as a left fielder this season, but was recently sent to Triple-A for more development after some early-season struggles.
Second baseman Brad Emaus has made quite an impression on the organization since being selected in the 11th round of the 2007 Draft. This past spring, Emaus led all Toronto hitters with 13 RBIs and he finished hitting .306 with four homers and five doubles in 24 games. That followed a .333 showing in 26 games over the offseason in the Hawaii Winter League. This season, the 23-year-old Emaus -- a product of Tulane University -- was batting .283 with six home runs and 34 RBIs through 52 games with Double-A New Hampshire.
Robert Ray, who was a seventh-round pick by the Jays in the '05 Draft, had doubts about his future in baseball a few years back. Surgery on his right shoulder three years ago didn't allow Ray to log his first full professional season until 2008. This spring, a host of young pitchers were in the mix for starting jobs with Toronto and Ray's name never came up. Then, in early May, Ray received an unexpected promotion to the Jays to help a depleted rotation. He made four starts -- winning his first game on May 16 after holding the White Sox to no earned runs over eight innings. Ray was later placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right shoulder strain, but he is now firmly on Toronto's radar.
In The Show
Besides Snider, the lone player selected by the Jays in the past three Drafts to make it to the Major League level is left-hander Brett Cecil. Toronto picked Cecil 38th overall in the 2007 Draft and he went 9-5 with a 2.41 ERA in his ascent through four levels over the past two seasons. Cecil, 22, was in the running for a rotation job with the Jays this past spring and was promoted in early May. In four outings before being sent back to Triple-A Las Vegas, the southpaw went 2-1 with a 4.38 ERA. On May 10, Cecil blanked the A's on the road for eight innings en route to his first career win.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.