College arms highlight Jays' Draft
Jenkins first hurler taken in first round since Romero
TORONTO -- Before the Draft began, Blue Jays scouting director Jon Lalonde spoke of the depth of pitching talent that exists among this year's crop of young players, and the Jays' selections in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft reflected that, starting with the team's No. 1 pick.
The Jays used their first pick in this year's Draft on a college arm for the first time since choosing Ricky Romero sixth overall in 2005, selecting 21-year-old Chad Jenkins, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound right-hander from Kennesaw State, at No. 20. His pitching style -- Jenkins throws fastballs in the 90-94 mph range with hard, heavy sink, and induces a lot of ground balls -- is sometimes compared to that of Roy Halladay, the Jays ace who Jenkins grew up idolizing.
The Jays chose another college pitcher with their second pick -- 37th overall, received as compensation when departing pitcher A.J. Burnett signed with the Yankees as a free agent -- British Columbia native James Paxton, a left-hander at the University of Kentucky.
While the Jays ended up with a lot of college arms, it was a matter of making the most out of what was available rather than a conscious effort to stock up pitchers who can rise quickly through the system, and Lalonde was pleased with the balance the club was able to achieve with this year's picks.
"I think we did get a nice balance between college and high school," Lalonde said, "and a lot of that is circumstance. if your board falls a certain way it's quite possible you could have a miuch heavier college or high school mix.
"Right out of the chute you get two college pitchers, which I think sets you up well for other things where you can take some younger kids. Maybe the spotlight isn't on them quite as bright if those college guys can kind of go out and carry the day for a little while."
In the following 49 rounds of the Draft, the Jays would go on to select 20 more pitchers from four-year or junior colleges. In fact, the Jays used half of their picks before the third and final day of the Draft on college pitchers.
"I really felt going in that that was going to be an area of depth," Lalonde said. "That being said, we don't want to force anything where you start trying to dictate the talent that's in the Draft. You kind of just let the talent come to you."
The Jays took 37 college players in total, including 15 position players, starting off with shortstop Ryan Goins, the team's fourth-round pick. The former pitcher hit an impressive 22 home runs playing for Dallas Baptist University this year.
The club added another three college shortstops, plus a trio of catchers, a pair of first baseman, a second and a third baseman and four outfielders.
The Blue Jays have gone heavy on college players -- who may not always have a high ceiling as high schoolers, but are less risky investments -- since J.P. Ricciardi took over as general manager in 2002, although the organization has been more inclined to take chances on prep players with high draft picks in recent years.
The Jays chose only 15 of their 52 picks this year out of high school -- nearly one third. But from 2002 to 2008, just over one fifth of the team's picks were high schoolers.
"I think in some ways the last couple of years our system's been in transition," Lalonde said. "Whenever we were going more heavily with college players, our system maybe got to be a little bit older. So the last couple of years we've tried to inject some youth, some upside, some speed.
"This year I think we've reached the point now where it's just about balance -- don't reach for anything, just take the most talented players we can. I think that kind of best describes how we handled things this year, and how I hope to handle things going forward."
The first high school player to hear his name called by the Jays this year was left-hander Jake Eliopoulos, a high school pitcher from Newmarket, Ontario, who plays in the Intercounty Baseball League and was selected with Toronto's second-round pick. The club's next selection was Jake Barrett, a hard-throwing right-hander from Desert Ridge High School in Arizona, who has not yet turned 18.
The Jays' selection of back-to-back prep pitchers in single-digit rounds of the Draft is a departure from what the team has done in recent Drafts. The club has tended to avoid using early picks on high school pitchers, since arms so young are so far away from making it to the Majors that it's hard to predict just how they'll turn out.
This year, the Jays chose eight high school pitchers -- seven right-handers and a southpaw -- double the four they drafted last year. What's more notable, though, is where in the Draft they were chosen.
After using second- and third-round picks to select high school pitchers, the Jays took another pair of them on the second day of this year's Draft, taking righties Andrew Hutchison and Kurt Giller in the 15th and 21st rounds, respectively. In 2008, after taking right-hander Dustin Antolin in the 18th round, the Jays did not select another high school pitcher until the final day -- more than 1000 players into the Draft.
Lalonde attributed the willingness to take risks on high school pitchers to the organization's ability to cut down on that risk by ensuring young players get the guidance they need to develop into successful professional players.
"I think it's just a recognition of the quality people we have in the minor leagues as far as player development," Lalonde said. "Dane Johnson heads up our Minor League pitching program, we have outstanding pitching coaches at every level, and this is just a recognition of them, and what we believe they can do with some really talented young arms that are going to need time and patience and nurturing.
"I think those guys can put those players in a position to succeed in an environment where they can move at a pace that's appropriate."
Blue Jays -- Top five selections
|20||RHP||Stephen Jenkins||Kennesaw St U|
|37||LHP||James Paxton||U Kentucky|
|68||LHP||Jake Eliopoulos||Sacred Heart Catholic HS|
|99||RHP||Jake Barrett||Desert Ridge HS|
|104||CF||Jacob Marisnick||Riverside Poly HS|
|Complete Blue Jays Draft results >|
The Jays added seven position players out of high school to go along with their eight pitchers -- a catcher, two infielders, and four outfielders. The club's highest-picked high school hitter was 18-year-old Jacob Marisnick, an outfielder from California who the Jays will have to lure away from the University of Oregon, as Marisnick has signed a letter of intent to play there.
Canada's only Major League team stocked up on home-grown talent in the later rounds, using six of their last 11 picks to draft Canadians -- including two from Toronto in 17-year-old shortstop Maxx Tissenbaum and 18-year-old right-hander Jeffrey Gibbs.
"There certainly was an emphasis on that towards the end of the day," Lalonde said. "We want to make sure that we do a good job in our backyard, there's no question about it.
"We drafted some young men later on that obviously we want to watch play this summer and the fact that a lot of them are local helps. In some cases, I'm sure we won't sign all of those players, but we'd like to keep tabs on them.
"Worst case scenario, [we] send them to school as drafted players knowing that they have the Blue Jays, with a pat on the back, sending them on their way."
Erika Gilbert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.