Jays Journal Draft Coverage: Reviewing 2010 Traits for Jays

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The draft is edging ever so close and I’ve been reading all about players from coast-to-coast in order to get a feel for which players the Jays may have interest in, if they’re available when the Jays are on the board. Before we do that, however, I thought it would be interesting to recap what the first draft ever headed by Alex Anthopoulos looked like, whether or not some traits are noticeable, and whether or not they are “repeatable” traits or one time events. Once I go through those, I’ll be bringing the hitters list out (top 10 possible targets), and then bringing out my personal top 12 players that I believe the Jays could or should target on draft day in “Top 50 Jays Prospects Jays Journal Edition” style. Where they’re from, what they’ve done, anything and everything I can find on those players will be included. Hopefully I can land a few hits and enjoy watching them flourish as Jays prospects.

For today, here are the 2010 Jays Draft top 5 noticeable traits:

1 – Big Spending:

  • New Era: This is all you really need to know about how aggressive Alex Anthopoulos has decided to make the Jays in the draft: under JP Ricciardi, the Jays spent $4,359,900 on signing draft picks in 2008, and spent $4,895,200 on signing 2009 draft picks. So what did Alex do his first season at the helm? He spent $11,594,400 despite not having a top 10 pick to sign to a massive contract, as the other two teams that spent more were forced to do (Pittsburgh and Jameson Taillon, Washington and Bryce Harper). Otherwise, the Jays were the absolute biggest spenders and were definitely the most aggressive in getting their picks under contract. (all figures from Baseball America)
  • Ongoing? I don’t see a reason that this trend won’t continue. The Jays saved money by dealing Vernon Wells, got Jose Bautista on a very cheap deal, and are well below their normal operational budget in terms of player salaries. If anything, the Jays could outspend their 2010 total by a good amount. The catch is that it doesn’t mean they’ll target those expensive players early. In 2010, they selected Noah Syndergaard, a relatively inexpensive signing, well before selecting Richard “Dickie” Thon and being forced to spend $1,500,000 to get him under contract. So as much as we’d like them to pick the most expensive player each time, because it usually indicates a great deal of talent, that may not always be the case early on in the draft.

2 – Pitching Heavy:

  • Top Picks, All Pitching: The Jays selected pitchers with their first 5 picks, and with 13 of their top 20 picks. If that’s not enough evidence that the Jays are serious about turning to pitching as their forte, I don’t know what is. In 2010, they selected pitchers with their 4 top picks, but only signed 1 of them for some reason or another (inexplicable really). They also selected pitchers with 12 of their top 20 picks, but only signed 9 of them. The trend is still evident over the last 2 seasons: draft pitchers early, draft pitchers often.
  • Ongoing? Definitely. As much as I’d like to believe that the Jays could pile up on top-notch bats, chances are that those worth drafting ahead of pitchers that have as much quality as required in a #2-3 pitcher will be gone well before the Jays draft with the 21st pick. Therefore, I suspect that a similar situation could play itself out as what occurred in 2010: the Jays draft pitching first, with at least their top 3 picks, and will follow that up with aggressive drafting for prep bats that have very high ceilings.

3 – No Catchers Included:

  • Only 3 catchers drafted in 2010, none signed: That says it all, really. Why this happened is self-explanatory when you look at the catching depth in this organization. J. P. Arencibia, Travis d’Arnaud, A.J. Jimenez, Carlos Perez, Santiago Nessy…….’Nough said.
  • Ongoing? Yes. I sincerely doubt that the Jays will go as aggressively as selecting a catcher during the first 10 rounds of this draft. They could take a shot sometime later on in the draft if they see value, but that seems to be as much as we could expect. It’s a good thing, because it allows the organization to concentrate on other positions where they are arguably weaker overall.

4 – Concentrated on middle of the field (P, C, MI and CF):

  • The few “outsiders”: Only 7 of the 56 picks the Jays made in 2010 were positions other than Pitcher, Catcher, Middle-Infielders or Centre-Fielders. Not only were so few selected overall, but only 1, Kellen Sweeney – a player expected to shift to 2B – was selected in the top 22 picks. Therefore, it’s fair to say that the Jays are concentrating on getting as much talent as possible within the middle of the field, where most people would tell you the game is played.
  • Ongoing? Again….yes! When you talk about baseball with the most experienced people in the game, one trend that continues to repeat itself is the emphasis on the middle of the field. The importance of the catcher calling the game and his impact on the pitching staff, the pitching, the range and double-play abilities of the middle-infielders, and the range-speed-and arm of the centre-fielder can dramatically improve a team’s chances to make the playoffs. They are also the hardest positions to fill with above-average players because of their level of difficulty. Besides, you can always shift a CF to LF or RF if he slows down, you can always shift a 2B or SS to 1B or 3B if he slows down, and you can always move a catcher to 1B if his knees give out. You can’t do much with a RF or LF that fails. Therefore, I’m fairly certain that this is one trend we can count on being the staple of the Alex Anthopoulos era.

5 – Late Round Over-Slots:

  • Money well spent: The Jays spent most of their money on paying over-slot money to players that otherwise may have waited one more year to sign. Giving $1,500,000 to a 5th rounder, $230,000 to a 9th rounder, $250,000 to 15th-17th-and 28th rounders, and on, and on. The Jays simply said: we want these players, and we’re going to spend to keep them once we draft them. In fact, rumours circulated that the Jays offered “well over $1 million” to sign Kris Bryant, who was their 18th rd pick. If that was a fact, then the Jays were even more aggressive than already thought. To me, this strategy makes perfect sense when you consider just how many times the Jays have selected in the top 3 picks since 1983……NEVER!!! In fact, they’ve only had a top 10 pick 4 times in the last 28 years! Talk about giving teams like the Rays an advantage. They’ve had 10 top 10 picks in the last 14 years!!! No wonder they’re finishing in 1st place in the A.L. East despite a modest budget.
  • Ongoing? What choice do the Jays have? They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. The rock being the budgets spent by the Red Sox and Yankees – as well as the Orioles once free agents start taking the money they’re willing to dole out on big ticket players like Mark Teixeira (only when it makes sense), and the hard place being their constantly low draft positions. It’s pretty ridiculous when you think about it. With hard slot money being so close to becoming a reality, the Jays will be forced to rely on drafting the right players, signing international free agents, keeping as many star players around as possible with “reasonable” contracts, and upping the budget to $100-120 million or more in the very near future. Without the ability to get top end talent in the later rounds, their competitive options are dwindling, so I think they’ll be taking FULL advantage of this option in 2011. They could set a record that could last quite a few years in draft expenditures in 2011 if my expectations are correct, because hard slotting could restrict spending in the draft in the future.

So after looking at the 5 traits I listed above, what can we deduce overall as we head towards the 2011 draft? We can expect the Jays to continue to draft lots of pitchers, to continue to spend big money, and to concentrate on the middle-infield and CF if they’re not drafting pitchers. With so much pitching talent in this year’s draft, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Jays draft pitchers with their top 5-6 picks once again. Alex Anthopoulos wants a freight train to continue shipping championships to Toronto. With the best pitching in all of MLB, he should have no problem making that train become a reality, and it will likely remain the focus of the draft philosophy for years to come.

That’s my take on it. I could very well be way off-base, but I’ll be very surprised if most of the traits listed above don’t continue in 2011.

-MG

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