I was saddened to hear this morning of Alex Anthopoulos’ decision to leave the Blue Jays. I much enjoyed watching “The Ninja” wheeling and dealing, and I wish him the best in his next endeavour (dare I hope for Expos, The Sequel?)
Inevitably with the departure of any executive comes an assessment of his performance. And “A-squared” is no exception. The blogosphere has been buzzing with discussions of his trades, his player development, and his waiver pickups. But one aspect that seems to have received less attention is his drafting. Alex was appointed to the GM position in October 2009, so he had primary responsibility for the 2010-2015 drafts. He clearly had some successes (Marcus Stroman!) as well as some disappointments. But how did he do overall?
Every year, prior to the draft, Baseball America publishes a ranked list of draft prospects. These lists usually turn out, in retrospect, to be roughly consistent with actual team picks (at least in the early rounds), but the predictions are rarely dead on. As a thought experiment, I have taken the Jays’ first round picks for the six years that AA was in charge and compared them to the picks which would have been made if the Jays had just followed the Baseball America list and picked whoever was the highest-ranked player still available.
Some caveats: where a player was injured at the time of the draft, or was considered an exceptionally hard sign, or had other draft-dropping negatives, I have mentioned him but assumed that the Jays would not have drafted him.
The Jays, with the 11th overall pick, took Deck McGuire. When they chose, the top four players on the BA list had already been taken. But the fifth player was still available – a skinny left-handed pitcher from Florida Gulf Coast named Chris Sale. Chris went on to be only the fifth player to play in the majors in the year he was drafted, and was an all-star in 2012-2015.
In 2011 the Jays had the 21st overall pick and chose Tyler Beede, who was ranked 35th by Baseball America (in part because he was expected to be a very tough sign). Sure enough, he did not sign with the Jays. The top player still available from the BA list when the Jays picked was Taylor Guerreri, a right-handed high school pitcher. But Taylor was already on his second high school, due to some off-field “incidents”, and scouts were already questioning his makeup and decision-making. Next on the BA list was Josh Bell (#15), a power OF bat. But Bell was demanding early-first-round money (he was ultimately drafted by Pittsburg, and paid a $5 million bonus – the highest ever paid for a pick outside the first round). So say that the Jays passed on Bell as well. Next on the BA list? The top-ranked high-school lefty prospect in the country – Daniel Norris (who was ultimately drafted by the Jays at #75)
More from Toronto Blue Jays News
- Matt Chapman has been exactly what the Blue Jays needed
- Blue Jays: The goalposts are moving in the right direction
- Single-A Dunedin Blue Jays advance to the Championship Series
- Blue Jays: Comparisons for Alek Manoah’s Second Season
- Blue Jays: Adam Cimber, the unlikely decision King
The Jays had two first-round picks this year: #17 (they chose D.J. Davis) and #22 (Marcus Stroman). When the Jays picked at #17, the top BA player left was #8, Michael Wacha. Michael went on to be drafted by the Cardinals, with whom he was the NLCS MVP in 2013 and an all-star in 2015. And when the Jays picked with #22? The top remaining player on the BA list was … Marcus Stroman, #10.
In 2013, the Jays had only a single first round pick – #10. They used it to draft Phillip Bickford, who ultimately did not sign. The top remaining BA player would have been Braden Shipley. Shipley is currently pitching at AA ball, and was ranked #78 among Baseball America’s Top 100 Midseason Prospects for 2015.
With their first of two first-round picks, the Jays took Jeff Hoffman with pick number nine. The top BA player available? Jeff Hoffman, ranked #6 on the BA list. Had the Jays passed on Hoffman due to the injury concerns, the next available BA player would have been Michael Conforto. Conforto, a power-hitting outfielder, was called up to the Mets in 2015 where he hit .270/.335/.506.
With their second first-rounder, the Jays took Max Pentecost with pick number eleven. At that point, the top BA player available would have been Erick Fedde (#8). But Fedde, like Hoffman, had just undergone Tommy John surgery. Next on the list was Brandon Finnegan (#9). Brandon had missed some time that April with a stiff shoulder, though, so what if the Jays had passed on him too? Next up would have been Trea Turner (#12), a SS who is still in the minors but who was ranked the 9th best prospect in baseball in Baseball American’s 2015 Mid-Season Rankings.
When the Jays picked Jon Harris with the #29 pick in 2015, they passed on several players more highly ranked by BA. But in each case, there was a reason. Kyle Funkhouser (BA #4) was expected to be a tough sign – and in fact, he did not sign when drafted by the Dodgers. Daz Cameron (#6) was reported to be asking for a $4 million signing bonus – which he ultimately got from the Astros. Nathan Kirby (#18) was experiencing arm issues, and ended up needing Tommy John surgery after only five minor league appearances. Michael Matuella (#22) had enormous talent, but had just had (you guessed it) Tommy John surgery, and also had a degenerative back condition. So the highest ranked BA player without any of these concerns was … Jon Harris, at #24.
The bottom line?
In this contest, I would have to give the advantage to Baseball America. A rotation with Sale, Stroman and Wacha – and a Trea Turner almost major-league ready – is the stuff of baseball dreams. And would the Dickey trade have taken place in December 2012 if the Jays had Chris Sale coming off a 4.7 fWAR all-star performance to go with the newly acquired Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle?
But, that said, some have suggested that the non-signings of Beede in 2011 and Bickford in 2013 were intentional – that AA was not excited by the players remaining and so deliberately chose a “hard sign”. His plan (they speculate) was to offer minimal money to those players drafted. If they signed, great. If not, AA got his compensatory pick in the following year, in a draft class that more suited him. If that is the case, then the Marcus Stroman pick is a direct result of this strategy, and the gap becomes a lot less wide.