The Blue Jays should have some interesting draft opportunities at #22 and #28 in the upcoming MLB draft.
This article is the second of three on the subject of the Blue Jays’ 2017 draft. In the first, I discussed the strategic questions that Toronto management should consider. In this article, I discuss the players identified on the various mock draft sites as potential Jays’ candidates. And in the final article, I will identify some of the “dark horse” candidates that the Jays might consider.
To get an idea of the players that the Jays might select with their picks at #22 and #28, I took a look at the various mock drafts available (with a shout-out to the MLB Mock Draft Database for their summary). My criteria were that the site had to provide a prediction for at least the 22nd pick, and that the prediction was published in the last 30 days. I found a total of 16 predictions, as follows:
There were five players who were identified two times:
- Evan White, a potential future gold-glove 1B from the University of Kentucky
- Griffin Canning, a legitimate four-pitch RHP from UCLA
- Alex Lange, a potential #2 starter from Louisiana State
- Wil Crowe, an advanced college arm from USC, and
- David Peterson. perhaps the fastest-rising college arm with a 107-6 K:BB ratio
And there were three players who were identified three times: Keston Hiura, Jake Burger, and Nate Pearson.
Keston Hiura (2B/OF, 6’1″ [though some say 5’11] 188lbs, UC Irvine, 20 years old)
Baseball America describes Hiura as one of the toughest calls in the draft. He is described as one of the best college bats in the draft. A few weeks ago, he was batting .402/.546/.668 in 2017 despite suffering from an elbow injury that limited him to DH duties. Many scouts believe that he has the potential to be a plus hitter with plus power at the major league level. As John Sickels put it:
"The numbers aren’t lying: Hiura can hit. He draws unanimous praise for his combination of bat speed and refined hitting approach, projecting to hit for high averages and high OBPs with at least moderate power. He’s shown he can handle both fastballs and breaking stuff and is close to major league ready as a hitter right now."
But Keston suffered an elbow injury in April 2016 and has only slotted in as the DH since then (he had a platelet-rich plasma injection in January, but many teams feel that he will have surgery immediately after the draft – can you say Jeff Hoffman?). Even before the injury, he had only an average throwing arm to go with average speed, so many scouts feel that he will be ultimately destined for left field.
Would the Jays be willing to gamble a first-round pick on a largely hit-only prospect? Hiura’s bat is good – but is it *that* good? And is there any potential for an injury discount ?
Toronto Blue Jays
Jake Burger (3B, 6’2″ 210lbs, Missouri State, 21 years old)
Burger is one of the best power bats in the 2017 draft. And (unusually for power bats) he is not merely a one-dimensional slugger – mlb.com notes that “he controls the strike zone well and makes reliable contact for a slugger, so he should hit for some average as well”.
He is also described as having above average pitch recognition and strike zone awareness.
Burger body is a bit stocky, causing some to question how long he could remain at third base. But as Baseball America
"Missouri State third baseman Jake Burger opened practice showing a plus arm during infield, firing accurate throws from deep down the line and showing impressive movement in every direction despite his thick build"
Not surprisingly, Burger’s running is rated as below average – though not so far below as to be untenable. It is possible that a conditioning program could increase his speed, but it is unlikely that he would ever be faster than average.
As a relatively advanced college bat, Burger might only be ~2 years away from the major leagues. Could he be a bridge from Josh Donaldson to Vlad Guerrero Jr.?
Nate Pearson (RHP, 6’6″ 245lbs, Central Florida JC, 20 years old)
Nate Pearson is an unusual beast. When he graduated high school in 2015, he had a 93 mph fastball … and very little else. He was undrafted, and went to college. There, things started to click in a hurry. As he gained strength, his fastball improved, touching 97 on a regular basis (and hitting 100 mph in one bullpen session). Significantly, Pearson has above-average fastball control – unusual (but highly valuable) for a pitcher of his age. But perhaps even more critical to his development, Pearson developed a changeup that now projects as plus and a slider that has similar upside, and is working on a curve. As one scout put it:
"“He’d show a good breaking ball here and there earlier but he wasn’t always throwing it for strikes,” the scout said. “Now he comes right at you with it. He can throw it for a strike and miss bats. To me, he’s shown enough offspeed and command to be a starter.”"
Nate is still maturing, and so is less polished than many of the other college pitchers available. Further, the level of competition at junior colleges is not as high as in the major university circuits, so it is difficult to determine how much weight to place on his CFJC stats. But a 93-97 mph fastball with good late movement at 20 years old is enough to get him into the conversation.
Nate has shown tremendous progress over the last two years. Would the Jays be willing to gamble on that trend?
The bottom line
Someone once said that the key to a good relationship is finding someone with the faults you are prepared to accept. Every one of these eight players has the potential to be a solid-or-better mlb contributor. But each comes with questions, and with warts. It will be interesting to see which warts the Jays choose to accept.