Blue Jays and the Bloodline Benefits
By Jim Scott
The Blue Jays have had an unusually high number of players who come from professional athlete families. Is this intentional … and if so, is this paradigm justified?
There are roughly 125 million households in the United States, and 1,200 major league ballplayers. So, simplistically, the odds of any random family having a son who is a major league ballplayer is about 100,000 to 1. Why then are sons of pro athletes so common in the majors?
There are many possible reasons. The first is hereditary – most major league ballplayers are exceptional athletes, and it is reasonable to assume that they could pass this genetic advantage to their children. But it goes beyond that. A pro athlete parent is arguably less likely to discourage their children from pursuing a (highly risky) career in pro sports. And as most pro athletes are more affluent than the average, they can provide their children with advantages that average children might not enjoy – not only better coaching, nutrition, and equipment, but access to special opportunities (like how Dante Bichette converted a warehouse into a private exercise facility for his sons, complete with batting cages, a weight room and a basketball court)
Toronto Blue Jays
But where does that benefit end?
Some might argue that by the time a young player has made it to the amateur draft, the impact of these benefits is behind him. His parent’s wealth and famous name are no longer relevant – in fact, having a wealthy family might make him less “hungry” and adversely affect his motivation. And once the player is drafted and in the minors, it is all about performance, not name.
So why, then, do the Jays have so many bloodline players? Is it mere coincidence, or do they see advantages that go beyond the private batting cages? When asked after the 2016 draft, Ross Atkins said that bloodlines were not something the Jays actively pursued, but that they were considered as part of the overall package. So the answer is no … and yes.
How do bloodlines help?
In his 2016 interview, Ross Atkins made the point that many young players have been told for years that playing in the majors is a dream that few realize. For many, this could give rise to an element of doubt (other than the holy-cow-Batman superstars). A Vladimir Guerrero Jr. or Bo Bichette might understand those odds, but they have an example sitting in their living room of how those odds can be overcome. This can give them more confidence – and for a young ballplayer, confidence is key.
It also helps to have someone in your corner who has actually been there. Vlad Guerrero Jr. speaks of how he can call his father when he has questions or concerns, and know that he is getting an honest answer from someone who genuinely knows.
One final advantage is the exposure to the big league world. I have long been a proponent of bringing up young starting pitchers in the bullpen (a la Chris Sale or Pat Hentgen) as a way of easing them into the big league environment. It is hard enough to pitch at the MLB level without also having to deal with the press, the groupies, the would-be business partners, the adulation and everything else that comes along with baseball celebrity. A major league ballpark is unlikely to intimidate a Vladdy, and Bo Bichette was taking batting practice with major leaguers before he was old enough to drive. Players with that kind of experience are less likely to wilt under the MLB spotlight.
Implications for 2018
The Jays enter the 2018 amateur draft with a #12 pick. Interestingly, two of the players with whom they have been linked have pro athlete bloodlines. Griffin Conine, an OF with Duke is the son of Jeff Conine, who played 17 years in the majors and sports two World Series rings. And Kumar Rocker, a 6’5″ high school RHP, is the son of Tracy Rocker of the NFL Washington Redskins, who was selected to the NFL All-Rookie team in 1990 (and no, Kumar is not related to John Rocker).
The bottom line
I think that Ross Atkins had it exactly right. Bloodlines should not be a primary decision factor in the draft, but they *are* one of many factors to take into consideration. And while it is easy to look at a Vladdy or Bo and think that bloodlines are the next great efficiency, there are (sadly) dozens of examples to temper your enthusiasm.