The Blue Jays might surprise most prognosticators with an out-of-the-box pick at #12 in the upcoming June 4 First Year Player Draft
The 2018 draft is considered to be a deep one, with high-quality options for the first 20 picks and above-average ones up to pick 50-ish. The mock drafts have predicted that the jays will draft one of two hard-throwing left-handed pitchers, but the Jays have many other options.
As for example …
Brice Turang, 18 years old, SS (Santiago High School)
A year ago, Turang (son of Brian Turang) was the projected number 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft. He has been described as a “does everything well but nothing spectacularly” kind of player, with 60-70 speed, advanced footwork and anticipation (though his arm is only average). He is primarily a contact hitter, with power still developing. His batting eye is exceptional – in the entire 2017 high school season, he struck out exactly once. His reasonable ceiling is a plus defender at short, batting leadoff with good speed and a high on-base percentage. An impressive package! As Baseball America put it:
"Turang also played for USA Baseball’s 18U National Team in 2016 … more than holding his own playing on the 2016 club that featured 2017 No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks Royce Lewis and Hunter Greene, respectively. In fact, you wouldn’t have to search far to find a scout who said Turang was the best player on the team"
Toronto Blue Jays
So why is Brice now ranked #19 by Baseball America, #26 by ESPN and #16 by mlb.com?
His play in the summer showcase has been described as “pedestrian“, and his 2018 performance has also been underwhelming (though possibly only because of sky-high expectations). It has also been suggested that his well-rounded profile is harder for scouts to gush over than a player with a single overwhelming carrying tool. And finally, Brice is considered to be a potential hard-sign – he said in 2017 that his goal was to be the #1 pick overall, and some believe that he is still looking for #1 money (or something close to it) to abandon his commitment to LSU.
Noah “Bo” Naylor, 18 years old, C, St. Joan of Arc High ASchool (Toronto)
Noah is a catcher with a first baseman’s bat. Defensively, he already has a major-league arm behind the plate but (no surprise for an 18 year old) his technical catching game still needs development. Still, many scouts believe that he has a strong chance of remaining at catcher.
Hit bat is good, bordering on special. Noah won the High School Home Run Derby despite being described as “more hit over power”. As Baseball America puts it:
"There are some scouts who would say Naylor has the best hit tool among all prep hitters in the 2018 class, led by a pure swing and the ability to adjust pitch-to-pitch, while also manipulating the barrel in each part of the strike zone. While he doesn’t have the elite power his older brother possesses, he does have present pop–it just doesn’t always show up in games."
Noah ticks a lot of secondary boxes as well. His brother Josh (coincidentally drafted 12th overall by the Marlins in 2015) is now a top prospect in the Padres’ system. So Noah gets bloodline points. Also, Noah is not only Canadian but a Torontonian – not a decision-maker, but a nice bonus. And (as a Canadian?) he appears to not have the top-prospect attitude – one of the Canadian Junior Team coaches said “In all my years with the national program, he is without a doubt the most polite player I have ever coached.” Finally, his performance against the Blue Jays in an exhibition game on March 17 was impressive on several fronts. Not only did he beat out an infield grounder for a single (how often do you see a catcher do that?) but Bo took walks in his other three plate appearances. Not every 18-year-old has that kind of plate discipline – particularly in a televised game against his home town Jays!
Most mocks predict Naylor to be drafted later than 12th overall. Baseball America sees him going 18th, ESPN predicts 16th and mlb.com says 25th. But could the Jays sign Naylor for (say) 20th overall level slot, saving $1 million in the process?
Travis Swaggerty, 20 years old, OF, University of South Alabama
Travis is a 60-70 grade runner with a 55-60 grade arm who projects to remain in centre field. So far in 2018, he is batting .299/.456/.560 with 9 steals in 13 attempts and more walks (46) than strikeouts (34). He has flashed 60 raw power to his pull size, and has been described as “the best college bat in the country“.
So why does Baseball America predict him dropping to the Jays at pick #12 when Keith Law (ESPN) and Jonathan Mayo (MLB.com) see him as #9 and Kiley McDaniel (fangraphs) sees him as #6?
There are questions about Travis’ consistency, and his ability to handle pressure. At a recent game (attended by 10 scouts/crosscheckers) he was 0-for-6 in a game where his team scored 11 runs, and was described as “off-balance” the whole game. As John Sickels put it:
"My feeling is that Swaggerty’s position in the draft is in flux right now. He could go very early, but he might also slip to the middle of the first round depending on how teams assess his approach. I doubt he would slip anywhere beyond that, since even with some consistency questions he still projects as a regular."
In a sense, Swaggerty (or a similar player) could be a victim of the unusual depth in the 2018 draft from picks 2-20. He is good (a five-tool centre fielder with pop is nothing to sneeze at) but so are the players ahead of him. When you have 20 players who all “deserve” to be top-10, it follows that someone has to be disappointed.
It is hard to predict how Travis would react to dropping to #12. A #6 pick has a slot value of $5.5 million – substantially higher than a #12 pick’s $4.2 million. Might Travis insist on an above-slot package? Hopefully not – as Travis himself says about the draft process,
"“It’s really hard to wrap my head around,” Swaggerty said. “I was not a huge recruit out of high school, so I’ve never been in a situation like this. I’m trying to not let it change who I am, not let it change how I think."
The bottom line
In a draft like 2018, it is anyone’s guess who the Jays will end up taking. Given how close the 2-20 prospects are ranked, it will likely fall back to the Jays’ perception of character and of “fit”. One thing is clear, though – the Jays should get an exceptional talent at #12!