Many people were surprised by the Jays’ choice of Jordan Groshans at pick #12, especially with Matt Liberatore still available. But might there be method to the Jays’ madness?
Let me start this article with a caveat: much of what follows is speculation, based on rumour and gossip. It is entirely possible that we will never really know what was going through the Jays’ minds during this draft. But this scenario answers a lot of questions.
Background – the 2018 draft
The 2018 dtaft was unusual in that there was a consensus #1 pick – Casey Mize – but considerable disagreement on picks 2-20 (ish). As one scout put it, “There’s one player that will be first on all 30 draft boards, and the second player will be totally different on all 30 boards.” This was both good news and bad news for the Jays, drafting at #12. The good news was that there would almost certainly be a good player available. The bad news was that it was unlikely that the Jays would get a “steal”.
The draft was also unusual in that there were many strong players ranked 20-50ish. This might have given the Jays an idea. In many drafts, a #12 pick and a #88 pick would be worth more than two picks ranked in the 30s. But in this draft, the converse might be true.
Turning an ace into two jacks
The Jays had been following Groshans for some time, and likely saw him as higher than his composite ranking of #26. So he was in play at #12 anyway. But Groshan had a teammate and close friend, Adam Kloffenstein, who was also ranked in the 25-40 range. Thing is, Kloffenstein had a strong commitment to Texas Christian, about which he said:
"Do I want to play major leagues baseball someday? Of course. I want to make sure I do everything the right way and do the right steps to get there. I think that it would have to be something really dramatic and really extraordinary for me to pass on TCU. I think it’s a cool opportunity that I’ve been dealt. I don’t want to mess that up. If I would go and pass on TCU, I don’t want to be at home at 21, 22 years old saying, ‘Man, what would’ve happened if I went to college? How good could I’ve been?’”"
That said, Kloffenstein said that he “had a number” in mind (some estimate $2-2.5m), at which he would pass up TCU. And he and Groshans were close enough that the prospect of playing together in the minors might provide an added inducement.
Suppose that, when speaking to the two friends, the Jays negotiated a deal whereby Groshans would sign under the $4.2 million slot for the #12 pick, freeing up money to sign Kloffenstein? In doing so, the Jays would have in effect traded their #12 and #88 picks for two #30-35 picks. In this draft, with the 2018 distribution of talent, that could be a very smart move.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Liberatore factor
So this might have been the plan going into the draft: Groshans @ 12, Kloffenstein @ #52/88. But this game plan likely assumed that the players that the Jays liked more than Groshans would be gone before #12. In fact, two of the top five prospects (per Baseball America ranking) were still available – Matthew Liberatore (BA#2) and Brady Singer (BA#4) when the Jays picked at #12. Could the Jays have been tempted to change course?
Start with Singer. He was drafted by the Jays in 2015 as pick #56, but he did not sign. The Jays did make an offer, which Singer’s camp declined, but the Jays claimed that the decision to not sign him “wasn’t a financial decision“. So there are many reasons why the Jays might have hesitated to sign Singer in 2018, from cost to negative baggage to health concerns.
Liberatore is a more interesting story. Widely regarded as the best, and most developed high-school arm in the draft, Matthew was expected to be long gone by the time the Jays picked at #12. Yet he fell all the way to the Rays at #16. What gives?
It has been speculated that when the Rays spoke to Liberatore before the draft, they told him that if he were still available at #16 they would draft him, and that they would pay him top dollar – well above the $3.6m slot for pick #16. They could have afforded to do this, as their $12.4 million total budget was third highest in the MLB. As the speculation goes, the Rays’ offer then established a floor that Liberatore told other teams was now his minimum. Those other teams, most of whom had a far lower total budget, decided to spend their money elsewhere. The Jays, faced with the prospect of spending (perhaps?) $6 million of their ~$8 million draft budget on a single player, similarly declined.
The bottom line
I must admit, my initial reaction when the Jays drafted Groshans was not favourable. But if the speculation above is accurate, my opinion might change dramatically.