Toronto Blue Jays Draft 2019: Part III – The Dark Horses

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JULY 15: A DraftServ beer machine is seen prior to the 85th MLB All-Star Game at Target Field on July 15, 2014 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JULY 15: A DraftServ beer machine is seen prior to the 85th MLB All-Star Game at Target Field on July 15, 2014 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

It is entirely possible that the Blue Jays could choose an unexpected player with their #11 pick in the upcoming June amateur draft.  Here are a few of the possible “dark horses”

This article is the third in a three-part series about the Blue Jays and the upcoming June amateur draft.  Part I, The Strategy, can be found here and Part II, the Mock Drafts, can be found here.

Part of the fun about mock drafts is how often they are wrong.  With so many players available, and so many factors to consider, there are often a dozen or more plausible candidates, particularly for picks outside the first two or three.

That said, here are three players that the Jays might consider taking with their #11 pick.

Jack Leiter, RHP, Delbarton High School

Jack is perhaps the ultimate bloodline player in the draft.  His father, Al Leiter, played 19 seasons (including parts of seven with the Blue Jays from 1989-95).  His uncle, Mark Leiter, played 11 seasons, and his cousin, Mark Leiter Jr., was drafted by the Phillies in 2003 and is now playing for the Bisons (and recovering from 2018 Tommy John surgery).

In Leiter’s case, the benefits of coming from a baseball family are evident.

"Leiter’s family heritage certainly plays into his strengths, and he proves to be more of a polished pitcher than normally seen out of someone his age. His command and overall feel for pitching resemble that of a veteran college starter.As far as his feel for pitching is concerned, he can throw four pitches, each with their own positive qualities. His fastball comes with some natural sink to it, and he has great command of the pitch, resulting in a grade of 55/[60] by scouts."

Jack is currently ranked #32 on Fangraphs’ “The Board”.  Baseball America notes that Leiter would be in their top 32 as well, were it not for his strong commitment to Vanderbilt and his high signing bonus expectations (he is said to be demanding $4 million)

The knocks against Leiter are his size (6’1″ and 195 pounds)  and that he does not have one holy-cow-Batman pitch, as many highly ranked high school pitchers do.  But it would be refreshing to have a pitcher in the Jays’ system about whom we were *not* saying things like, “great stuff, if he could only control it”.

Kameron Misner, OF, University of Missouri

Misner is “a bit of a conundrum“.   He has 60 speed, 50 fielding, and a 55 arm right now, and projects to be an above-average defensive right fielder in the majors.  At the plate, his 65/70 rating for raw power is tops among the 2019 draft class (per fangraphs).   He is currently batting .290/.444/.497 for Missouri.  As Baseball America puts it:

"Listed at 6-foot-4, 219 pounds, Misner has a powerful, athletic frame and an easy left-handed swing. His approach is geared toward hitting line drives up the middle, and he makes consistent hard contact. His size and bat speed give him solid raw power, but he’s still learning to make the most of it. His speed and arm are both above-average, giving him a chance to play all three outfield positions."

So why isn’t Kameron a consensus top-10 pick?  First, because he missed most of 2018 with a foot injury, which also caused him to miss summer league, so some scouts are concerned that they do not have a sufficient sample size to make an investment of that magnitude.  Second, his 2019 record against higher-tier conference competition has been disappointing (.218/.358/.322 with a 32% strikeout rate).  And finally, there are questions about how Kameron can translate his raw power into game power at higher levels – Fangraphs ranks his hit tool at 25/45 and his game power at 30/60.

That said, Misner has tremendous upside – he has been described as having “the best all-around tools in the 2019 college crop“.  It is completely expected that a college prospect, even an elite one, will need some polishing of his hit tool before he reaches the majors.  Misner is almost certainly a first-round pick.  But if the Jays believe in his upside, might they be able to strike a below-slot deal?  If they could sign him for #20 pick money (which is where Jonathan Mayo of predicts him to be drafted) the Jays would save $1.3 million – almost the full slot value of their next pick (#52).

Daniel Espino, RHP, Georgia Premier Academy (HS)

Here is what Espino’s coach says about him:

"His four seamer sits 96-98 when he’s in mid-season form, and has touched 100. His slider is devastating and pretty much unhittable for this level, and his curveball is right there as well. Both pitches are plus. His changeup is something we are working on, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to throw in high school, since it’s the only thing he throws that gives hitters a chance to catch up.” Reynolds also pointed out that Espino has great faith in his secondaries, and is absolutely fearless about throwing his slider in any count."

Not surprisingly, there was talk that Daniel could be in the top 3-7 picks in 2019.  But, as good as he is, there are questions.  The problem with high school pitchers who have unhittable (at their level) fastballs is that they tend to rely on that pitch without having to focus on location.  As one writer put it:

"The key for Espino as with any pitcher will come down to fastball command. While Espino doesn’t walk a lot of guys (now), he also doesn’t posses at least average command, consistently missing spots, running deeper counts, and laboring to quickly put away far inferior hitters. I know I am nitpicking here but this is something Espino will need to improve in order to get advanced hitters out. Espino showed more comfort and confidence with glove side fastball command vs arm side, meaning that to right handed hitters, when he needed a strike with fastball, he showed little trouble working the outside half of the plate. Rarely was he able to locate anything inside to righties."

There are also questions about Espino’s size (he is 6’0 and 196 lbs) and his arm motion. Espino throws from a low, three-quarter arm slot, and multiple scouts are concerned that his long arm stroke could create injury concerns in the future with the stress that it creates on the elbow and shoulder.  This has led some to suggest that his future might be in the bullpen

That said, Espino’s 60/70 rated fastball is likely the best in the 2019 draft class and he already has two breaking pitches ranked at 50 or better.  His drop from a potential top-10 to a projected 20-30 pick (Mayo has him at 24, but Callis has him as an above-slot second rounder and Baseball America does not see him in the first 32 picks) is largely due to other players increasing their own stock.

Espino would almost certainly be a below-slot sign at #11, and likely at an even greater discount than Misner.  He could even possibly be available at #52 if he were asking for substantially over-slot money.

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The bottom line

As one writer put it, mock drafts are really just an excuse for writers to talk about their favourite prospects.  There are many ways the Jays could go with the #11 pick in 2019, and the ones I have listed in this series are just a few of those options.  As a great baseball philosopher once said, “It is tough to make predictions – especially about the future”.  But tough or not, speculation can be fun!