The Toronto Blue Jays are beginning to see the influx of players that were selected in the MLB June Drafts by the Mark Shapiro-Ross Atkins regime.
Also, some of the players contributing in 2019 were drafted by former General Manager Alex Anthopoulos. An issue to explore is how well did the Blue Jays draft and develop players that were selected in the 2005-2015 years.
Alex Anthopoulos was the General Manager of the Blue Jays from October 2009 until October 2015. He was preceded by J.P. Ricciardi who held that position from November 14, 2001, until October 3, 2009. The reasons why the 2005-2015 drafts were chosen for analysis are as follows:
- The 2005-2009 draft years are sufficient to demonstrate how poor the Blue Jays were at drafting and developing players during the Ricciardi regime
- The 2010-2015 period covers the Anthopoulos tenure as GM
- June Drafts subsequent to 2015 were excluded because it is too soon to credibly evaluate how well or poorly teams did at the June 2016-2019 draft tables
The data presented was sourced from Baseball-Reference and is as of August 18, 2019.
Why is drafting and developing players so important?
The reasons why succeeding at the MLB June Draft is so important is obvious but it is necessary to list them for no other reason than to provide some context. The reasons include the following:
- It is the primary source to obtain young, controllable players
- The June Amateur Draft is a pipeline that can sustain competitive windows
- Prospects can be used in trades to acquire established MLB players
- When injuries occur, minor-league players provide back-up depth
- Only players that were drafted and signed by the team indicated are presented. For example, Kris Bryant was originally drafted by the Blue Jays in the 18th round of the 2010 June Draft but he did not sign. He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the first round of the 2013 Draft and signed with Chicago. His career bWAR of 25.0 is included in the Cubs data and not the Blue Jays.
- In the Total bWAR column, the figure shown is the sum of all positive bWARs. Negative career bWARs of drafted players were not included in the data. In the assessment of a team’s drafting record, I don’t think drafting a player that never makes it to the Show is better than selecting a player that makes it onto an MLB roster but was marginally below replacement level.
- For each team during the draft period noted, the drafted player with the highest career bWAR and the player with second-highest bWAR are shown
- For first-round picks, the selection number is presented; for all other picks, just the round number is shown.
So what’s the story?
Question: What are the assessments for the MLB June Drafts under Ricciardi and Anthopoulos?
Answer: Ugh (Ricciardi) and pretty good (Anthopoulos).
The Ricciardi years
The Ricciardi draft record from 2005 to 2009 can be described by the punchline of an old joke.
Person 1: My dog has no nose.
Person 2: How does your dog smell?
Person 1: Awful.
Ricciardi’s MLB June Draft philosophy was characterized by a preference for college players over high school players. In 7 of his 8 drafts, the Blue Jays used their first selection on a college player. In general, the Ricciardi regime drafted high floor-low ceiling players. This approach is reflected in Table 1. During the 2005-2009 period, the Blue Jays were tied for 10th in the number of players with a career bWAR greater than zero; they ranked 27th in total bWAR at 69.2.
- Yan Gomes has the highest bWAR (12.0) of Blue Jays draft picks, which ranks 27th among teams
- Jake Marisnick (11.0 bWAR) also ranks 27th among the second-highest bWAR draft pick for each team in the 2005-2009 period
The 2005-2009 Ricciardi drafts were poor and fell well short of the total bWARs that the June drafts generated for the Red Sox (187.7), Rays (151.9), and Yankees (146.6). These Blue Jays drafts were one reason why the Blue Jays struggled during his tenure and also during a portion of the Anthopoulos years. If I were to assign a grade to the Ricciardi 2005-2009 drafts, I would use the American Grading System as a guide. Accordingly, I would place an “F” on the Ricciardi MLB June Draft report card.
The Anthopoulos years
Brian Burke, former President and General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs who left the team in January 2013, was asked to comment on the success of the Leafs during the 2013-shortened NHL season. His reply also applies to all MLB executive suites.
"Sometimes you do the hard work and set the table and somebody else eats the meal."
The Ricciardi regime’s amateur draft record did not set the Anthopoulos administration up for success. Three of their division rivals had drafted and developed considerably better than the Blue Jays did in the 2005-2009 drafts. But how well did the AA-led Blue Jays do at the 2010-2015 draft tables?
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- The number of players with positive career bWARs that were drafted by the AA regime is tied for third among all MLB teams
- The total bWAR (94.3) of these players ranks 6th and is better than the bWAR-record of the draft picks of the Red Sox (85.4), Rays (65.9), and Yankees (35.4)
- However, in terms of drafting the better player, the Red Sox (Mookie Betts – 40.2 bWAR), Rays (Kevin Kiermaier – 26.8), and Yankees (Aaron Judge – 16.0 bWAR) surpassed the Blue Jays (Noah Syndergaard – 15.9)
- Overall, Syndergaard ranks 20th in terms of a team’s highest career bWAR (15.9) generated by a 2010-2015 draft pick
- Kevin Pillar ranks 9th best among the second-highest bWAR of a team’s 2010-2015 draft pick
The Anthopoulos-era Blue Jays were much better at drafting and developing than the Ricciardi-led team. However, the drafts did not generate a bevy of MLB top-tier players. Certainly, Syndergaard is a top-quality pitcher but the Blue Jays did miss on second-round pick Andrelton Simmons (36.2 bWAR), ninth-round selection Jacob deGrom (32.6 bWAR), 31st-round pick Kiermaier, and fifth-round selection Betts.
The AA drafts did provide a much better cupboard of players, (Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Danny Jansen, et al) to the Shapiro-Atkins tandem than what Ricciardi did for AA. When Aaron Loup has the fifth-best bWAR (4.4) of the players drafted by the 2005-2009 Ricciardi administration, it is understandable if AA did not send J.P. a thank-you note.
The AA regime had a good draft record in terms of adding MLB players but opportunities were missed when it came to adding multiple, top-notch players. In the end, I put more weight on drafting and developing top-end players than adding many mid-range players. Accordingly, all things considered, I would assign a grade of “C+” to the AA draft results.
The last word
The J.P. Ricciardi administration had a poor record at the 2005-2009 MLB June Amateur Drafts. His draft grade was “F”. The Alex Anthopoulos regime performed better at the June Draft tables than its predecessor. My June Draft performance grade for AA is a “C+”. His drafts were above-average in terms of adding MLB players with positive career bWAR but his tenure was characterized by missing opportunities to draft elite players. As time unfolds, we will have a clearer picture of the draft and development record of AA’s stint as Blue Jays General Manager as well as that of the Shapiro-Atkins regime.