As you’re likely aware by now, the Blue Jays have the fifth pick in next week’s MLB draft. Who else have they selected with a top five pick?
I realize that we’ve been talking about the upcoming MLB draft a lot here at Jays Journal lately, but that would be for two very good reasons. For one, there are no games to watch and talk about at the moment thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic, and two, the Blue Jays have an exciting opportunity with a top five pick in this year’s draft.
You have to be one of the worst team’s in the league the previous year in order to draft that high, and the 67-95 Blue Jays of 2019 certainly qualified. While the Blue Jays have had plenty of losing teams in the past, it’s actually been fairly rare for them to finish in the bottom five of the league. In fact, in the 44 year history of the franchise, this will be just the eighth time they’ve had such a high pick. When you consider that of those eight, five of them happened from 1977-82 when they were a new franchise, it’s a rare opportunity.
With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to look back at who the Blue Jays have picked with their top five picks over the years, starting back in the early days.
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Lloyd Moseby (#2 overall in 1978)- This one worked out just fine for the Blue Jays. In fact, other than Kirk Gibson who was taken 13th overall that year, Moseby was arguably the best player from the first round of that class. He ended up playing for the Blue Jays for 10 years, slashing .257/.333/.414 with 167 home runs and 737 RBI across that span.
Jay Schroeder (#3 overall in 1979)- The Blue Jays had a chance to improve their young team again in 1979, but unfortunately they missed pretty badly with this pick. They had hoped that Schroeder would be the catcher of the future, but unfortunately he never made it past A ball. Of course, his name might sound familiar because he was a much better football player, even earning a Pro Bowl selection in the NFL in 1986. It’s hard to say how his baseball career would have turned out if he wasn’t a two-sport star, but it was a risk that didn’t work out for the Blue Jays at the time.
Garry Harris (#2 overall in 1980)- The Blue Jays hadn’t climbed out of the basement of the American League yet, and were back with the 2nd overall pick in 1980. Like Schroeder, unfortunately the Blue Jays used another first round selection on a player that never made it to the big leagues, as Harris peaked at Double-A in 1983. The Jays did end up with another first rounder from that year though, as Kelly Gruber was part of their first championship team in 1992, and was taken 10th overall by the Cleveland Indians that year.
Matt Williams (#5 overall in 1981)- The Blue Jays decided to try their hand at drafting a pitcher in the first round, and unfortunately things didn’t go all that well there either. The right-hander at least made it to the highest level, but only threw eight innings across four appearances for the Blue Jays in 1983 before heading back to the minor leagues. He was eventually traded to Texas for Cliff Johnson in 1985 where he threw 26 innings for the Rangers, but that’s as far as his career got.
Augie Schmidt (#2 overall in 1982)- The Blue Jays were back to the basement and ended up with the 2nd pick in 1982. Unfortunately they couldn’t turn their top-five luck around this year either, as they choose a shortstop by the name of Augie Schmidt, hoping to make up for the miss on Harris a few years before. He did end up making his way to Triple-A by 1984, but a variety of injuries and the presence of Tony Fernandez at shortstop in Toronto limited his opportunities, and he never ended up playing in a big league game. It especially stings in hindsight because the Mets took Dwight “Doc” Gooden at #5, and eventual Blue Jays closer Duane Ward went ninth that year.
Billy Koch (#4 overall in 1996)– After a 13 year break from the top five, the Blue Jays were in a rebuilding stage after winning a pair of championships in 1992 and 1993. This time they used their pick on a flamethrower by the name of Billy Koch, who I’m sure many of you are familiar with. His ability to throw triple-digit fastballs wowed the crowds in Toronto, and he managed to save 100 games over a three year span from 1999-2001 for the Blue Jays. He had an outstanding year in Oakland in 2002 when he saved 44 games and even earned an MVP vote, but sadly arm injuries derailed his career from there. He was a lot of fun to watch while it lasted though.
Vernon Wells (#5 overall in 1997)- Last but not least would be the selection that I would argue as the strongest in Blue Jays history. Some folks have mixed memories of Vernon Wells’ time as a Blue Jay, but that’s primarily because of the huge contract extension he received in 2006, which he really struggled to live up to. Forgetting that, Wells was a 3x All-Star, a 3x Gold Glove Winner, and he also picked up a Silver Slugger award. He received MVP votes in two seasons as a Blue Jay as well, finishing 8th in 2003. In all, he played for the Blue Jays for 12 years and slashed .280/.329/.475 with 223 home runs and 813 RBI, earning 28.7 bWAR along the way. That’s the way you hope your first round pick will produce.
Their eighth opportunity at a top five pick will come next week on June 10th, and it will be an exciting night for the future of Blue Jays fans. Here’s hoping they draft someone who ends up a little more like Wells or Moseby, rather than the alternative.