Blue Jays: Whether to draft a high school or college player this year?

LAKELAND, FLORIDA - MARCH 19: Austin Martin #80 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on prior to the game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Detroit Tigers during a spring training game at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium on March 19, 2021 in Lakeland, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
LAKELAND, FLORIDA - MARCH 19: Austin Martin #80 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on prior to the game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Detroit Tigers during a spring training game at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium on March 19, 2021 in Lakeland, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Blue Jays hold the 19th pick in this year’s MLB draft and won’t draft again until the third round because of the George Springer signing this off-season, as he rejected a qualifying offer from the Houston Astros and the Jays lose their second pick as compensation.

While it’s never easy to predict which prospects will be around when the Blue Jays step up to the podium on day one, there are some things Ross Atkins and scouting director Shane Farrell should consider when they’re on the clock.

Looking at various draft prospects lists, there are a few players that catch the eye of fans and most likely the Blue Jays scouting staff this year. There are a few pitchers the club could go after who are both high school and college-aged while a few outfielders are also potentially in the mix, as well as few infielders if the front office wants to lean that way. Considering no draft has ever seen players go where they are ranked (and no ranking system between sites or different sources is ever the same), so it makes sense that there is some give and take when it comes to who the Blue Jays will select with their top pick this year.

There is no doubt that drafting a high school player is a high-risk/high-reward scenario that takes a lot of development and a little bit of luck to find a game-changing player at just 18 years old. Whether or not they turn into superstars at the major league level or churn in the minor leagues for years, drafting a high school player over a college athlete is a risky move because there are a lot more questions rather than answers, and rightfully so.

One aspect to consider with drafting a high school player is college commitments, a notion that bit the Blue Jays back in 2011 and 2013 when the first picks those years under Alex Anthopoulos (Tyler Beede and Phil Bickford) chose to head to college ball instead of turning pro. While both players didn’t really turn into game-changers (as of right now), it’s a risk that general managers have to consider when drafting a non-college player. If a player really believes in their ability, two years in college could see a player go from a 19th pick to a 1-5 pick, earning millions more in bonus/signing money if they can elevate their game; a risk some high-school players are ok with taking.

The Toronto Blue Jays hold the 19th selection in this year’s MLB Draft, with there being plenty of good options both in high school and college who should be on the board when Ross Atkins and co. step up to the podium.

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Whether it be financially motivated or just overall interest, high school players can also choose to play other sports and head in a different direction overall, a notion the Oakland Athletics know all too well with Kyler Murray. This is also evident with a few players ranked near the Blue Jays draft selection like Bubba Chandler (football) and Will Taylor (football and wrestling), who could spurn the team if they feel like their other sports are their higher calling.

College players are usually more defined as they have at least two years of experience in the more advanced competition, as well as a more defined role when it comes to being a starter versus reliever or middle infielder versus third base. Plans can obviously change after being drafted, a good example being Austin Martin drafted as a shortstop but getting regular reps in the outfield in AA right now, but the progress of an older college player can answer more questions compared to a younger high-school player.

Does that mean a college player selected high in the MLB Draft is going to be a superstar? Of course not, and the Blue Jays know that all too well with the likes of Max Pentecost and Deck McGuire, both of whom did not live up to the potential of a first-round draft pick. One would hope the transition from college ball to A/AA ball would be smooth but sometimes the better competition gets the best of a player and it’s not meant to be.

Another thing to consider is that high school players sometimes require an over-slot value to sign, especially with players in the higher rounds with college commitments to top schools like Mississippi or Vanderbilt. This isn’t necessarily aimed just at high schoolers (again, Austin Martin and his over-slot signing), but it’s more prominent when trying to convince a collegiate player to not go to post-secondary and begin their climb through the farm system by offering a little more cash to sweeten the deal.

With the Blue Jays not having a second-round draft pick, they could choose to select a high schooler with the 19th spot and offer some more money because of those savings or choose some potential younger players further down the draft board and offer above value to convince them not to go to post-secondary (see the Baltimore Orioles and their draft last year for example). Another risky move is that players may not sign even with the extended cash offer but one that can provide some depth and potential future top prospects if the stars align.

History-wise, Ross Atkins has used his top pick in each of his drafts as general manager of the Jays on a college player except for in 2018 where he went with Texas native Jordan Groshans, who is now the number three ranked prospect in the Jays organization.

Logan Warmoth (2017) has yet to make the major leagues while 2016 pick T.J. Zeuch has bounced between AAA and the major leagues over the past two seasons. The 2019 pick Alek Manoah is currently in the starting rotation and pitching well to begin the year while 2020 top selection Austin Martin is the organization’s #2 ranked prospect and #16 in all of baseball (for those of you keeping score at home).

One last tactic the Blue Jays could consider is to pick whoever the top player on the board is, which makes sense if a top 10 player finds himself sliding down the board similar to how Martin fell to #5 during last year’s draft. Considering the amount of time and energy teams across the league spend on scouting and analyzing players, it would take a crazy prospect to get the team to move from their list of players to consider, but it certainly has happened before and could happen again.

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Overall, there are going to be pros and cons to whoever the Blue Jays choose with their top pick this year. I would honestly prefer if they chose a college pitcher, similar to how they selected Manoah back in 2019, or go with an outfielder considering the lack of depth down in the minor leagues. The Blue Jays do have a stacked infield looking at the overall farm system and some hot prospect catchers down in AAA and AA, so it makes sense to add to the pitching corps or the outfield in my opinion.

Who do you think the Blue Jays should draft/target at this year’s MLB Draft?