Does the Blue Jays 2022 draft strategy likely signal trades of a bunch of infield prospects for relief and starting pitching help by the trade deadline? Or something more dramatic, like a trade for an elite talent like Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto?
The Blue Jays just used three of their top four picks (in the top eighty picks of the 2022 draft) on middle infielders. This might seem like an unusual draft strategy given Bo Bichette, Santiago Espinal and Cavan Biggio are blocking nine middle infield prospects already in the top 16 prospect rankings with the Blue Jays farm system?
There isn’t a single natural outfielder in their top twenty prospects, and southpaw Ricky Tiedemann appears to be one of only a few legitimately projectable MLB talents amongst the top pitching prospects.
Perhaps the explanation for this odd draft strategy is that they plan to trade a bunch of those top infield prospects at the trade deadline?
As the Sporting News notes,
"general manager Ross Atkins has traded away both the team’s 2020 and 2021 first-round picks. Austin Martin, the No. 5 pick from 2020, was traded in the package to receive Jose Berrios from the Twins at the 2021 trade deadline and Gunnar Hoglund, the No. 19 pick in 2021, was sent to the A’s in the offseason acquisition of Matt Chapman."
The Blue Jays select three infielders with their top four picks
In his third draft as Blue Jays’ Amateur scouting director, Shane Farrell, led the scouting team making twenty-two picks last weekend.
First round pick, high schooler LHP Brandon Barriera, was taken 23rd overall.
With the 67th overall pick, the Blue Jays selected SS Josh Kasevich out of Oregon University.
Then with their compensation pick at 77th overall, they selected 3B Tucker Toman out of Hammond High School in South Carolina.
With the next pick at #78, they drafted 2B Cade Doughty from Louisiana State University.
Is this draft strategy an indicator of trades to come?
As Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi notes, “GM Ross Atkins has used [Amateur scouting director Shane Farrell’s] two first-round picks so far in win-now trades [for Berríos and Chapman].”
Davidi writes prophetically, “As much as the draft is a way to replenish the farm system to build future iterations of the big-league club, it’s also a way to accumulate the type of capital that’s critical in the weeks ahead.”
The Jays find themselves at the All Star break in the third wild card slot behind Tampa Bay and Seattle. Assuming they’ll be buyers ahead of the MLB trade deadline on August 2nd this year, that leaves just a few weeks now for Ross Atkins to make trades to bolster the big league roster for a playoff run.
So who could be moved in the weeks ahead?
A quick look at the Blue jays top prospect rankings reveals that nine of their top sixteen prospects are infielders. None of them are first basemen, which is probably understandable given how two-time All-Star – and 2021 AL MVP – finalist Vlad Guerrero Jr., is handling the position well with the big league club at age 23.
But they also have All-Star calibre players at 2B in Santiago Espinal (age 27), who just went to his first ASG, and SS Bo Bichette (age 24) who was a 2021 All-Star. Add in utility infielder Cavan Biggio (age 27) and the path to the majors is already blocked for top 100 MLB prospects SS/3B Orelvis Martinez (age 20, at AA New Hampshire) and SS/3B Jordan Groshans (age 21, at AAA Buffalo).
Not to mention other top prospects in the Jays’ top twenty, including 2B/SS Otto Lopez (age 23, at AAA Buffalo), Leo Jimenez and Miguel Hiraldo (both age 21, both at A+ Vancouver), as well as 2B Samad Taylor (24, at AAA Buffalo), and shortstops Manuel Beltran (age 18, with the Rookie League FCL Blue Jays), and Estiven Machado and Rikelbin De Castro ( both 19, both in A-ball at Dunedin).
Of those prospects, Otto Lopez and Leo Jimenez have already been added to the Jays’ 40-man roster. But the front office will have to make a decision on protecting #2 prospect Orelvis Martinez by adding him to the 40-man roster this coming offseason; Jordan Groshans would have to be added after the 2023 season. Samad Taylor and Miguel Hiraldo were already left exposed in last year’s Rule 5 draft, but went unselected.
With team control of Bichette and Biggio until 2026, and Espinal until 2027, the Jays seem to have enviable infield depth. They have a similar position of strength at catcher.
Why stockpile draft three more infielders with your top four picks in the 2022 amateur draft?
Given Martinez and Groshans may both be vying for a 3B job when Matt Chapman’s contract expires after the 2023 season, one or both of them might be expendable now with the draft selection of Tucker Toman.
And similarly, could Otto Lopez, Leo Jimenez, Miguel Hiraldo and Samad Taylor all be trade capital with the selection of second basemen Josh Kasevich and Cade Doughty?
Or could we see a major leaguer for major leaguer trade with a package of Bo Bichette and one of Danny Jansen, Teoscar Hernandez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., or Santiago Espinal plus prospects being moved as part of a blockbuster for left-handed hitting outfielder Juan Soto?
With three of their top four 2022 draft picks used on more infielders, the Jays certainly added to their talent logjam up the middle. Along with a position of strength at catcher, they certainly are in a position to acquire impact talent to balance out and improve the major league roster. Let’s go!