With today being the deadline (at midnight) to get amateur draftees to sign on the dotted line, we’ve been building up to the occasion with a look back at the big draft spenders during the past three seasons. If you’ve missed the past two articles, you can find them here: Boston and Pittsburgh. There is bound to be a lot of draft news today as Major League Baseball finally lifts the gag order on big-money contract agreements.
After the 2009 amateur draft debacle that helped send former GM J.P. Ricciardi out of town, the Jays organization took a much different – and much more aggressive – approach to the 2010 draft. Under the guidance of new GM Alex Anthopoulos and scouting director Andrew Tinnish, the club exploited its massive scouting department and focused on high-ceiling talent.
Putting faith in its scouts, the club handed out a whopping 17 contracts that met or exceeded $200,000. Of those picks, 11 were pitchers, and the hitters were mostly of the up-the-middle variety — save for corner outfielder Marcus Knecht and third baseman Kellen Sweeney (who was a shortstop in college). The results – so far – have been rather impressive, which has made Toronto into a top-three organization in terms of overall talent.
After years of drafting with a college-centric approach, Toronto began to deviate from the playbook in the 2007 draft. The results from the prep players selected in that draft have not been encouraging, but the player development staff had to adjust as well; high prospects need difference guidance and more nurturing than their college brethren. Things seem to be clicking for the club under the guidance of assistant general manager Tony LaCava and farm director Charlie Wilson (among others).
McGuire, who was the club’s first selection, dropped a bit to the Jays. The club was happy to snatch him up after he projected to go in the first 10 picks. Although he hasn’t wowed anyone, the right-hander has produced solid numbers in his pro debut season and has already reached double-A. Wojciechowski has better overall “stuff”, but he’s not as advanced with his secondary pitches and has battled inconsistencies and injury. The organization drafted Dyson knowing he was a medical risk given his checkered past, and he almost immediately underwent Tommy John surgery. (He’s expected to throw in the fall instructional league with an eye on opening 2012 healthy and on time.) If fully recovered, he may well have the best stuff in this entire draft class, which is saying something. The club could be looking at a similar situation with 2011 third-rounder John Stilson of Texas A&M, who was a first round contender before damaging his shoulder. He recently signed with Toronto for a discounted $500,000.
High School Picks
1S – Aaron Sanchez, RHP
1S – Noah Syndergaard, RHP
2nd – Griffin Murphy, LHP
2nd – Kellen Sweeney, 3B
2nd – Justin Nicolino, LHP
3rd – Christopher Hawkins, OF
3S – Marcus Knecht, OF
5th – Dickie Joe Thon, SS
7th – Mitchell Taylor, LHP
9th – Brandon Mims, 2B
11th – Shane Opitz, SS/2B
15th – Zak Adams, LHP
17th – Myles Jaye, RHP
28th – Adaric Kelly, RHP
Sanchez led off the wave of prep talent and got off to a quick start to his pro career in 2010 after signing quickly. Unfortunately, he stumbled out of the block this season with shaky command. The right-hander has righted the ship recently, though: one-third of his runs allowed this season came during his first appearance of the year. Syndergaard, considered a bit of a signability pick at the time because he was a late bloomer in his senior year of high school, has blossomed into a potential top-five talent in the system. He started the season in the short-season Appalachian League and has moved up to the Northwest League. Murphy’s struggles have perhaps been the biggest surprise among all prep prospects. The southpaw was thought to be a bit more of an advanced pitcher, but he’s had his challenges in the rookie Gulf Coast League – made all the more difficult by a couple of rain-outs during his throw days
While Murphy has disappointed to a degree, Nicolino has developed quicker than expected. He was drafted based on his projection, but Nicolino has been perhaps the hottest short-season pitcher for the Jays and is clawing at the organization’s top-10 prospect list with a 1.42 FIP and strikeout rate of 11.60 K/9. A close second in terms of scorching pitchers, Taylor stumbled out of the block like Sanchez but he has been unhittable as of late: three hits allowed in his last 15 innings and two runs allowed in his past six games (27.1 IPs). Adams can join Murphy in the downer category, but injuries are to blame as he was recently moved to the 60-day DL and now faces surgery. He struggled with his control (19 BBs in 21 IPs) but showed flashes of potential (28 Ks). The aptly-named Jaye impressed the club with a strong fall instructs in 2010 and he’s had a solid – albeit unspectacular – season in the Appalachian League. Kelly struggled with an injury in spring training and opened the year in the bullpen. His ultimate role is yet to be determined, but the undersized righty will probably continue to throw out of the ‘pen for now.
Among the hitters, Sweeney showed an advanced eye in rookie ball in 2010, often understanding the strike zone better than low-level umpires. He struggled early in 2011 and succumbed to injury, which he’s currently rehabbing. A man without a position, Hawkins moved from shortstop in high school to third base and then to the outfield as a pro. Despite bouncing around the field, the Georgia native continues to hit. Knecht has been the golden boy among other offensive prospects in this draft (edging Hawkins), which is interesting since he was taken — like Syndergaard — as more of a signability guy with an unprotected pick. A member of an impressive trio of prospects in Lansing, Mich., Knecht will certainly move up to the Florida State League in 2012 and could jump on the fast track with a quick start. He currently has a triple-slash line of .298/.400/.493.
Thon received one of the biggest contracts in this draft class despite receiving mixed reviews among scouts. A solid athlete, Thon was considered somewhat raw as a baseball player – especially considering that his father had a 15-year big league career. The club also had a bit of a run-in with Mr. Thon, which threatened to derail negotiations. Thon laid some concerns to rest with a solid performance so far this season in rookie ball. Mims received just one at-bat in 2010 while battling injuries and was placed on the restricted list at the beginning of the year and has not appeared in a Jays uniform since extended spring training. Other than Knecht, Opitz received the most aggressive assignment and was placed in the Northwest League. He’s struggled a bit on defense — which is not unusual for young middle infielders — and his offensive numbers have been decent but nothing to write home about.
As the day dwindles towards midnight, I’m sure everyone’s anticipation grows that their team will secure the most impressive draft haul in 2011. Who will it be this season? Toronto? Washington? Boston? Pittsburgh? Or will it be a completely-off-the-grid club hiding in the bushes until the clock strikes 11:59 p.m.?
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