The Toronto Blue Jays began the 2019 draft addressing what most people perceive to be major weaknesses in the organization: pitching and outfield.
The Blue Jays took a college pitcher in 6-foot-6 righty Alek Manoah, whose stock was high after moving into the rotation for his junior year at West Virginia. General consensus was that Manoah was among the best pitching draft prospects, particularly those with a track record in college and most think that he has a bit more upside than most college starters, since he didn’t move into the rotation until this year.
The Blue Jays took another pitcher in the second round, high schooler Kendall Williams from IMG Academy in Florida. Williams is another 6-foot-6 righty with a projectable frame and a solid fastball that sits in the low 90s right now but has room to grow. Scouts like his array of breaking balls as well as his command but there are questions as to whether he’ll sign with a commitment to Vanderbilt, usually a tough school to get draftees to sign away from.
Following Williams, the Blue Jays selected their first Canadian, toolsy high school outfielder Dasan Brown of Oakville. Brown is a high-ceiling, high-risk player who still has to develop his strength and hit tool but showcases outstanding speed and defense.
In the third round, the Jays selecting outfielder Will Robertson from Creighton University, a smaller school in Nebraska. Robertson is a power-hitting outfielder whose profile reminds me a bit of Brock Lundquist, although Robertson has a little more pop in his collegiate years, hitting 15 home runs this year despite playing at a park that is notorious for suppressing offense.
Following Robertson, however, the Blue Jays selected five collegiate infielders and one collegiate catcher (including two sophomores), and one high school shortstop from Puerto Rico.
Tanner Morris is the first sophomore drafted by the Blue Jays. He’s currently a shortstop but is expected to move off that position as a pro and is known for his bat so far. Cameron Eden was the Jays’ sixth round pick, coming out of Cal as a junior but he’s ranked in the 300s by Baseball America. Seventh-rounder L.J. Talley is another lesser ranked player, a senior from Georgia, and rose on the draft boards after tweaking his swing and making big strides at the plate, playing mostly second base. Angel Camacho comes from Jacksonville University and is a third baseman who’s likely to be a senior sign.
Ninth-round pick Philip Clarke is another draftable sophomore, coming out of Vanderbilt as a catcher where he’s shown improvement over two years on the defensive side of the game. Known for his bat, Clarke still has two more years of college eligibility and was undrafted out of high school because of a commitment to Vanderbilt and an expected seven-figure bonus ask. He could be tough to sign, particularly as a ninth-round pick.
Finally (on Day 2), the Jays selected shortstop Glenn Santiago from Puerto Rico and the International Baseball Academy. There’s isn’t a lot of solid info on Santiago but from what I’ve been able to gather, he’s got some upside and has good ability to make contact but needs to get stronger in order to hit the ball harder.
So what should we make of this group of draftees? There are already some interesting questions as the Blue Jays went back to the infielder well over and over again despite having a greater need for pitchers and outfielders in the organization.
The picture is further complicated by having two players who might be tricky to sign. The Blue Jays have an $8,463,300 draft pool available for the first 10 rounds. That means that they can spend as much as $8,886,465 before they lose a draft pick in penalties (going 5% of the pool over the bonuses).
*Note: all speculation below about draft pick signing bonuses is all just speculation and educated guesses. I have no insider information whatsoever.
If the Blue Jays pay Alek Manoah the $4,547,500 that is allotted for the #11 pick overall, they’ll give him the single biggest bonus paid to a Blue Jays’ draftee ever. My gut feeling is that the Jays will pay him about $3.5 million+ in order to save some money for the rest of the pool.
I think Dasan Brown, being Canadian and also figuring the trajectory of many Canadian high schoolers, will sign for about $500,000. That gives the Jays (according to my calculations) $1.225 million to play with. Fourth-round pick Will Robertson will probably sign for around his slot value while fifth-rounder Tanner Morris, as a sophomore with two more years of eligiblity and one more year of solid draft leverage, will also sign for around slot value. I have a feeling that the Jays can get sixth-rounder Cameron Eden for below slot (which is $279,500) while seventh-rounder L.J. Talley and eighth-round pick Angel Camacho, both college seniors, will probably sign for less that $25,000 each (likely in the $10,000 and below range). That would add about $370,000 to the available money in the draft pool. I have a feeling the Jays will save about $20,000 on 10th-rounder, high school shortstop Glenn Santiago.
So where does that leave us? With about $1.6 million to grab two more guys. Second round pick Kendall Williams already has a $1.4 million figure attached to his draft slot and I would think that a high schooler with his kind of pre-draft scouting reports would be able to wind that figure up, perhaps up to about $2 million or more. That still leaves us about a million extra dollars to try to sign catcher Philip Clarke away from Vanderbilt. To get him signed, I would think that a high six-figure amount might do the trick, giving him late-second-round or third-round money.
So, do I think the Blue Jays can sign all of their draft picks, even the ones that are considered to be tougher to sign? Yup, I do. These days, teams don’t squander their top-10 picks lightly, hoping to nab someone for less money than they think they could pay. There’s probably at least an understanding of how much money it will take to get a player’s signature if not a fairly firm agreement to terms by the time the player is drafted.
That said, I’m not a draft expert but it looks to me like the Jays neglected bolstering their pitching in the first two days of this year’s draft. Last year, the Blue Jays drafted two college pitchers beyond the first three picks and had Adam Kloffenstein in the third round (overpaying him to sign). While Sean Wymer is off to a rough start so far, eighth-rounder Joey Murray is pitching extremely well and has reached Dunedin already.
In 2017, the Jays got Nate Pearson early, but also selected Colton Laws (who has had injury trouble) in the seventh round, Zach Logue, who’s been very strong in New Hampshire, in the ninth and Justin Dillon, who’s off to a great start in Dunedin, in the 10th.
Since 2016, we’ve seen the Blue Jays draft as many as six pitchers in the first 10 rounds and 2019 marks the fewest since Shapiro and Atkins have taken over the club.
That said, it’s fairly easy to understand why this might be. Pitchers break down and flame out more than any other prospect. So why spend draft picks on pitchers when they can be traded for? The Jays have acquired several pitchers via trade close to the major leagues in the past year, like Trent Thornton, Derek Law, Jacob Waguespack, Julian Merryweather, Hector Perez, Corey Copping, Bryan Baker and David Paulino. Thomas Pannone also came to the Jays via trade a year before. Could the Jays have drafted these players? Sure, but it might be easier to let other teams spend the money and have the Blue Jays try to benefit from that when sending their veterans away.
Are there gems to be found later in the draft? Absolutely. There are guys I’m keeping my eye on in the Jays’ system who were later picks like Jackson McClelland (15th round), Josh Winckowski (15th round), Ty Tice (16th round) and Nick Allgeyer (12th round) on the pitching side and Ryan Noda (15th round) D.J. Neal (26th round), Chavez Young (39th round) on the outfield side of things but, historically, the number of players who make the big leagues definitely drops the further away from the top of the draft you get.
All this is to say that I have no idea how this year’s strategy will work. Yes, the Jays selected a couple of higher-end pitchers in the first two rounds, and a couple of outfielders in the third and fourth. Are they emphasizing quality over quantity?
What do you think about the way the Jays have drafted in the first two rounds this year?
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