We continue our tour through recent draft history with 2011, the final year of the old CBA in which many more free agent signing resulted in compensation picks going to the teams who let a player go.
As we know, one of Alex Anthopoulos’s game plans was to accumulate as many of these compensation-eligible free agents in order to rack up the draft picks come next June. We saw the pattern begin in 2010 with the Jays stocking up on six extra picks over the first three rounds. In 2011, the number of extra picks the Blue Jays had was five over the first two rounds, and seven picks in the first 100, giving them plenty of opportunity to take more risks.
With a total of 55 picks in 2011, the Blue Jays selected 28 high schoolers, 22 players out of four-year colleges, three players out of junior college and two players who were not in school that year. The distribution of where these players were picked really shows that the Blue Jays’ drafting philosophy had changed under Alex Anthopoulos and Andrew Tinnish. ALL of the top seven picks were selected out of high school and only two players in the first ten rounds came from the college ranks, both of whom have made somewhat of an impact.
Of the top 15 picks the Jays made (first 10 rounds), the Blue Jays signed all but four but the one that everyone remembers is Tyler Beede, the club’s first pick in the 2011 draft, 21st overall. According to John Lott of the National Post, Beede had committed to Vanderbilt University and apparently wanted a very big signing bonus to give up that commitment (rumoured to be $3.5 million). The Blue Jays offered $2.5 million and that million dollar gap sent Beede to school and the Blue Jays to a compensatory pick in 2012 (see the next draft retrospective: that pick was put to good use). Beede stands to be taken very high up in the 2014 draft. Whether he will be available to the Blue Jays who pick ninth is still unknown.
Once again, with five extra picks in the first two rounds, the Blue Jays could afford to be aggressive. They signed their next eight picks, all but one from high school and put together a solid group of pitching prospects with a couple of hitters thrown in for good measure.
The Blue Jays’ next two selections are names that fans will probably say “who?” when asked about them. Outfielder Jacob Anderson was the second pick and signed for $990,000.* Who is Jacob Anderson, and why haven’t I heard about him? Well, Anderson came out of high school as a bit bat but has not produced at all in professional baseball. Ok, that’s not completely true. He produced a little bit in only 42 plate appearances in the GCL in 2011 but had a truly awful year in 2012 in Bluefield. Anderson spent the entire 2013 season in the disabled list. At 20 years old, he needs to have some kind of presence in 2014 or he’ll be seen as a huge, (almost) million dollar bust.
Taken third was Joe Musgrove who signed $500,000. The Blue Jays soured on Musgrove pretty quickly and whether it was attitude or just the fact that he wasn’t developing as hoped, he was shipped out to the Houston system in the J.A. Happ deal. With the Astros, Musgrove was back in the GCL, looking to try to get back on track but had a mediocre year as a 20 year old.
The Blue Jays fourth pick is a guy that you’ll have heard of if you’re a BJfA regular. Dwight Smith, Jr. signed for $800,000 and, until this season, was seen as a huge failure. The Peachtree, Georgia native made his professional debut last season and struggled in Bluefield and Vancouver. Joining the Lansing Lugnuts in late April of his Age-20 season, Smith showed how many people were wrong about him, earning several awards in the process and being one of the most consistent players on the club, hitting .284/.365/.388. The biggest knock on Smith is that he’s not a good enough fielder to play center and he doesn’t have enough power to play the corners. Power could come, but he doesn’t have a prototypical power-hitter frame. He’s fairly broad and strong but only about 5’10”. He has good but unspectacular speed but he doesn’t get caught on the bases much. A very solid pick who had a bit of a breakout year but some physical limitations could keep him from getting to the majors.
The next selection is another pitcher that the Blue Jays decided to sell off early. Kevin Comer was thought to have some of the best stuff in the draft and signed for $1.65 million. The Blue Jays saw regression from him and sent him to Houston as the Player to be Named Later (PTBNL) in the deal for J.A. Happ. Comer pitched in the New York-Penn League this year (Short-Season A Ball) and had decent numbers. His strikeouts were up (but so were his walks) but it looks like his high ERA (4.93) was due to a high BABIP as his FIP was much lower (3.09). Most people think that the Happ trade wasn’t a good one and it’s looking more and more like Comer may be the better young pitcher that the Blue Jays gave up.
As compensation for signing reliever Scott Downs, the Angels sent their second round pick to Toronto who selected Daniel Norris. Norris, like Musgrove and Comer got off to rocky starts in their professional careers, making observers wonder if the $2 million signing bonus was more money down the drain. Well, in 2013, the lefty finally started putting things together, harnessing his four “plus” pitches and earning a late-season promotion to Dunedin. Of the selections so far, Norris has the most upside and could be a very good major league pitcher with more refinement. Look for him to climb through a couple of levels in his Age-21 season assuming he keeps making strides with his command.
Another second round pick was (yet another) pitcher Jeremy Gabryszwski. Gaby has remained in short season ball and is showing some limitations as he’s developed. Putting up low strikeout numbers (despite incredibly low walk numbers), Gaby will get a shot at full-season ball next year but has likely been passed on the organization’s depth charts by several pitcher including a couple of guys further down this list. Only time will tell if he can develop a pitch that can put batters away.
We’re finally on to the third round. John Stilson, who had fallen down the draft board due to injuries, signed out of college for $500,000 and made his pro debut in 2012, pitching in Dunedin and New Hampshire before spending most of his 2013 in Buffalo. If he can stay healthy (his biggest issue), Stilson is poised to become a solid bullpen arm for the Blue Jays and is poised to be the second player drafted by the Blue Jays in 2011 to make the majors (see below for the first).
Round four brought the Blue Jays another pitcher who made a lot of scouts and writers (including this one) sit up and take notice in 2013. Tom Robson reportedly signed for $325,000 and had a very limited pro debut in 2012 due to injuries. Starting 2013 in Bluefield and finishing in Vancouver, Robson (who turned 20 this summer) is poised to begin 2013 in Lansing and take his excellent control and heavy sinker to full-season ball. While Robson shares some characteristics with Jeremy Gabryszwski (low walk rate, high ground ball rate), Robson also throws harder and has the ability to strike batters out, giving him more upside in most scouts’ eyes right now.
To round out the first five rounds, the Blue Jays drafted Massachusetts native Andrew Chin, who didn’t sign.
To recap the Blue Jays’ 10 picks in rounds one through five: nine high schoolers, eight signed players, two players traded away, one who has reached Triple-A (Stilson), one who reached High-A Dunedin (Norris), one had a very good season in A-ball (Smith) and two were very good in Short-Season A ball in Vancouver (Robson and Gabryszwski). The sixth player still in the Jays system, Jacob Anderson, has been sidelined by injury and ineffectiveness in Rookie Ball. Of the first 10 picks, six remain in the system and I would say that two are almost guaranteed major leaguers (Stilson and Norris), one shows a lot of promise (Robson) and one who is making the most of his tools (Smith) but for anyone below the A-ball level, it’s still hard to tell without seeing more.
The next three picks (rounds six, seven and eight) all signed and are on their own trajectories. The sixth round pick, righty Anthony DeSclafani has been very good but was part of the big trade last winter with Miami. The 23 year old was the second non-high school player to be drafted by the Blue Jays and split 2013 with very good results for Miami’s High-A and Double-A teams.
The seventh rounder was second baseman Christian Lopes. Lopes was pegged to be a breakout candidate for 2013, starting his first season in Single-A Lansing. The full-season grind, however, proved to be too much for Lopes as he faded after a hot start and ended the season hitting .245/.308/.336. Lopes is a good fielder (at second) and if he can recapture some of his extra-base pop that he showed in Bluefield in 2012, he could move back up the depth chart.
Pitcher Mark Biggs was the Jays’ eighth round pick who hasn’t progressed as hoped. His first two seasons, in the GCL and in Bluefield (respectively) have met with mixed success and a falling strikeout rate. Still only 20, Biggs could be in Lansing next year in the bullpen if the Blue Jays want to try to jump start his development.
The Blue Jays didn’t sign their ninth and tenth round picks, Andrew Suarez and Aaron Garza to bring the totals in the first 10 rounds: 15 picks, four unsigned, eight still in the organization, three traded and only two have thoughts of still playing short-season ball in 2014.
For the next ten rounds, it’s looking like the Blue Jays have some solid players but the strategy of taking so many high schoolers is starting to backfire. John Norwood (12th round), Cole Wiper (14th round), Cody Glenn (15th round), Richard Prigatano (16th round), Luke Weaver (19th round) and Joel Seddon (20th) were all high school picks who didn’t sign.
On the positive side of the ledger, the Jays’ 11th rounder in 2011, 3B Andy Burns is tearing up the Arizona Fall League and will likely reach Triple-A at some point in 2014. Their 13th round pick, a strapping third baseman who fell in the draft due to signability issues was signed away from college by the Blue Jays for $737,000. Matthew Dean, who has moved over to first base in the meantime, struggled in Bluefield in 2012 but rebounded in 2013 to win the Appalachian League batting title by hitting .338/.390/.519. Dean will probably jump to Lansing in 2014.
Coming in the back half of the second ten rounds, the Blue Jays got a few guys who have been solid contributors. A high schooler who signed, Brady Dragmire (17th round) had an excellent season with the Bluefield Blue Jays at the age of 20. 2B Jon Berti (18th round) led the Florida State League (High-A) in stolen bases and won the club’s Webster Award for the team’s MVP.
Out of rounds 11-20, the Blue Jays took some chances they seem to be paying off. Burns looks like he could have a major league calibre bat to go with excellent defense at third base while Dean has one of the best gloves for a first baseman in the Appalachian League to go with a bat that is starting to overcome some of the flaws in his swing. Dragmire’s ceiling is probably not a major league one but, at only 20 years old, it’s too early to really know for sure while Berti is proving to be a useful player on the cusp of the high minors. Rounds 1-20: 12 players still in the organization. 10 unsigned, three traded away.
The Blue Jays signed most of their draftees in the rounds 21-30 range. Only Aaron Nola (22) and K’Shawn Smith (23) didn’t sign. The bunch includes scrappy shortstop Peter Mooney (21st round), who played this season in High-A Dunedin and showed an ability to get on base (.365 OBP), 24th-rounder David Rollins, a left-handed pitcher who was also a part of the J.A. Happ deal with Houston and reached Triple-A in the Astros organization and 25th rounder Eric Arce who showed tremendous power in his brief time in the minors but was released by the Blue Jays this season, primarily due to off-field issues.
Also drafted in the “third ten” were B.C. native Justin Atkinson (26th) who struggled somewhat with Vancouver this year as a 20 year old, Derrick Loveless (27th) who played for Bluefield and has shown some power and speed potential, Jorge Vega-Rosado (28th) who was released this season after not really showing much anything with the bat above Rookie Ball, RHP Taylor Cole (29th), who had a solid season in Lansing in 2013 (with a one-game call up to Dunedin at the end of the season) after dominating the Northwest League in 2012 and 1B Kevin Patterson (30) who led the Lansing Lugnuts in home runs (by far) despite starting the season with Dunedin. Patterson’s in a log-jam at first base, however, with several players (including Matt Dean) coming up from Vancouver and Bluefield for next year.
In the “third ten,” there were two players who didn’t sign, two who were released and one who was traded. The other five are still in the organization, bringing the totals to 17 still in the organization, 12 unsigned, four traded away and two released.
Rounds 31-40 had three players who weren’t signed: Austin Nola (31), Aaron Nola’s brother, Jerrick Suiter (35) and Chris Cox (39). Les Williams, drafted in the 37th round, was released after two fairly unproductive seasons and Nico Taylor, drafted right after Williams, in the 38th round, was released following the 2013 season. Taylor will likely find a new job as he has, by far, more upside and has had the least opportunity to show his stuff.
The biggest name and, thus far, the only player from the 2011 to make the major leagues is 32nd round pick Kevin Pillar. Pillar used a long college hitting streak to get on professional clubs’ radar and hasn’t looked back. He’s become a hitting machine at all levels of the minor leagues and really only hasn’t been able to figure out major league pitching in 110 plate appearances. While Pillar may never be a major league star, he will likely have a solid career as a fourth outfielder with speed and the ability to play all three positions.
Following Pillar were Lansing teammates (and battery-mates) pitcher Kramer Champlin and catcher Munoz. Champlin had an excellent season this year while Munoz is an excellent defensive catcher who will hit and take enough walks to get a decent OPB but has very little power. In the 36th round, the Blue Jays selected Arik Sikula who had a very good year for the Lugnuts as a reliever. Nick Baligod was selected in the 40th round and had a surprisingly good .283/.351/.382 line with Dunedin in High-A ball.
In the “fourth ten” (rounds 31-40), the Blue Jays hit the jackpot with Kevin Pillar who has already reached the major leagues. Four other players from those rounds remain in the system and Sikula probably has the most upside. Three players didn’t sign and two have been released. Totals: 45 players drafted, 22 in the organization, 15 unsigned, four traded and four released.
We’re in the home stretch, rounds 41-50 and, for a change, the Blue Jays signed more of these players than they had in previous years. 41st rounder Cody Bartlett signed and played in 2011 and 2012 in the GCL for the Jays. He’s not listed as having been released but he did not play in 2013 and was not listed on the GCL Blue Jays roster. 42nd rounder Shane Davis was released after reaching the Vancouver Canadians in 2011 and pitching in Bluefield in 2012.
With their 43rd round pick the Blue Jays selected Jake Eliopoulos, who was drafted the year before in the early rounds and he, again, didn’t sign. 44th rounder Colby Broussard was released after the 2012 season and 45th rounder John Coy didn’t sign. 46th rounder Shane Farrell (former manager John Farrell‘s son) signed but has never pitched in professional baseball. None of the next three players, Austin Davis, Jake Wakamatsu (son of former bench coach John Wakamatsu) and Charles LaMar signed but the 50th rounder did.
Eric Brown, a Thunder Bay native who played university baseball in Vancouver at the University of British Columbia, signed and has risen to Single-A ball with both the Lansing Lugnuts (and very briefly, the Dunedin Blue Jays). Brown is still hanging around and has been working on his repertoire of pitches in order to be more effective at higher levels.
Brown is the lone survivor from the final ten rounds of the draft (which have no been eliminated) for the 2011 draft. Of those ten picks, five signed. One never played (Farrell) and three have been released.
Final totals for the 2011 draft: 55 picks, 23 are still with the organization, 20 didn’t sign, seven have been released, four traded and one never played after signing.
If you’re playing along at home, you’ll start to see some patterns in the Blue Jays’ draft strategies under Alex Anthopoulos and these early strategies are starting to pay off. Despite trading away three of their top five prospects a year ago, the club’s organizational depth keeps the Blue Jays in the middle of the pack when compared to the rest of Major League Baseball. 2011 has the potential to be a great draft with Kevin Pillar already having a taste of the majors, John Stilson is very close to being a major league reliever and Daniel Norris has the potential to be a great major league starter. Andy Burns is also showing flashes of ML potential as a 3rd baseman who can hit for average and power as well as speed. Lower down, Matt Dean is starting to harness his power bat and there are still some wild cards who remain in the organization.
2012 will be a different ballgame altogether as new CBA rules on the draft will force Alex Anthopoulos to be more creative in getting the high-ceiling talent he loves so much.
*I’m using Bluebird Banter’s handy draft pick signing list as a resource. This is a crowd sourced list that cites reported signing bonuses and compiles them into one list.
All photos are copyright Blue Jays from Away (2013) and may not be used without permission.