We come to a really interesting year for Blue Jays drafting: 2012.
A new CBA came into effect and the draft was really affected by it. First of all, the draft was shortened to 40 rounds which was no big deal, particularly because most of the draftees after round 41 didn’t end up signing anyways. The second, very important, change was that draft pick compensation for signing free agents was dialed WAY back. Now, only a few free agents were deemed “compensation eligible” and the conditions were much steeper. MLB also instituted a “competitive balance” set of supplemental rounds which hasn’t affected the Blue Jays yet so I won’t really write about that.
The biggest change was to institute more of a “hard slot” system for signing bonuses. This changed the way teams were able to spend money in the draft, something that Blue Jays did very freely, particularly under Alex Anthopoulos. Under this new system, a team was given a slot value for each pick and an overall amount of money that they would be allowed to spend based on the number of picks and where they were. If a team went over the slot, they must pay a luxury tax of 75% on the dollar. If a team exceeds the slot value by more than 5%, the luxury tax bumps up to 100% and the team loses their next first round pick. Clearly this is a huge deterrent to teams who were willing to go way over slot to get their players.
There are additional nuances to the slotting rules. The first 10 rounds of the draft are treated differently from the rest of the draft: money saved in the first 10 rounds can be spent throughout the whole draft but money saved after round 11 can’t be “banked” to be able to spend elsewhere. On the other hand, going over slot for any round will be held against the final total. Also, if a pick isn’t signed (particularly in the first 10 rounds), the money that was allotted for that signing bonus is removed from that team’s bonus pool. This means that if you had $5,000,000 available in the pool and your first round pick, valued at $2,000,000, didn’t sign, you would only have $3,000,000 available to sign the other nine players.
There are two ways that these changes impacted the Blue Jays in 2012. The first is that the Blue Jays couldn’t stockpile early picks by signing or trading for compensation eligible free agents (a rule was instituted that a player could only be compensation eligible if he played the full season with his previous team). There was a one-year delay to this taking effect, as you can see by the Jays having three compensation picks in 2012. Additionally, a team that doesn’t sign a draft pick from the first three rounds is still eligible to have another pick in the following year (one spot down from where the pick originally was) so by not signing 21st overall pick Tyler Beede in 2011, the Blue Jays were entitled to the 22nd overall pick in 2012 in addition to their regular pick at number 17.
The second way that the new CBA affected the Blue Jays’ draft strategy is by changing the way that they targeted players. As we’ll see in the discussion of the draft itself, the Blue Jays wanted to increase the chances of getting a stud in the draft and therefore did something that no other team really did with their first ten rounds of picks.
And now for some overall numbers. The Blue Jays had four extra picks in 2012: one from not signing Tyler Beede and three as compensation for Type B free agents Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch and Jose Molina. Once again, this is the last year that we’ll see this type of draft pick stockpiling after the 2012 CBA changed the rules on free agent compensation. With 44 picks, the Blue Jays selected 23 high school players, 15 players out of 4-year colleges and six junior college players. Once again, we can see how the Blue Jay continued selecting high school players in the Alex Anthoupoulos/Andrew Tinnish era. The breakdown of where the high-schoolers and college players were selected in the first ten rounds is particularly instructive.
Continuing the trend of going for high-upside high school players, the Blue Jays took six high schoolers and one college player in the first three rounds. Rounds four through ten were ALL college players who were expected to sign cheaply. Much has been made of this strategy which enabled the Blue Jays to pay over-slot when necessary to the high schoolers (who are more expensive because of their leverage). In rounds 4-10, the Blue Jays drafted players who were expected to give the maximum amount of bonus pool savings so that they could overpay for the top seven guys. The most obvious example was 10th round pick Alex Azor, a catcher out of the U.S. Naval Academy who was quoted as saying that he “would have signed for a hot dog.” This draft pick was a symbolic selection, primarily because most graduates of service academies are required to spend some time serving in the military before they would be able to continue a career in professional sports. And now, on to the selections.
And, with their first pick in the 2012 draft, the Blue Jays select . . . HS outfielder D.J. Davis! That’s right folks. For the first time since 2008, the Blue Jays selected a position player as their first pick in the draft. Davis was toolsy in every sense of the word. The only knocks on him were that his arm is probably about average and he is very raw. Only 17 at the time of the draft, Davis was expected to be a long-term project. As you can see from my report on the Bluefield Blue Jays, Davis still has some issues (too many strikeouts, gets caught stealing too much) but his upside has become clear. He has power, the ability to get on base and speed to burn. While he’s still young and he’s had his ups and downs, scouts still see a lot to like in him and, even if he doesn’t cut down his strikeouts, probably profiles as an Anthony Gose type without Gose’s plus arm.
Also in the first round, the Blue Jays selected a college pitcher, Marcus Stroman out of Duke University, with the 22nd pick. While you might think that Stroman’s selection is a departure in strategy, it really isn’t. The Blue Jays have a history of taking chances on guys who slipped down the draft board (primarily due to injury) like Sean Nolin and Matt Dean. With an extra pick in the first round, the Blue Jays weren’t really taking much of a chance with Stroman. He had big leagues written all over him right from the start with draft analysts saying that he was the most developed pitcher in the draft with an outstanding slider and a 93-95 mph fastball.
Stroman slipped down the draft board due to the knock that, at his height (listed at 5’9″), he would never be a starter. Despite that, he may have already made his major league debut if he hadn’t tested positive for an amphetamine at the end of the 2012 season, putting him on the shelf for 50 games and nixing a major league call up in September. With that behind him, Stroman shone as a starter in Double-A in 2013, adding an effective changeup and cutter and refining his curveball and has turned himself into a prime candidate to be a major league starter.
With three compensation picks, the Blue Jays picked up an interesting trio of players. Matt Smoral is a giant (6’8″) lefty with tons of potential selected at number 50 but, as a big, young player, he has a lot of maturing physically to do before he’s going to be able to harness his full capabilities. He’s struggled at the lowest levels of the minors due to mechanical and control problems. Smoral is definitely a long-term project at best.
The following pick, #58 is a guy that has already put up big numbers and shows tremendous upside. Drafted out of high school in Arizona, 3B Mitch Nay fell down the draft board due to a broken foot that kept him out of all league action in 2012. He made his pro debut in 2013, hammering the Appalachian League and becoming the playoff MVP in the Northwest League in his post-season callup to the Vancouver Canadians. Nay possesses excellent contact ability and massive raw power to go along with a strong arm for third base. His defense needs work, but the bat is likely ready for full-season ball.
Tyler Gonzales (#60 overall) is likely the black sheep of this group. Gonzales has struggled immensely in pro ball, particularly with his control: in 2013, he walked 12 batters in 10 1/3 innings. He has a great fastball and the Blue Jays are clearly hoping that he’ll be able to start harnessing it to better effect.
Continuing the high-school trend, we come to the Blue Jays’ second round pick from 2012, one of my favourite young pitchers in the lower levels of the system, Chase DeJong. In only his second pro year (as a 19 year old), DeJong was dominant in Bluefield this season with a solid fastball (that has potential to get faster), an excellent curve and a developing changeup. DeJong is another pitcher from this draft that is going to be someone that people need to watch and will likely join an outstanding rotation in Lansing in 2014.
The last high school pick for a while is outfielder Anthony Alford. Alford is the real wild card from this draft. Scouts say that his athleticism is off the charts and he has more potential than almost anyone in this draft. On the other hand, Alford scared many teams off because he had announced that he was going to college to play football (as a quarterback). The Blue Jays signed by giving him a large, over-slot signing bonus and a promise that he would be allowed to play football for three years in college (NCAA rules don’t prevent players from playing professionally in sports other than the one they play in the NCAA).
The reason that this selection is such a wild card is that, by allowing Alford to play football, the chances of a catastrophic injury increase dramatically. In addition, he may be good enough to be drafted into the NFL and bypass pro baseball altogether (although, after seeing his stats from last year, that’s not likely). Also, his lack of development time in baseball (he’s only had 50 plate appearances in 2 years outside of Extended Spring Training) may make a major league career unattainable should he decide to commit to baseball. Basically, the almost $700,000 that the Blue Jays committed (plus, of course, the draft pick) to Alford could very easily become lost completely if any of a number of things happen. While the Blue Jays are counting on the reward being there down the line, the risk that the Blue Jays get absolutely nothing from this pick is enormous, much higher than if they selected someone with a normal pedigree. Oh, and I didn’t even mention Alford’s run-ins with the police. Or his mother’s (although the charges against him were reduced).
I’m going to cut this edition here. We’re already approaching 2000 words and I’ve only covered the first seven picks. With so many of the 2012 draftees still in the system, there will be much more information to come so I’ll save that for the next post. Additionally, I’ll also cover the bonus pool implications of these signings in the next post because it will become clear with the next seven picks what the Blue Jays’ overall game plan was.