The MLB Draft is an exciting time for baseball fans. It’s when new blood is infused into a team’s minor league system, offering hope for the coming years. For a team like Toronto, which is trying to rebuild a minor league system, the draft is a major way to replenish the talent level.
Late First Round
Thanks to their success, the Blue Jays will be picking in the late first round. The Blue Jays select 22nd and 28th this year with the extra first-round pick coming as compensation for Edwin Encanarcion signing with the Cleveland Indians.
Rules of the Road
Unlike other sports, the MLB draft is a marathon, not a sprint. With 40 rounds over three days, the draft is where the amateur scouting department of a team gets to shine. In fact, even though Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins are at the head of the organization, their presence is felt more in the overall directions that they give to amateur scouting director Steve Sanders and his scouting staff.
Teams have a bonus pool that they use to sign players. The Blue Jays have a total of $8,231,000 to use against players signing. Their first two picks account for more than half of that with the 22nd overall pick having $2,795,200 assigned to it and the 29th pick having $2,302,900 assigned.
This $8,231,000 total is the amount that the Blue Jays can spend on signing bonuses for the first 10 rounds of the draft, however, there is a $100,000 exemption per player in rounds 11 to 40. If a player in those later rounds signs for more than $100,000, the excess is counted against the bonus pool. If a team fails to sign a player in the top 10 rounds, the value for the assigned pick is subtracted from the total pool (i.e., the club doesn’t get to use that amount to sign someone else).
If a player in rounds 11 to 40 is signed for less than $100,000, a club does not have any more room to sign players for more than the $100,000 exemption.
If a team exceeds the bonus pool amount up to 5%, they must pay a 75% tax on that amount that goes over. If the club exceeds by more than five percent up to 10%, they pay a 75% tax on the overage and they lose a first-round pick the subsequent year. Between 10% and 15% above the threshold and the club will lose a first- and second-round pick along with a 100% tax and any more than 15%, the club pays the 100% tax and loses two first-round picks.
Who is draft eligible?
There are generally three categories of players who are eligible for the draft who are playing in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. The first group are players coming out of high school. Additionally, players may be drafted out of junior colleges after any year and players coming out of four-year colleges (without having gone to a junior college first) may be drafted after their junior or senior years (with some exceptions allowing for some sophomores).
40 rounds . . . and then what?
Then we wait for players to sign. I haven’t been able to find the draft pick signing deadline but it will likely be around the middle of July. Many high-school age players, especially if taken after the first few rounds of the draft, will not sign, choosing to go to college in order to improve their draft stock if they aren’t getting mid-to-high six-figure bonus offers. College juniors have leverage to drive up their bonuses while college seniors are the most likely to sign quickly and cheaply as they lack any negotiating leverage.
In addition to the 40 rounds of the draft, teams frequently sign non-drafted free agents in the days following the draft. These are players whom scouts have liked in their preparation for the draft but, for whatever reason, did not get drafted.
The Blue Jays have typically selected college pitchers over the past several years. For the past three seasons, their first pick has been just that with T.J. Zeuch, Jon Harris and Jeff Hoffman becoming their first pick in 2016, 2015 and 2014 respectively. In 2013 and 2011 they went with high school pitchers who ultimately didn’t sign and selected D.J. Davis first in 2012 with Marcus Stroman also coming to the Jays in the first round that year.
So far, it’s looking like the Blue Jays had a very successful draft in 2016 with Zeuch pitching well (although he’s currently on the DL) and 2nd-rounder, 19-year-old infielder Bo Bichette tearing up the Midwest League with the Lansing Lugnuts. Their other second-round pick, outfielder J.B. Woodman, is showing flashes of potential while working out some of his other issues, also with Lansing. Third rounder, righty Zach Jackson is showing potential as a bullpen arm with Dunedin while fourth-rounder, outfielder Joshua Palacios, has had some struggles with the Lansing Lugnuts. Going to the fifth round, Cavan Biggio, son of Craig Biggio, is in Dunedin, putting up solid numbers.
After the first five rounds, there are always questions. Kirby Snead has been coming on lately as a lefty reliever with LOOGY potential. Bradley Jones, the Jays’ 18th rounder last year, won a home run title in Bluefield last year and is now in Dunedin trying to continue his rise through the system. Several players drafted lower down are in roles with Lansing but most have yet to get their season going with one of the three short-season clubs.
What to look for in 2017
If the Blue Jays continue the strategy that they appeared to use last year, look for more college-age players unless there’s someone coming out of high school who has a high upside and whom the Blue Jays feel they can get good value selecting. Premium high school players tend to be able to command very high bonuses due to their ability to go to college and therefore, a club will need to know they can sign a player within their bonus pool in order to use a high pick on him.
While the Jays selected a lot of college-age hitters last year, I might look to see the pendulum swing back a bit to a more balanced approach between hitters and pitchers in the first five to 10 rounds.
Surprises and Patience
Remember, Mike Trout was selected 25th overall in 2009 so there are always hits and misses, even in the first round. Any of these surprises take a few years to reveal themselves so patience is the most important characteristic when watching the draft and the minor leagues. Players who perform immediately in the lower minor leagues may hit their ceiling in A-ball whereas some players may not find their groove for two or three years. Watching these players is what Blue Jays from Away is all about, so stay tuned as the seasons progress!
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