It takes, on average, 4-5 years to develop a Major Leaguer. Some, of course, race through the minors and beat that timeline by a considerable margin, while others need longer to figure things out. Because of that, I like to wait five years before evaluating an MLB team’s draft results.
When Alex Anthopoulos took over the GM’s chair from J.P. Ricciardi in 2009, one of the first areas he upgraded was the amateur scouting department. A year later, no one in the game had more scouts scouring North America for talent at the pro and amateur levels than the Blue Jays.
It was in the 2011 draft that Anthopoulos and Amateur Scouting Director Blake Parker began to hone their roll-the-dice approach to the annual talent shopping spree. With 7 of the first 78 picks, they selected the most risky of draft commodities, the high school Pitcher, with all but one of them. One of their strategies was to take a flyer on a player whose stock had fallen due to the perceived strength of their college commitment. It backfired when Massachussetts prep righty Tyler Beede, who had maintained all along that he was headed for Vanderbilt, was taken with the 21st pick, but refused to sign. But the Blue Jays were able to convince their next pick, Tennessee HS southpaw Daniel Norris, to forego his pledge to Clemson.
2012 saw Anthopoulos and Parker at their swashbuckling best. With the sheer size of their scouting numbers, they were able to probe areas that were not considered to be baseball hot beds. They gambled on toosly Mississippi high school OF D.J Davis (whose father played in the Jays organization – give the pair credit: they were ahead of the curve, because many teams now covet kids whose dads had played pro ball). Davis has struggled mightily in six pro seasons, striking out about 27% of the time. The tools are there, but an ability to get on base consistently has not. After ranking in the Blue Jays Top 10 prospects for the first several years of his career, Davis has dropped off the radar, although a .333/.381/.449 August for High A Dunedin may be an indication he’s finally turning things around.
The next Blue Jays pick turned out to be the best (or perhaps second best) of the AA-Parker era: with the compensation choice they were granted as a result of failing to reach terms with Beede, Toronto drafted Duke RHP Marcus Stroman. There was no denying his talent and athleticism, but given his small stature, many teams viewed him as a Tom Gordon-type reliever in the long term. Baseball America‘s scouting report suggested as much:
An 18th-round pick out of a New York high school in 2009, Stroman’s commitment to Duke and his size scared teams off. He was a two-way player in high school, but scouts always preferred him on the mound because of his low-90s fastball and compared him to Tom Gordon. After three years at Duke, Stroman has become one of the most electric arms in the country despite being 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds. He was 5-4, 2.36 with 119 strikeouts and 22 walks in 84 innings this spring for a bad Duke team. He is athletic and now sits at 92-94 mph as a starter and can touch 95-96. His best secondary offering is a nasty slider with depth. He has also mixed in a good changeup and a cutter that sits 88-90 mph. He can hold his velocity deep into games, but most scouts say he could be the first 2012 draftee to reach the big leagues if he goes to the bullpen. He worked as the closer for Team USA last summer and was 93-96 mph consistently, pitching 8 1/3 innings without giving up a hit while striking out 17 and walking one.
The Blue Jays, of course, saw that four pitch mix as part of a starter’s makeup, and sent him to Vancouver to begin his pro career. Stroman made his MLB debut in May of 2014l, and has produced 10.8 WAR, a total which undoubtedly would be higher if a positive PED suspension in 2013 and a knee injury in 2015 had not interrupted his career.
After Stroman, the Blue Jays reached for the dice and took Ohio HS LHP Matt Smoral with the 50th pick (a supplemental pick for the loss of reliever Frank Francisco). Smoral had fallen that far after a foot injury cost him his senior year. They were willing to be patient with the 6’8″ southpaw, but after injuries limited him to 53 games over 4 years, the Blue Jays lost him to Texas in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft. Arizona 3B Mitch Nay was their next selection at 58 (another supplemental, this one for the los of Jon Rauch), but injuries have derailed his career, as well. While playing for High A Dunedin, Nay woke up one August morning with a sore knee. The pain worsened, and Nay was eventually diagnosed with a staph infection, which took three surgeries to remove. The infection cost him all of 2016, and he in essence started all over with Lansing this year.
With the last of their supplemental picks (compensation for the loss of Jose Molina), the Blue Jays took Texas HS RHP Tyler Gonzales, who some thought could become an elite closer. After having pitched poorly in his first two pro seasons in the Gulf Coast League, Gonzales was released in July, 2014. Two months later, he was suspended for 50 games by MiLB for a second positive test of a drug of abuse. With the last of their Top 100 picks, Toronto selected California HS RHP Chase DeJong. DeJong had a breakout 2015 for Lansing, before being dealt to the Dodgers in August for international bonus pool money in the wake of the Jays signing Vladimir Guerrero Jr. DeJong made his MLB debut for the Mariners this year.
The biggest gamble of the draft, and perhaps the one that will eventually have the biggest payoff, was the drafting of Mississippi two-sport athlete Anthony Alford in the 3rd round. Alford was a highly regarded, first-round level talent, but as one of the top football recruits in the country, most teams backed off. The Blue Jays allowed him to pursue both sports, and their patience was rewarded when he fully committed to baseball in the fall of 2014. After making his MLB debut this season, Alford should be in contention for a 25-man roster spot this spring.
The only other draftees to make much of a minor league impact beyond that were OF Ian Parmley (7th round), Illinios LHP Ryan Borucki (15th), and SS Jason Leblebijian. Borucki did not pitch beyond March in his draft year due to elbow injuries, but after being promoted to the 40 last fall, is on the cusp of a big league job himself. Leblebijian can play a variety of positions, and while he’s down on the depth charts, he will serve a useful role for Buffalo this year.
Beyond those choices, there was no one who “got away.” Missouri HS RHP Jon Harris was taken in the 33rd round, but opted to go to college. Three years later, he was one of the top Pitchers in the nation, and the Blue Jays selected him again, this time in the 1st round (29th overall). Harris had a disappointing season with AA New Hampshire in 2017.
The 2012 Blue Jays draft has produced 10.6 WAR, almost all of that by Stroman (De Jong accounts for -0.3, Alford for 0.1). The 2011 draft was more productive in terms of WAR, producing 24.8 Wins, almost half of them by 32nd rounder Kevin Pillar. The rest have mostly been compiled by players no longer with the organization like Daniel Norris, Joe Musgrove, and Anthony DeSclafani, as well as Aaron Nola, who was chosen in the 22nd round, but opted to go the collegiate route. The 2010 draft has produced 42.9 Wins, but that total was inflated by another player who didn’t sign, Kris Bryant.
How does the 2012 draft compare to the previous two, then? If Stroman becomes a long-term Blue Jay, and Alford reaches his ceiling, it could turn out to be the best of the Anthopoulos-Parker regime in terms of quality, if not quantity. We can certainly play the “what if?” game in the case of Davis. The Dodgers took Corey Seager with the next pick, while the Cardinals took Michael Wacha after that. With a second first round pick, however, the Blue Jays were inclined to gamble on the toolsy-but-raw Davis, taking a safer bet like Stroman with the second choice. But you certainly can’t argue with the haul of prospects they acquired in 2010 and 2011. One thing is certain with these first three drafts: the Blue Jays took advantage of the rules of the day, letting free agents go in order to hoard those picks – they had 17 top 100 selections over those three years.