We had a chance to catch up with Blue Jays Director of Amateur Scouting Steve Sanders to talk about the crop of players the team selected in June’s draft.
The Blue Jays played things relatively safe in last year’s draft, selecting only one High Schooler (2nd round pick Hagen Danner) with their first 14 picks.
It was easy to forecast the Blue Jays dipping into the college ranks to take their first pick this year, 12th overall. Several high profile collegiate arms appeared to be a fit with Toronto, and many boards seemed to agree.
Sanders and Texas Area Scout Brian Johnston confounded most observers when they took Magnolia High SS Jordan Groshans with that first pick, and then returned to the Lone Star State to take Groshans’ Magnolia teammate Adam Kloffenstein with their 3rd round pick.
Some speculated that the real catch was Kloffenstein, and drafting Groshans was a way to get him under contract. Sanders says that really wasn’t the case:
Yeah I mean honestly it really wasn’t….those two players were were not really linked on our board, as good as the storyline is,and they’re certainly teammates and close friends….. getting both of them didn’t really come to fruition until the third round when we were able to take Adam and make him a Blue Jay.
It was really more a matter of both those guys were really scouted and discussed and drafted independent from one another.
As for Groshans’ small-sample sized sizzling debut (.380/.439/.593) in the GCL, Sanders was very pleased, to say the least:
I mean (it’s) still a small sample size and it’s still a compact Complex League, but wow – look it’s early for sure and there’s only so much stock you can put in a hundred plate appearances, but we’re certainly very very happy with the start he has gotten off to . We’re not surprised. I think we we certainly felt that with the type of investment we’re making in him, and the amount of time we spent scouting him, we certainly were hopeful that he’d get off to a good start. He’s hit the ground running – we’re obviously very pleased with the start he’s gotten off to for us.
As for Kloffenstein, who has yet to make his pro debut, that’s largely out of Sanders’ hands, but he did some have some insight to offer:
I don’t really have any specifics on that (when he’ll make his debut). You know Adam had a pretty heavy workload. Earlier this year believe he threw something in the realm of 80 innings. So for us, it’s just it’s pretty much just the standard progression with every pitcher that comes into the system out of the draft. The first thing that’s pretty much done is assessing where they’re at. From a inning standpoint of where they’re at, from a season progression standpoint. And putting together a development plan that’s specific to them. So you know that (Director of Player Development) Gil Kim (VP of Baseball Ops), Ben Cherington, and the PD are certainly working with Adam. I would certainly expect to see him on the mound at some point soon.
Entering the 2018 college season, Duke OF Griffin Conine was viewed as a potential high first round pick. Coming off a Cape Cod Top Prospect ranking the previous summer, the sky seemed the limit for the son of the former Major Leaguer.
But Conine’s season fell short of expectations. Some put it down to selling out for power, while others suggested problems with his swing. The Blue Jays quietly bided their time, and scooped Conine up in the 2nd round. For the Blue Jays his past history, tools, and even the struggles he faced this year added up:
Griffin was an interesting one for us, and he was the guy that, like I said right after the draft, he’s a guy we’ve been watching for a long time, and that we’ve had interest in for quite some time and no doubt coming into the year certainly felt like he was somebody who was in the mix. He was a guy certainly discussed in that first round area, again based on the year he had, and some of the struggles he faced we certainly felt opportunistic and being able to have the opportunity to take him in the second round. Sometimes those struggles are actually good to see. We don’t often have the opportunity to see guys with that type of talent level – especially amateurs – go through periods of struggle, and seeing him come out on the other side of it he finished the year the year on a particularly strong note which was certainly a positive for us. But but you know it goes back to the value of scouting history and knowing the player for some time. We had scouted him quite closely in the Cape League last summer where you know he hit well over 300 with power with wood.
As for the bloodlines, Sanders says despite the fact that there are a number of players with MLB dads in the system, it’s not necessarily a draft strategy:
I don’t think it’s so much a concerted effort that we target players with Major League bloodlines . But I think we do target players with aptitude, strong baseball IQ, and work ethic – an understanding of how to be a professional: character, makeup, toughness, and ability to deal with adversity.
After a discussion about the top draft picks, we moved on to talk about several other players, including:
4th rounder Sean Wymer, TCU RHP:
He‘s had success in multiple roles both out of the pen and as a starter, and throws a lot of strikes. . A little bit more velocity than Joey Murray but probably in a similar mold of pitcher first. Not necessarily going to overpower with pure stuff. He’ll run his fastball up in the mid 90s, but really really knows how to pitch, throws a ton of strikes, and has a feel for a breaking ball and a change and has shown the ability in college to be successful in a multiple of roles which is which is exciting for us.
6th round pick Florida HS Infielder Addison Barger
Addison is an interesting guy, and again someone that we’ve known for quite some time. He’s been a part of some of our scout teams down there in Florida. Our Area Scout Matt Bishoff did a tremendous job of getting to know Addison not just as a player but as a kid. And he’s he’s really interesting. You know it’s not often that you get the opportunity to add a high school left-handed hitting middle infielder at that point in the draft with with tools that Addison has – he’s got feel for his bat, and he’s got a plus arm and he has some pop from the left side. So you know right now it’s been fun to watch as he Jordan, Leo Jimenez (one of our international signings) for the infield there at the GCL – all have rotated through and gotten shortstop innings. All three have also shown the ability to move around and play multiple positions. Addison’s an impressive kid, very very strong makeup, and we were certainly excited to get him where we got him.
7th round pick Notre Dame 2B Nic Podkul:
Nick is a guy who may not stand out amongst the crowd in terms of size, physicality, or tools, but really has a pretty good feel to hit. Had a nice year at Notre Dame, hit over 300 with 8 HRs and has performed well over the summer with wood, so he’s somebody to watch as well, someone who we certainly were excited to grab.
8th rounder Joey Murray, RHP from Kent State:
Joey doesn’t have the big velocity like some of the Pitchers that can strike out 140 guys (in a college season) . I think he’s effective – his velocity can play up a little bit because of his ability to change speed and throw strikes with multiple pitches. He’s got deception you know that’s hard. That part that’s carried over to an extent you know with his start in Vancouver. He’s got a feel to stay off of barrels, and any time you talk about a college pitcher who pitches in the upper 80s/low 90s, I’m not sure if surprise is the word for where we got him but he was a guy that we certainly were interested in, and probably considered him a little bit higher than that, but we’re certainly happy with the opportunity to get him where did.
At that point, the conversion diverged into a discussion about scouting in general. Given the scores of players a team evaluates, we asked Sanders at what point does he turn things over to his scouts, since he can’t possibly scout every player in person himself:
I don’t know if there’s a specific round. I think the biggest thing is that area scouts are really the driver of the process in every round. Even in the first and second rounds where there’s an abundance of information, and there’s there’s a significant amount of scouting looks at those guys across our staff, really the area scouts are the guys who know the players best. And and as a staff you know oftentimes our comfort level in taking a player, whether it’s in the first or 40th rounds is really derived off the comfort of the area scout. So, I don’t know that there’s a round, or that necessarily takes over or changes, but the biggest thing that changes as you go deeper and deeper into the draft is the amount of other information that you have to accompany on a first rounder, someone we may have seen a dozen or more times spring. Obviously that that’s no longer possible in the 28 rounds, but deeper in the draft again you’re really very reliant on the area scout too. In some cases he may have been the only person to see the player. But I think the big thing thathammers it home is hat those those guys really do drive the process. It’s not just on day two and three but you know even at the very top of the draft that that area scout conviction not just in the player but in person is important, because really those are the guys who know the players, and is really probably the single biggest driver of our scouting process.
On the process of selecting what Sanders terms “Post 10” players, guys taken after that round:
There’s a lot of scout conviction that carries a lot of the weight of the process. So you know like we talked the last year I think the neat thing is each and every single one of these guys that we took and ultimately signed you know somebody was was pounding the table, whether it was the area scout or one of the crosscheckers.
On who is in the Blue Jays “War Room” during the draft:
It’s a collection of people from across not just the department but baseball operations. So there are people in there from: obviously our scouts, our front office, members of the player development, medical, and high performance group. Really it’s a collection of people that can offer up varying experiences and combining those collective experiences to make the best decision. It’s a very collaborative effort, and over the course of a week plus (the success of the draft) hinges on sort of the participation and effort of everybody in that room.
We asked Sanders what the busiest month of his post-draft seaon is:
I don’t know what the busiest month is in particular. I think really all parts of the office are surprisingly busy with different stuff. Right now, it’s largely about being on the road seeing players for next year’s draft, and then come the fall into winter time we’ll shift to staff meetings for administrative preparation for the draft. But right now we’re still pretty busy scouting. The Cape League is still going on, and all of the summer leagues are still going so we’ve got guys out watching all those and the high school showcase circuit is at the half way point.. So these next few months are surprisingly busy as we really prepare for next June.
The Blue Jays drafted 40 players in total, 31 of them from the college ranks. Sanders isn’t comfortable about talking about a player who got away, but 27th rounder Kyle Luckham, a California HS RHP may have been one. Scouts had concerns about his mechanics and long-term value as a starter, but the Blue Jays saw enough to take a flyer on 2017 2nd rounder Hagen Danner’s high school teammate.
With the Blue Jays likely to be picking higher than 12th (their current record is worse than only 8 other teams) next June, Sanders and his scouts are no doubt already in the early stages of assembling next year’s board.