It takes time to develop a Major Leaguer.
Even Mike Trout needed three years of seasoning before bursting onto the scene a couple of weeks shy of his 20th birthday.
The one thing I hear the most from minor league managers/coaches and front office personnel about player development is the need for repetitions. Players need time to learn and apply new skills once they enter pro ball. Obviously, college players have some of their rougher edges smoothed off by three or four years of experience, but generally speaking, it takes 4-5 years minimum to develop a player to MLB standards.
So in assessing the Blue Jays performance in the June draft, it’s best to go back five years.
Which takes us to 2013, when the combination of GM Alex Anthopoulos and Amateur Scouting Director Blake Parker were at their swashbuckling best. The Blue Jays were not afraid to roll the dice – the previous year, 7 of their first 8 picks were high schoolers, (4 of them the most risky commodity of all – the HS Pitcher), and the one college player they selected from that group – RHP Marcus Stroman – was viewed as one of the more high risk/high reward players in the draft. Projection was the key, often with a matching heavy element of risk. Toronto looked for players who were overlooked because of size (Stroman), injury (2012 LHP Matt Smoral, who missed his senior year of high school due to a foot injury), location (2012 1st rounder DJ Davis, who played his HS ball in football-mad Mississippi), or a college commitment (Daniel Norris – 2011, Anthony Alford 2012).
2013 did not see a change in that philosophy. In fact, at the 10th pick overall, the Blue Jays did not see a talent to their liking, so they selected California HS P Phil Bickford, who chose not to sign with the club after the two remained far apart on a bonus agreement. Rumours at the time suggested that the club didn’t like the results of Bickford’s post draft physical. Bickford was going to attend Cal State-Fullerton, but enrolled at Southern Nevada CC instead. In 2015, he was chosen by the Giants with the 18th overall pick, and pitched in the 2016 Futures Game. The Giants dealt him to the Brewers later that summer, and off the strength of that season was named the team’s 5th best prospect. 2017 was a different story, as he missed 50 games for a failed drug test, and a line drive broke fingers on his pitching hand. Owner of a 98 FB, command has been Bickford’s biggest issue as a pro, and the Brewers have moved him to the bullpen.
With the pick the Blue Jays received as compensation (11th overall) the following year, the club took C Max Pentecost. It’s hard to say the decision to punt the Bickford pick has paid off, at least to this point.
The Blue Jays continued their roll of the dice with their next three picks, taking HS hurlers with all of them. RHP Clinton Hollon was a talented but enigmatic Kentucky pitching prodigy. Elbow and make up concerns dropped his stock, and the Blue Jays picked him up in the 2nd round for below slot. Hollon needed Tommy John after only a dozen pro outings, but appeared to be turning things around in 2015. Promoted to Lansing after starting his comeback with Vancouver, Hollon survived a shaky 1st inning in his Midwest League debut before retiring the next 19 hitters in a row. He made only two more starts for Lansing, after a positive PED test earned him a 50 game suspension. Before he could finish that ban, he received another one for a drug of abuse. That was enought for the Blue Jays, and they released Hollon prior to 2017. He played indy ball in the Frontier League last season.
Blue Jays area scout Blake Crosby had spent a lot of time in Arizona in 2012 scouting Phoenix HS 3rd Baseman Mitch Nay, and came away impressed with a junior at Nay’s Hamilton High by the name of Patrick Murphy, who they decided to take with their 3rd round pick. Murphy missed his senior year after undergoing Tommy John, and had myriad injury issues through his first three years of pro ball, when he pitched all of 4 innings. Toronto’s patience with Murphy has been rewarded, however, as he was named the Florida State League Pitcher of the Year this past season, and was recently named to the 40-man roster. Murphy dialled his FB up to 100 this summer, and held his velo late into games. He also possesses probably the best curve in the system.
The Blue Jays took a pair of college seniors with several of their next few selections in order to save some bonus money. Two players they took have combined for almost 9 WAR between them, but unfortunately Matt Boyd and Kendall Graveman have done so for the Tigers and Athletics, respectively. In between Boyd and Graveman they gambled in the 7th round on California HS RHP Conner Greene, whose electric fastball garnered attention two seasons ago, but his inability led to a trade to the Cardinals last year, and his release by that organization this week.
Further down the draft, Toronto picked up LHP Tim Mayza (12th), and an undersized college OF in Jonathan Davis (15th round), along with a Wisconsin HS Catcher who missed much of his senior year in the next round. Mayza, Davis and Danny Jansen both made their MLB debuts this year, and Jansen looks ready to settle in as the club’s everyday backstop, while Davis has a chance to stick in 2019 in a 4th Outfielder role, while Mayza has a legitimate shot at a bullpen job.
The club also got some value out of college LHP Chad Girodo (9th), and 13th round pick Tim LoCastro, who was part of a package in 2015 to get some international bonus pool space after the club broke the bank on some kid named Guerrero. 28th rounder Matt Dermody gave the team 23 relief appearances in 2017, but spent most of 2018 on the DL.
With the money the club saved on bonuses in the early rounds, they were able to sign legendary HS slugging 1B Rowdy Tellez after taking him in the 30th round. Many teams were scared off by Tellez’ commitment to USC, but the Jays were able to throw a $750K bonus at him to sign. After steadily moving through the system and becoming on the organization’s top power prospects, Tellez stalled in 2017 and most of 2018, before turning things around in August. He made his MLB debut in September, and became the first player in the live-ball era to record four extra base hits in his first 5 PAs.
Compared to previous drafts in the Anthopoulos/Parker era, the 2013 crop has produced the lowest WAR (10.0) and WAR/Player (1.0). It was a different draft than the 2012 event, when the team had accumulated 4 1st round supplemental picks (none of which have even played above AA). It can’t be called a smashing success to this point, and while Murphy, Jansen, Davis, Tellez, and Mayza may all make their marks, the team whiffed on their first five picks. Jansen may one day prove to be an All Star, but the 2013 draft did not produce a player you could apply the franchise label to.