MLB’s decision to limit the upcoming draft to 5 rounds in a cost-cutting measure which will have ripple effects throughout the industry. Many high school players just outside of the top tier of prospects will likely opt to go to a college or juco; current college juniors not selected in the draft may decide to return for a senior year, thus limiting opportunities for some of those high schoolers, which is why next year’s draft is expected to be a bonanza for junior college players.
For teams with area scouts that really know their territories, they will be at something of a disadvantage. Players who have fallen on the prospect radar due to injury will now be available for any team that wants to spend $20K to sign them. And the Blue Jays, who have had success in Days 2 and 3 of the draft of late, will be at something of a disadvantage as a result.
Here’s a look at the best late-round picks in Blue Jays history. A couple of disclaimers before we begin: 1) up until 1986, baseball had both a June draft, as well as a January one for players who were missed in the earlier lottery; 2) to simplify things, we’ll focus only on players who actually signed with Toronto.
1 – Jeff Kent (20th round, 1989) 55.4 WAR
Kent, of course, compiled only a fraction of his career totals with the Blue Jays after being dealt in a package to acquire David Cone at the trade deadline in 1992. With Roberto Alomar firmly ensconced at 2nd, there wasn’t a regular spot for Kent. He went on to play 16 more years in a borderline Hall of Fame career, and played in five All Star games, and was named the 2000 NL MVP.
2. Jesse Barfield (9th round, 1977) 39.4 WAR
With their 9th pick in their first ever draft, the Blue Jays selected the skinny HS OF from Joliet, IL. the 1986 AL Home Run leader went on to become one of the best power hitters in the game in the 80s, and along with George Bell and Lloyd Moseby, formed one of baseball’s best outfields.
3. Orlando Hudson (33rd/96, 43/97) 30.9 WAR
Hudson was not a highly regarded high school prospect, so he went off to Junior College to try to improve his draft standing. Unfortunately, he fell in the draft the following year, but the Blue Jays liked him enough to take him in the 43rd round, even though he had turned them down after being selected ten picks earlier in 1996.
Not possessed of one outstanding tool when he made his pro debut, Hudson transformed himself from org guy to MLB regular. Hudson won a Gold Glove in 2005, then added a pair as well as two trips to the All Star game after he left the organization.
4. Woody Williams (28th/88) 30.4 WAR
A back of the rotation guy, Williams started his MLB career in the bullpen, but transitioned to a starter. Much of his success came after he left the Blue Jays in 1997, which included a career high 18 Wins and an All Star appearance in 2003, and a World Series trip with the Cardinals in 2004. Williams pitched for 15 years in the bigs.
5. Kevin Pillar (32nd/11) 15.3 WAR
All but completely overlooked in his draft year despite compiling a collegiate record hit streak, Pillar raced through the minors. Compared to another late round Blue Jays success, Reed Johnson (17th/99), Pillar was projected to be an overachieving fourth outfielder. While that was probably an accurate tag, Pillar became a regular in the Blue Jays by 2015, and quickly became a fan favourite for his highlight reel catches in Centre Field. Ultimately, his inability to manage the strike zone and get on base to take advantage of his plus speed, Pillar was cut loose after the 2019 season.
They haven’t produced a lot of WAR at the MLB level yet, but you would likely have to include Ryan Borucki (15th/12) and Danny Jansen (16th/13) to this list one day. Of more recent vintage among promising late round picks would be Jackson McClelland (15th/15), Chavez Young (39th/16), Luis Quinones (35th/19), and Cre Finfrock (29th/18). Last year’s MiLBY Reliever of the Year Jackson Rees, who as signed as a NDFA in 2018.