The Blue Jays released DJ Davis, their first pick (17th overall) in the 2012 draft this week.
Davis was a bit of a reach, and the Blue Jays were likely more focussed on their other 1st rounder, Duke RHP Marcus Stroman, who went 22nd overall with the pick they received for failing to reach a contractual agreement with high schooler Tyler Beede the year before. Young for his draft class, the Blue Jays were prepared to be patient and give Davis plenty of time to develop.
Slot for the 17th pick was $2 million – Davis signed for $1.75, and some of the savings the team realized from signing him went to fellow Mississippi HS OF Anthony Alford, who they drafted in the 3rd round after most teams shied away due to his college football commitment. Alford signed for about $300K over slot.
Mississippi is not exactly a hotbed of high school baseball talent, but the Blue Jays at that time were full on into their strategy of looking for players in non-traditional markets. Baseball America‘s draft report pointed out his strengths:
Davis’s pro career got off to a good start – he was ranked the GCL’s 3rd prospect after his debut season, and he moved up to #2 in the Appalachian League rankings the following year. When he reached full season ball, however, Davis’ inability to make consistent contact, or take advantage of his speed when he did get on base caused him to repeat Lansing after he struck out 167 times in less than 500 ABs in 2014.
Davis’ second go at the MWL in 2015 produced some better numbers (.282/.340/.391, 21/31 stealing), but he was very overmatched when he was promoted to Dunedin the following year, appearing in only 83 games, as he struggled to reach .200, and got on base less than 30% of the time. Pitchers could easily overpower Davis, and when he did hunt the fastball, he often got badly fooled on off speed pitches.
The club sent Davis to Australia this off-season in the hopes of giving him some further reps and extra education in pitch recognition, but the veteran pitchers in the ABL took full advantage, and Davis could produce only a .174/.252/.266 line.
Davis has an impressive toolkit starting with that speed, but he never learned to harness it effectively on either side of the ball. There was a glimmer of hope last year, when he posted a .283/.357/.369 second half and cut down on the whiffs, but his numbers returned to their former numbers this year, as he fought for playing time in his third tour with Dunedin. The strike zone management and bat speed was just not there, and his reads in the OF were not where one would think it would be for a player entering his eighth year of pro ball.
Also released along with Davis was SS J.C Cardenas, a 6th round pick in 2015. Cardenas played 78 games with Dunedin last year, but with the focus on middle infielders in the draft and IFA market, he was unable to crack a full season roster this year.
If you’ve visited this site hoping to find out if Vladimir Guerrero Jr will continue to be one of the top prospects in baseball, or if Bo Bichette will continue to hit everything in sight, or if Nate Pearson will continue to dominate with a fastball in the upper 90s, let me save you some time – the answer is yes.
Those are not exactly compelling storylines. While there are no guarantees, all three are on track to become front-line Major Leaguers.
But there are several in the Blue Jays system that will be worth following this year:
1. Will Justin Maese return to health this year?
Maese climbed the prospect charts in only his second pro season in 2016. Shoulder issues lead to a six week shutdown in June/July, and an end to his season in early August.
When healthy, Maese pounds the bottom of the strike zone with a sinker that has a good downward plane, which hitters find difficult to square up. Last year, his shoulder problems kept him from getting the extension necessary to keep his pitches down, and his flyball rate jumped from around 20 to 25%, with a corresponding drop in his ground ball rate. Maese in 2016 was an incredibly efficient Pitcher, averaging 13 pitches per inning. In 2017, his pitch count and BB% jumped significantly as he struggled to find the strike zone. A healthy Maese attacked hitters, but last year he pitched from behind more often than not, or so it seemed.
Pitching from a 3/4 delivery, Maese sits 91-95 with his sinker, which is complemented by a slider which he learned a new grip for at 2015 Instructs, and a changeup. Both of his offspeed pitches flash above average potential.
After 2016, Maese was being talked about as a potential back of the rotation arm. He didn’t exactly fall off the radar last year, but his stock dropped considerably.
2. Will Riley Adams continue to develop?
The 2017 3rd rounder was Vancouver’s MVP as he led the C’s back to the league championship.
Thought of as more of an offensive Catcher with a plus arm, Adams made tremendous strides defensively last year, but scouts wondered if he might eventually have to move off the position. His hands and receiving skills were rated below average, and two months of pro ball demonstrated that he has some work to do in regard to pitch framing.
One thing is for certain from viewing Adams a number of times last year: his bat is of the potential big league variety. Adams worked the count well, and while he didn’t tap into his power (3 HRs for the summer), he shows raw power that should show up as he moves through the system. His K rate was on the high side, but fatigue may have helped to slow his bat down.
Likely destined for Lansing this year, Black-Belt Adams is part of an impressive haul of athletic players the Blue Jays netted last June. If he can continue to develop his blocking and game-calling skills, Adams could add to the depth of Catching prospects the Blue Jays have accumulated.
3. Can Jon Harris bounce back?
The 2015 1st round pick had a solid 2016, and was rewarded with a challenging assignment to AA to start 2017.
He caught entirely too much of the plate on many occasions, and hitters made him pay accordingly.
Harris sits 90-94 with his fastball, and while his secondaries are decent, like his fastball, nothing really stands out as a go-to pitch. A FIP almost a full run lower than his ERA last year suggests that some BABIP issues were in play for him, but Harris gave up a lot of contact, with only 45% of it being of the groundball variety.
Harris was not drafted with promises of front-of-the-rotation potential; just the same, he showed the right mix of pitchability and athleticism to suggest a mid-rotation future. He has the frame to add some more strength, and his height creates a good downward plane on his pitches. He did not fall off the prospect radar entirely this past season, but his performance has him down the depth chart of minor league starters.
4. Will Maverik Buffo be able to repeat his GCL success at a higher level?
Buffo’s story was one of the best in the Blue Jays system last year.
Elbow issues scared most teams off, but the Blue Jays took a flyer on him in the 34th round, and kept him close to their medical facilities in the GCL, where hitters stood absolutely no chance against him, as he gave up only 2 earned runs in 34 innings.
Buffo suffered a UCL tear in his Sophomore year at BYU, but he avoided Tommy John with Platelet-Rich-Plasma therapy. His Junior numbers were not great, which probably convinced most teams he was headed for surgery, but Buffo says he’s 100% recovered.
Buffo attacks hitters with a fastball that sits 92-95, and throws a sharp breaking ball that has tight shape and horizontal break. GCL hitters were overmatched by him, but it will be interesting to see how he fares against hitters at higher levels – he should reach Lansing perhaps to begin the season, or when the weather warms up.
5. Was DJ Davis’ second half for real?
The 2012 1st rounder had long lost his top prospect status after repeating both Low A and High A, but a swing adjustment that lead to a .283/.357/.369 (featuring an OPS of .830 in August) brings some hope for this athletic Outfielder.
Pitch recognition and a long swing have held Davis back. His speed has always prophesied top of the order potential, but he seemed to be more comfortable hitting at the bottom of the lineup last year. After begin caught stealing more times than he was successful in 2014, Davis has quietly improved his base running skills, swiping 32 in 43 attempts.
Davis still certainly has miles to go before he ever regains his former prospect lustre, but the Blue Jays have to be encouraged with the progress he displayed in the 2nd half. Described as toolsy-but-raw when he was drafted, Davis at least gave a glimpse of tapping into some of that potential in July and August last year.
6. Can Ryan Noda come anywhere close to repeating his Appy numbers?
Noda was a candidate to go in the top 3 rounds of the draft last June, but a mediocre college season dropped him to the 15th round. Sent to the Appy League because Kacy Clemens had 1B locked up at Vancouver, Noda laid waste to league pitching for the summer.
The Appy MVP, Noda led the league in average, OBP, and Slugging, and drew 25 more walks than the runner-up. He has hitting above .400 as last as August 7th.
In the Appy, Noda could be patient, and wait for Pitchers to make mistakes. At the higher levels, there is some concern that passivity could be taken advantage of.
Noda has the skills to play the OF, but there was little need for him with Bluefield with the presence of ballhawks like Chavez Young and McGregory Contreras. Likely ticketed for Lansing this year, he should split time between 1B/DH/OF. It was fun to watch him post video game-like numbers last year, but he will be hard pressed to repeat that in Low A.
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.