Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Examining the Blue Jays 2010 Draft

Alex Anthopoulos/Andrew Tinnish
Brock University photo

   Given that it takes a player, on average, 3-5 years to break into the major leagues, it's a good time to look back on the 2010 draft from a Blue Jays perspective.

   Baseball America studied every MLB draft from 1987 (when the draft went from being held twice yearly to only once) to 2008, and found that about 1 in 6 players drafted played at least a game in the Major Leagues.
   The chances of a player making the bigs went from 73% for a 1st rounder during that time period, to a 6.8% chance for players selected after the 21st round.  A player chosen in the first round also had a 39% chance of playing at least three years in the majors, dropping to less than 2% for those late rounders.
   Despite this day and age of analytics and technology, baseball's annual draft is something of a crapshoot.  Selecting first rounders has become easier, primarily thanks to showcase events like those held by Perfect Game, which give scouts more opportunities to see a prospect in action.
   And scouting high school and college players is only one source of potential players for an organization.  The International Free Agent market is also one where teams can find players, as well as other teams' minor league systems.  Japan has long been a supplier of talent, and Korea seems poised to begin sending players as well.  Then there is Cuba, which is a talent keg MLB teams are all too ready to tap as the Obama Administration has brought about a thawing of relations.
   Five years after the draft, most players are just beginning to make a contribution, and for only a handful of them is that a significant one.  Perhaps the best way to truly evaluate each draft is to wait a longer period before examining them, but who has time for that?

   The 2010 draft was Alex Anthopoulos' first as the Blue Jays GM.  His predecessor, J.P. Ricciardi, had long demonstrated a preference for drafting signable college players with his top picks since taking the helm in 2001 - he did veer from that policy in his last few seasons, but from 2001 to 2009, Toronto selected a total of only 15 High School players with their top 10 draft picks, and they went from 2003 to 2005 without selecting a single HS player with any of their first 10 choices.
   The result of that was that Toronto had a number of players who reached the majors quickly (Gabe Gross, Russ Adam, Curtis Thigpen), but reached their limited ceilings quickly, and had short MLB careers.  In terms of Wins Above Replacement, the Blue Jays ranked in the middle of the pack in a study of MLB drafts from 2002-11 by J.P. Breen of Fangraphs:

TeamTotal WARAverage WAR
Boston Red Sox100.34.36
San Francisco Giants97.92.88
Los Angeles Dodgers95.53.98
Milwaukee Brewers863.91
Tampa Bay Rays80.24.46
Detroit Tigers78.72.25
Atlanta Braves70.93.22
Oakland Athletics70.82.83
Kansas City Royals65.22.61
Cincinnati Reds64.52.58
Colorado Rockies63.72.45
Los Angeles Angels60.22.15
Miami Marlins59.11.48
Minnesota Twins582.64
Washington Nationals57.72.31
Arizona Diamondbacks57.62.22
Toronto Blue Jays54.82.19
Texas Rangers48.72.32
San Diego Padres44.71.44
Baltimore Orioles41.51.73
Pittsburgh Pirates40.32.02
New York Yankees34.71.73
St. Louis Cardinals30.90.97
New York Mets30.81.62
Philadelphia Phillies30.21.78
Houston Astros24.21.51
Chicago Cubs19.30.92
Cleveland Indians15.50.65
Chicago White Sox11.90.54
Seattle Mariners8.90.45

    That study overlapped the Anthopoulos and Ricciardi eras, but most of the Wins accumulated were by the former's amateur scouting department.  No matter how you look at it, their mediocrity at the draft table, coupled with their virtual absence on the IFA scene doomed the Blue Jays to a decade of second division finished that spilled over into Anthopoulos' tenure.

    The 2010 draft was much-anticipated because of the presence of the equally anticipated presence of Bryce Harper, who promised to be a generational talent, and with 19.8 WAR so far in his career, is holding true to that projection.  Also selected in the first round was Manny Machado and Matt Harvey, who have proven to be cornerstones for the Orioles and Mets, respectively.
   When Anthopoulos took over, he made a number of changes to the scouting department.  Wyevale, Ontario's own Jon Lalonde, a graduate of Laurentian University's Sports Administration program, was moved from director of amateur scouting, a position he had held for most of Ricciardi's reign, to director of pro scouting.  Taking the reigns for the draft was fellow Canuck Andrew Tinnish, a Blue Jays staffer since beginning with the organization as an intern in 2001.  And the change in philosophy was a huge departure from the Ricciardi era almost from the start.  With 8 of the first 93 picks, the Blue Jays were poised to become a much deeper and improved organization in a hurry.
     Toronto's 1st pick, at 10th overall, on the surface, did not look like such a radical departure.  Georgia Tech starter Deck McGuire had something of an up-and-down collegiate career.  Baseball America did acknowledge that:
 He's an excellent competitor who doesn't fold up with runners on base. He's a proven college winner with a good track record of performance and durability; similar prospects rarely last through the first half of the first round.
   So, it McGuire's selection could be viewed as a safe one.  At the same time, his selection also showed that the Blue Jays were about to demonstrate a preference for their pitchers:  tall (McGuire is 6'6"), lean, and athletic.  McGuire, of course, has yet to reach the majors.  After a promising rookie season in High A, McGuire spent four seasons at AA, where he didn't miss a lot of bats.  After a few decent starts with Buffalo in 2014, he reverted to form, and the Blue Jays sold him to the Athletics July 25th, 2014.  The A's released him at the end of spring training this year, and after catching on with the Dodgers, was granted free agency earlier this month.
    McGuire, despite his lack of success, was a safe selection.  Florida Gulf Coast LHP Chris Sale was still on the board, however, when McGuire was selected.  Luckily, the Jays rolled the dice and wound up more than making up for it with their subsequent picks.  With the 34th pick in the compensation round, Toronto selected California HS RHP Aaron Sanchez, described by many as raw but projectable.  Four picks later, they chose Texas HS RHP Noah Syndergaard.  With the 41st choice, the Blue Jays dipped back into the college ranks to take The Citadel RHP Asher Wojciechowski.  Sanchez battled command issues as a starter in the minors before being converted to relief in 2014, and he was a revelation in the Blue Jays bullpen after making his debut in July.  Put back into the rotation for 2015, Sanchez was sidelined by injury in June, and moved back to the pen upon his return.  All indications are that he will get another shot at starting next Spring Training.
   Syndergaard, of course, was part of the package used to pry Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets.  He made his MLB debut this year, and only one other player in the majors threw more pitches 95+ than he did.  Wojciechowski, sent to the Astros in the J.A. Happ deal, also made his MLB debut this summer.
   The Toronto scouting department went back to selecting HS players with their remaining picks in the top 100, but were not as successful.  Griffin Murphy, a Californian LHP selected with the Blue Jays 2nd round pick (61st overall), was a washout as a starter in the Jays minor league system, but had a successful year closing in 2014.  After 5 minor league seasons in which he had risen no higher than A ball, Murphy was released earlier this month.  Kellen Sweeney was a compensation pick for the club's failure to sign 2009 2nd rounder Jake Eliopoulos, posted a career line of .199/.304/.300 before being released last year. Supplemental  2nd round pick Justin Nicolino, a Florida High Schooler, went to the Marlins in the 2012 deal that preceded the Mets' blockbuster, and made his debut with Miami this year.
  Third round picks Chris Hawkins and Canadian Marcus Knecht are no longer with the organization, but a 4th rounder from South Carolina made life difficult for Toronto during the ALDS. Sam Dyson rose quickly despite missing the 2010 season due to labrum surgery, and the following season to Tommy John, making his MLB debut in 2012.  Short on reliable bullpen arms, Dyson was moved to the pen after only 6 AA starts, and after being named to the Eastern League All-Star Game, was pitching in relief in the majors. Then-Manager John Farrell said that Dyson might have the best overall stuff in the organization.
  The Blue Jays lost Dyson to the Marlins when they removed him from the 40-man roster in order to make room for veteran Mark DeRosa.  Dyson gave  Miami a couple of seasons of reliable relief before being traded to Texas this season.  He was lights out for the Rangers, walking only 4 batters in 30 innings, and was a big part of Texas' playoff run.
  Sean Nolin was the only pick from Rounds 5 to 15 who has advanced as far as the Majors. 5th rounder Dickie Joe Thon Jr has yet to play above High A Showing a knack for being able to find hidden talent far removed from the amateur baseball hotbeds of California, Flordia, and Georgia, the Blue Jays selected a skinny OF from John Fraser SS in Mississauga by the name of Dalton Pompey.  The farm department was content to slowly let the raw Canadian develop, then challenge him with aggressive promotions during his breakthrough year of 2014.  And with the 18th pick, they selected a Las Vegas high schooler about whom BA filed this assessment:
He entered the summer with lofty expectations, but he often looked overmatched at the plate during the showcase circuit last summer. When he's on, he's a treat to watch. He has a lean, 6-foot-5, 195-pound frame and light-tower power that draws comparisons to a young Troy Glaus. The power, however, mostly shows up during batting practice or when he has a metal bat in his hands. There are a lot of moving parts to his swing and he has trouble barreling balls up with wood, so how much usable power he ends up having is a big question. He has a long, loopy swing and he never changes his approach when he's struggling. He's athletic for a big guy and may be able to handle third base. He has the arm for it, and some scouts said they wouldn't be shocked if he eventually ended up on the mound. Some scouts love his power enough to take him in the back half of the first round, while others turned him in as a token gesture and have little interest in him--especially for the price it will take to lure him away from his San Diego commitment.
     That overmatched hitter, of course, turned out to be Kris Bryant, who spurned the Jays offer to attend college, and slugged his way through the minors en route to a 26 HR, 99 RBI Rookie of the Year 2015 season after the Cubs had taken him with the 2nd overall pick in 2013.  Coming out of high school, however, the reports on him were not glowing, and given their tendency in later years to gamble on players with projection, the Blue Jays may have had Bryant much higher on their draft board than other teams, and decided to take a flyer on him. That Bryant went the collegiate route was no surprise, just as it wasn't much of an eyebrow-raiser when he didn't sign with Toronto.

   All in all, it was a solid draft for the new regime's first effort.  How did it rank compared to other teams?
Team Total WAR WAR/player
White Sox 31.8 6.4
Braves 23.9 3.4
Mets 22.6 3.8
Nationals 20.6 3.5
Orioles 18.4 6.1
Rays 14.8 1.6
Marlins 13.9 1.7
Blue Jays 13.3 1.7
Diamondbacks 9.3 2.3
Dodgers 7.8 1.3
Indians 7.4 1.2
Tigers 7.3 0.9
Angels 5.8 1
Padres 4.3 0.9
Mariners 3.5 0.7
Brewers 3.3 0.8
Rockies 2.8 0.4
Athletics 2.3 1.1
Royals 1.8 0.4
Phillies 1.3 0.4
Twins 0.5 0.1
Cardinals 0.4 0.1
Yankees 0.2 0
Giants -0.1 -0.1
Pirates -0.1 -0.1
Astros -0.3 -0.1
Cubs -0.9 -0.1
Red Sox -1 -0.3
Rangers -1.3 -0.2   
    Of the 13 Wins the Blue Jays have accumulated, of course, half have come from the departed Bryant and Syndergaard.  And one player can skew the total - Andrelton Simmons is responsible for 17.2 of the Braves' total,  Harper 19.8 of the Nationals', and Sale a whopping 26.2 of the White Sox'.  Still the Blue Jays results were respectable, even if you do subtract the totals of the departed players and Bryant, leaving 3.9 WAR split by Sanchez and Pompey.
    Was this draft a success?  It did not produce (as of yet) a cornerstone player, although chances are very good that Pompey and Sanchez will turn out to be decent  - if not first division - players in time.
Tinnish, Anthopoulos, and the Blue Jays brain trust was still finding itself in terms of the type of player they like to draft, but the signs were there.  Collegian McGuire did not pan out, and the club showed an overwhelming preference for taking high school pitchers with their top picks, save for Marcus Stroman (who was a roll of the dice on his own) and Jeff Hoffman between 2010 and 2014.  In years to come the Blue Jays would hone their skills at the draft, sometimes punting high picks (Tyler Beede, Phil Bickford), taking players with college commitments that scared some teams away (Anthony Alford, Daniel Norris, Sean Reid-Foley), and more players from non-traditional baseball hotbeds (Danny Jansen, Sanchez, Justin Maese).  They would take advantage of new rules governing bonuses to load up on low-leverage college seniors in the middle rounds, using the savings on later picks (Rowdy Tellez).  After whiffing on their first pick, they drafted well in the next few rounds, but came up empty (other than Pompey) in the teen rounds.  

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