Thursday, March 23, 2017

First Look at the MLB Draft

Jake Burger/West News Magazine photo

   The college baseball season has been underway for almost a month, and many high school leagues have started play as spring slowly spreads northward, which means that for all MLB teams, scouting season is well underway.
    Few of the players are unknowns; most Area Scouts have been following the top prospects since they were high school sophomores (if not earlier), watching them play for their schools and in various travel ball showcases.  As February turns into March, they begin the process of paring down their lists, and Crosschecking Scouts fly in to corroborate their views.
   The Blue Jays have two picks in the top 30 this year - their own at 22, and the 28th pick as compensation for the loss of free agent Edwin Encarnacion.  At those slots, potential franchise players like California two-way high schooler Hunter Greene will be long gone, but they do stand an excellent chance of adding at least one solid future major leaguer with one of those picks.  Of course, many like to point out how Mike Trout lasted until the 25th pick of the 2009 draft, but players like that are the exception, and not the rule.

   Under former GM Alex Anthopoulos and former Scouting Director Blake Parker, the Blue Jays were often very creative on draft day, but they showed a clear preference for picks whose risk was as high as their upside.  That strategy has resulted in picks like Aaron Sanchez, Anthony Alford, Rowdy Tellez, and Marcus Stroman.  But there have been several whiffs, such as 2011 supplemental 1st rounder Jake Anderson, who was released last week after not having risen about a few weeks at Low A in six injury-plagued seasons in the system, and 2012 1st rounder DJ Davis, who was has struck out in almost 30% of his At Bats in five seasons.
   While it's still incredibly early, and the draft board of today will likely look much different than it will in early June, it's still a fun exercise to see who is slotted in at those positions.  It was reported that the Blue Jays had been scouting Pittsburgh RHP T.J. Zeuch heavily last spring, and they would up taking him with the 21st pick.
    Baseball America has just released their Top 100 draft prospects, and they have Missouri State 3B Jake Burger, who is seen as a power threat in a draft short on college hitters, ranked as the 22nd draft prospect. Burger's actions around 3rd are not what you would call smooth, but he's an adequate defender with a plus arm.  At the plate, he puts the ball in play, and his power is his best tool, although an arm bar with his right arm concerns some scouts.  Burger does present some future concerns with his stocky build, but one look no further than the Blue Jays' incumbent 3rd Baseman for evidence of how proper training and nutrition can re-shape a player, and with the Blue Jays having dedicated a whole department to the development of their players, he would be a good turn around candidate.

Josh Donaldson Before....

....and after
 Burger could rise quickly through the system of any team that selects him, and he could be a good successor to Josh Donaldson if Vladimir Guerrero Jr is eventually moved off the position.
Burger in action....

   At the 28th slot, BA has UCLA RHP Griffin Canning, an over-the-top thrower who was drafted by the Rockies in the 38th round in 2014.  A bit undersized at 6'/170, Canning pounds the strike zone with a solid four pitch mix.  He sits 90-92 with his fastball, with his change up ranked as his second-best pitch.  Pitchability is the term that's consistent through most reports on him.

Canning video.....

  At, they have Texas RHP Corbin Martin ranked at #22.  A power arm who has dominated summer leagues, Martin has had trouble continuing that success through the collegiate season. Martin sits at 95, and has touched 98, and complements his fastball with a power curve.  He also throws a change which shows promise.  Martin has the potential to be a starter, but has pitched out of Texas' bullpen, which suggests a back of the bullpen arm in the making.  North Carolina prep southpaw MacKenzie Gore is ranked 28th.  High leg-kick Gore is a fastball/change pitcher who has topped out at 94, but sits 90-92. There is a lot of projection remaining with him, so he could be a good long-term pick for an organization that is prepared to bring him along slowly.  It would not be out of the realm of possibility to see the Blue Jays go with a proven college player like Burger with the first of their two picks, and a project like Gore with the second.



   The above comes with the warning that it's incredibly early to be ranking prospects, because many will have their stock rise and/or fall throughout the weeks heading up to the draft.  Unlike the previous administration, the Blue Jays under scouting director Steve Sanders are more interested than taking the best available athlete when their turns come up in the draft.  Certainly, they took a different approach last year, selecting college players with 4 of their first 5 picks, but that may have been more of an attempt to shore up a system which had dealt much of its prospect depth.   We will keep tabs on these players, and look at who the Blue Jays might be looking at with their 2nd and 3rd round choices in the next posts.

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