Several writers have prepared mock drafts for the upcoming July 2021 First Year Player Draft. Who do they predict the Blue Jays to take?
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This is the second in a three-part series about the Blue Jays and the upcoming July First-Year Player draft. You can read Part I (Strategy) here. Part III (the Dark Horses) will be published over the next few days.
Several sites have published predictions about the upcoming July draft, speculating about which teams will take which players. Here is a summary of what some of those sites have predicted for the Jays’ first round (#19 overall) pick:
Jordan Wicks, LHP – 6’3″, 220 lbs, 21 years old, Kansas State
Pro Comparison: Hyun Jin Ryu
The pitch mix for Ryu and Wicks is similar. The Toronto ace relies mostly on his changeup, cutter, and fastball. Wicks has a similar mix and if he can turn his slider into a cutter hybrid, he will have success. The Kansas State southpaw could be even better than Ryu which is saying a lot considering The Blue Jay lefty has a career 2.97 ERA in over 800 major league innings.
Wicks projects as the classic “crafty lefty”. Think Mark Buehrle, or a left-handed Kyle Hendricks. Or, as one writer suggested, Hyun-Jin Ryu. Jordan’s fastballs (he has two – a two-seamer and a four-seamer) sit 89-91, topping out at 93-94, but they play better than their speed would indicate due to motion and spin. They have been described as having “invisiball” tendencies. Wick’s primary pitch is his 70-grade changeup, which has been described as the best change in this year’s draft class. He also has a curveball and a slider, neither of which are mlb average yet but both of which have potential. Wicks also has above-average control, averaging 2.4 BB/9 over 110 innings at Kansas State, and he has a high baseball IQ.
The problem with crafty lefties is that they are high risk. For every Ryu or Buehrle, there are dozens of highly-rated lefties who never pan out. As Alek Manoah demonstrated on Thursday, exceptional stuff can compensate for a lot – but with the exception of his change-up, Wicks does not have exceptional stuff. As one writer put it, “It might only be an average fastball, but Wicks is a reasonably good bet to reach his mid-rotation ceiling“.
So what we have here is a polished college pitcher with good control and command and a relatively high floor. The odds are that, if he makes it to the bigs, it will be as a middle-rotation lefty innings eater. But there is a small chance that, with further development, he could become a Ryu-lite. And he should be a relatively fast riser in the minors, which means he could be contributing in the current Vladdy/Bo window.
Sam Bachman, RHP – 6’1″, 235 lbs, 21 years old, Miami University (Ohio)
Both players throw hard, have bigger frames, and have some serious swing-and-miss stuff. Clase was moved to the bullpen after being traded to the Rangers and struck out 27 batters in 28.1 IP in Low-A Spokane. He was then dealt to the Cleveland Indians and has a 1.00 ERA with 19 SOs in 18.0 IP. Bachman has the same potential to be a scary, and exciting arm out of the pen.
In many ways, Bachman is the anti-Jordan Wicks. Sam is all about stuff – his fastball sits 94-97 and has touched 101. With sink. And a spin rate over 2500. Think Alek Manoah, but even more unfair. MLB.com gives Sam’s heater a 70 grade. And that is not all. His slider is 65-grade, and “with 80 percent of his sliders being called a strike and a 22 percent swing-and-miss rate … if he can find some control and command, his slider may become a devastating put-away pitch“. His heater and slider are so good, in fact, that some writers have suggested that he could jump directly from the draft into a major league bullpen, much as Chris Sale did in 2010. Given the state of the Jays’ bullpen, that might not be as crazy as it sounds.
So why is this paragon not projected to be drafted much higher? There are a few reasons. First, as mentioned above, his command and control are still works in progress. He averaged 4.1 BB/9 in his first two years of college ball, though he has reduced that to 2.8 so far in 2021. Second, his inverted motion with a short arm action (and a low three-quarter arm slot) raise questions about his durability and his ability to work late into games as a starter (he missed two early-season starts in 2021 with a tired arm). Third, his athleticism is in question (235 pounds is a big 6’1″), though he has been working on it.
And finally, there are differences of opinion about his third pitch. MLB.com rates his change-up a 55, and says that “his deceptive, heavy changeup in the mid-80s gives him at least a solid third offering”. But other writers disagree, saying that “he does not have a real feel for the [change] leading to a lack of movement and trouble hitting his locations. A lack of a third pitch is what is keeping him from being a top-10 pick in this draft when he has top-10 potential. ”
So in Bachmann (why do I sense a future nickname of “Bachman Burner Overdrive?”) the Jays would be gambling. If (and it is a big IF) he can refine his change and calm down his motion enough to stay in the starting rotation, he has #1 starter (even ace?) upside. If not, there is a strong probability that he could be a power arm out of the bullpen. A lower floor than Wicks, but a higher (probability-adjusted) ceiling.
On the question of his reliever risk, I am reminded of another prospect. This fellow also had a plus fastball and slider with a changeup “under development”, and he “also entered the season with significant reliever risk because of his erratic control … large frame and questionable athleticism“. The Jays drafted him anyway. So far, Alek Manoah looks like a good gamble.
Harry Ford, C – 5’10”, 187 pounds, 18 years old, North Cobb High School
It is unfair to compare an 18-year-old to a Hall of Famer. It is also hard to try and compare a teenager to any player. However, both were athletic, undersized, and have a great feel at the plate. Biggio’s talents pushed him to second base, which could very well be the case for Ford if he wants to see the majors sooner rather than later. Putting this amount of expectations on the kid is wrong, but the similarities are very noticeable.
Yes, Ford is a catcher, and yes, catching is one of the few areas of relative prospect depth for the Jays. But Ford is an exceptional athlete (his 6.42 time for 60 yards was the second highest at East Coast Pro among *all* players, not just catchers) who “has the athleticism, quickness and arm to play second base, third base or anywhere in the outfield“. And if Ford could remain at catcher, “only 1 Big league catcher can match this complete skillset (at its peak). That’s JT Realmuto“.
Ford’s hit tool is impressive. As one writer put it,
Ford can hit, and most would agree. He’s got fast, twitchy hands at the plate that allow him to cover the entire strike zone. His setup is slightly open with low hands and a slightly squatted posture. He’s very quick and direct to the ball. The entire setup is very similar to now-Rangers outfielder Khris Davis. Ford has a mature approach at the plate. He’s not an ambush hitter and he doesn’t chase out of the zone.
Ford’s power comes more from technique than from muscle. At the Perfect Game All-American Classic, Ford’s peak barrel speed was in the 99th percentile.
Drafting a high school player is generally higher risk than taking a college player, and taking a high school catcher is the biggest gamble of all. But Ford has been described as a unicorn – a true 5-tool catcher, with an above-average chance to stay there. He is still green – he uses his athleticism to compensate for a lack of advanced catching techniques (a forgivable failing in an 18-year-old), and his swing needs work. But the fact that he is getting multiple Biggio comparisons gives some idea of his upside, which could be higher than Wicks or Bachman.
The bottom line
All three of Wicks, Bachman and Ford would look very good in powder blue. It is unlikely (in the extreme) that all three will be available when the Jays pick at #19, which should make the decision that much easier.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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A Jays fan since pre-Series, Jim’s biggest baseball regret is that he did not play hooky with his buddies on 7 Apr 77. But hearing “Fanfare For The Common Man” played from a rooftop on 24 Oct 92 helped him atone.