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The Toronto Blue Jays and the MLB Draft

The 2022 MLB Amateur Draft will commence on Sunday, July 17. How well have the Toronto Blue Jays fared at the draft table?


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The MLB Amateur Draft is one means that teams have to bring young players into the organization. MLB teams also have international signings as a source for young players, and the Blue Jays have successfully signed international players, including Vlad Guerrero Jr., Gabriel Moreno and Orelvis Martinez. However, this article will focus on the Blue Jays and the Amateur Draft. Specifically, how have the past three Management regimes fared in the Amateur Draft?

 

The data in Table 1, Table 2 and Table 3 is the basis for the observations presented in this article. Some points to note are as follows:

  • Only players drafted and signed by the team indicated are presented. For example, Kris Bryant was initially drafted by the Blue Jays in the 18th round of the 2010 June Draft, but he did not sign. He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the first round of the 2013 Draft and signed with Chicago. His career bWAR is included in the Cubs data, not the Blue Jays.
  • In the Total bWAR column, the figure shown is the sum of all positive bWARs. Negative career bWARs of drafted players were not included in the data.

 

J.P. Ricciardi became the Blue Jays’ General Manager on November 14, 2001, and was relieved of duties on October 3, 2009. His management team was responsible for the Amateur Draft during the 2002-2009 period. Ricciardi’s draft philosophy was biased towards college players instead of high school players. The Blue Jays used their first selection on a college player in seven of his eight drafts. In general, the Ricciardi regime drafted high floor-low ceiling players. This approach is reflected in Table 1. During the 2002-2009 period, the Blue Jays were tied for 10th in the number of players with a career bWAR greater than zero; they ranked 24th in total bWAR at 139.2. Please note that the bWAR totals were updated up to and including August 19, 2019. However, I think that the relative standing of the Ricciardi Regime’s draft record is unlikely to change if more current bWAR figures were used. Other observations of note:

  • Aaron Hill had the highest bWAR (23.7) of Blue Jays draft picks, ranking 27th among teams.
  • Shaun Marcum (13.5 bWAR) ranks 29th among each team’s second-highest bWAR draft picks in 2002-2009.

 

Overall, the 2002-2009 Ricciardi drafts were poor and fell well short of the total bWARs that the drafts generated for the Red Sox (322.2), Rays (221.2), and Yankees (182.1).

 

Alex Anthopoulos became Toronto’s General Manager on October 3, 2009, and was at the helm for the 2010-2015 drafts. Table 2, which reflects bWAR totals updated to the end of the 2021 season, shows the record of the Anthopoulos Regime. Observations of note:

  • The number of players with positive career bWARs that were drafted by the AA regime was tied for second among all MLB teams
  • The total bWAR (123.1) of these players ranks fifth and is better than the bWAR-record of the Red Sox (109.1), Rays (84.3), and Yankees (52.0)
  • However, in terms of drafting the better player, the Red Sox (Mookie Betts – 50.0 bWAR), Rays (Kevin Kiermaier – 30.7), and Yankees (Aaron Judge – 26.4 bWAR) surpassed the Blue Jays (Marcus Stroman– 18.5).
  • Overall, Stroman ranks 23rd in terms of a team’s highest career bWAR generated by a 2010-2015 draft pick
  • Kevin Pillar ranks eleventh-best among the second-highest bWAR of a team’s 2010-2015 draft pick.

 

The Anthopoulos-era Blue Jays were much better at drafting and developing than the Ricciardi-led team. However, the drafts did not generate a bevy of MLB top-tier players. Certainly, Stroman is a top-quality pitcher, but the Blue Jays did miss on first-round selection Matt Chapman (23.2 bWAR), second-round pick Andrelton Simmons (37.3 bWAR), ninth-round selection Jacob deGrom (43.4 bWAR), 31st-round pick Kiermaier, and fifth-round selection Betts.

 

The AA drafts provided players with a much better cupboard (Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Danny Jansen, et al.) to the Shapiro-Atkins tandem than Ricciardi did for AA. The AA regime had an excellent draft record in adding MLB players.

 

The Shapiro-Atkins regime came into being in late 2015 and has six Amateur Drafts in the books. Their first selection slot number were as follows: 2016 – 21; 2017 – 22; 2018 – 12; 2019 – 11; 2020 – 5; and 2021 – 19. Generally speaking, the Shapiro-Atkins administration has had middle-of-the-pack first-round slot numbers.

 

The first-round selections for the Shapiro-Atkins group during this period are as follows: T.J. Zeuch, Logan Warmoth and Nate Pearson (both in 2017), Jordan Groshans, Alek Manoah, Austin Martin and Gunnar Hoglund. Notably, Warmoth, Pearson, Groshans and Manoah remain in the Blue Jays organization.

 

Let’s see how the Shapiro-Atkins administration has fared against other MLB teams. Table 3, which reflects bWARs up to July 11, 2022, presents the Shapiro-Atkins record. A cautionary note: assessing how well picks from the 2016-2021 drafts fared at the MLB level will take many years. However, the data presented is an early indicator of how well teams performed at those draft tables. The highlights are as follows:

  • The number of players with positive career bWARs drafted by the Shapiro-Atkins regime is tied for fifth among all MLB teams. The total bWAR (23.4) of these players ranks fourth and better than the bWAR-record of the draft picks of the Red Sox (8.7), Rays (13.3), and Yankees (5.4)
  • Bo Bichette, Toronto’s 2016 second-round pick, has produced a career 10.5 bWAR, fifth-highest among MLB teams.
  • Cavan Biggio, a fifth-round selection from the 2016 draft, has generated a 6.2 bWAR, third-highest among teams’ next-highest bWAR choices.

 

The Amateur Draft record of the Shapiro-Atkins regime is very good. I expect that Manoah, who currently has a 5.8 bWAR, will quickly rise up the charts. However, there are some cautionary notes to consider.

 

First, Toronto has just one drafted player, Ricky Tiedemann, in the 2022 Baseball America Top 100 prospects; he is #35. Second, Pearson has struggled with injuries and performance issues and has not yet secured a place on the 26-man roster. Third, Groshans, who Baseball America ranked #29 and #34 in their 2020 and 2021 reports, has slipped out of the Top 100. The struggles of Pearson and Groshans, and the inclusion of Martin and Hoglund in recent trades, have resulted in the Blue Jays’ pipeline being not as robust as anticipated just a few years ago.

 

However, it is not all doom and gloom concerning players selected by the Blue Jays in the Amateur Draft. Hayden Juenger was chosen from the 2021 draft and is currently ranked by Baseball America as Toronto’s #8 prospect. From the 2019 draft, Spencer Horwitz has risen quickly through the Jays’ system and posted a 0.930 OPS for the Buffalo Bisons, Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate. Baseball America currrently has Horwitz as Toronto’s #11 prospect.

 

In summary, the Shapiro-Atkins regime performed well at the Amateur Draft table during the 2016-2021 sessions. Early success from the Bichette and Biggio selections, bolstered by the 2019 Manoah pick, placed the Jays in a good position relative to their MLB counterparts. The Blue Jays’ relative standing at the 2016-2021 draft tables can change because the bWAR of players selected from these drafts will change as time passes. However, the successful picks from the 2016 and 2019 drafts, not to mention the encouraging start to the careers of Tiedemann and Horwitz, thus far, reflects well on the Shapiro-Atkins regime.

The Last Word

Over the past twelve years, Toronto has performed well at the MLB Draft table. The Anthopoulos Administration surpassed the low bar established by the Ricciardi Group, and the Shapiro-Atkins Regime has continued to produce MLB players of some renown from the 2016-2021 drafts. Let’s hope the tradition continues at the 2022 MLB Amateur Draft.

 

 

 

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