Alex Anthopoulos and the Toronto Blue Jays have long known that their high-risk draft strategy was, in effect, an all-or-nothing proposition: they would either be successful in drafting and signing players whose considerable talent was not indicative of their later round status, or they would come up empty-handed and have nothing to show for top selections.
With the 2011 signing deadline having passed Monday night at midnight, it’s safe to say that the Jays have now experienced both sides of the coin.
On the ‘all’ side, they now have what some draft analysts would call as many as five first round-calibre talents under contract, not to mention many more who fell to the club long after some felt they should have been snapped up. Second round LH Daniel Norris was the biggest – and, at $2 million, priciest – get of a group that also included RH Kevin Comer ($1.65 million), OF Jacob Anderson ($990K), OF Dwight Smith Jr. ($800K), RH John Stilson ($500K, but his concern had more to do with an ailing shoulder than signability) and late-round gem Matt Dean ($737,500 – only in the backwards MLB draft can the No. 409 pick sign with the same team for $237K more than Joe Musgrove, the No. 46 pick).
With all due respect to the un-signed Andrew Chin, the ‘none’ side is pretty well entirely comprised of Tyler Beede. Some in the organization will justify losing out on the No. 21 pick by saying he was always going to Vanderbilt and that they’ll get the ’21-A’ pick in next year’s draft, anyway, but both arguments have flaws. The Vanderbilt element provided a nice bargaining chip for Beede, but he set his price at $3.5 million and Toronto, for better or worse, failed to match it. As for the compensatory pick, it’s a small comfort in a draft where every other club inked their first round pick, leaving the Jays stuck in neutral as others improved.
But now comes the real test of the strategy. If guys like Norris, Comer, Anderson, Smith Jr, Stilson and Dean all flourish in the Jays’ system and eventually arrive in Toronto as successful, developed prospects, Beede will be all but forgotten. However, even now, they have an awful lot of obstacles to overcome.
The challenge in serving up big contracts to young, unproven kids is that they can internalize it and have it shape their own sense of self worth. Two million dollars (not that I’m necessarily picking on Norris)? That’s an awful lot of self worth. The task will be placed firmly on coaches in the farm system, including Dunedin Blue Jays manager Clayton McCullough, Lansing Lugnuts manager Mike Redmond and New Hampshire Fisher Cats skip Sal Fasano, to make sure their players are all on the same page and aware of the team concept.
As with any MLB draft, it will be some years before we can evaluate this crop of talent (although the Pirates seem to have done well to lock in Gerrit Cole and Josh Bell). As such, the draft strategy will live on, with its success looming as a major part of Anthopoulos’ legacy.
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Written by Ben Fisher