Pipeline Perspectives: Blue Jays made out best in Draft
Hoffman, Pentecost head up large group of talented youngsters selected by Toronto
There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye to eye. They discuss their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
Writing that the Blue Jays had the best Draft this year isn't exactly making a bold statement. It's maybe a little more daring than saying Mike Trout is the best all-around player in the Majors.
We won't know for sure how the 30 teams actually fared in the 2014 Draft for years down the road, so the club that makes the strongest initial impression usually is one that had more than its share of premium picks. And only one team in Draft history ever had two earlier selections than Toronto did this June.
The 2009 Nationals owned the No. 1 overall choice on the basis of having the Majors' worst record the year before, and they also had the No. 10 pick because they failed to sign Aaron Crow at No. 9 in '08. They parlayed those selections into Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen, who helped Washington win the National League East in 2012 and have the Nats in the hunt again this year.
The Blue Jays earned the No. 9 pick this June with their 2013 performance, and they added the No. 11 choice as compensation for not signing Phil Bickford at No. 10 last summer. With its pair of early selections, Toronto landed a pair of potential impact talents.
First, the Blue Jays chose East Carolina right-hander Jeff Hoffman, who was a candidate to go No. 1 overall before he blew out his elbow and required Tommy John surgery in April. The track record of elbow reconstructions leads to optimism that Hoffman will regain his once-formidable stuff: a mid-90s fastball, a big breaking curveball and a deceptive changeup. If he does, Toronto will have a front-line starter.
With its second first-rounder, the Blue Jays took the best true catcher in the Draft in Kennesaw State's Max Pentecost. After winning Cape Cod League MVP honors and leading the most prestigious summer circuit with a .962 OPS in 2013, he encored by topping NCAA Division I with 113 hits and ranking second with a .422 average and 168 total bases this spring. He still needs to improve as a receiver, but he's more athletic and quicker than most backstops and has a strong arm.
Hoffman and Pentecost were just the start of a banner Draft for Toronto, however. When its second-round pick arrived at No. 49, a first-round talent was waiting.
Sandalwood High (Jacksonville, Fla.) right-hander Sean Reid-Foley ranked 18th on MLBPipeline.com's Draft Top 200, but the depth of prep pitching in this Draft and the general skittishness on the part of many teams to take high school arms early caused him to slide. As a result, the Blue Jays were the only team who grabbed three of our top 20 Draft prospects. Strong and athletic, Reid-Foley throws four pitches, including a low-90s fastball and a low-80s slider, for strikes.
The Blue Jays continued to find high-ceiling high schoolers with its next three picks. Battlefield High (Haymarket, Va.) left-hander Nick Wells (third round) is ultra projectable at 6-foot-5 and 180 pounds, and he already hits 93 mph with his fastball. Thorsby (Ala.) High's Matt Morgan (fourth) was one of the best all-around prep catchers available. And Bearden High's (Knoxville, Tenn.) Lane Thomas (fifth) has the hitting skills and speed to fit the center fielder/leadoff hitter profile.
In 2013, Toronto made a couple of big late-round splashes by inking 11th-rounder Jake Brentz for $700,000 and 30th-rounder Rowdy Tellez for $850,000 on the day of the signing deadline. The Blue Jays have put themselves in position to again make some dramatic moves deep into the Draft.
Collinsville (Ill.) High right-hander Tanner Houck (12th round), College of Charleston second baseman Gunnar Heidt (13th) and Lemont (Ill.) High catcher Mike Papierski (16th) all made the MLBPipeline.com Top 200, as did all but unsignable Osceola High (Largo, Fla.) righty Keith Weisenberg (38th). Other intriguing third-day choices included Papierski's teammate, left-hander Jake Latz (11th round), American Heritage School (Plantation, Fla.) outfielder Todd Isaacs (22nd) and Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School (Brampton, Ontario) righty Zach Pop (23rd).
Dodgers national crosschecker Roy Clark likes to say that there's only one certainty with the Draft: when it's over, 30 scouting directors tell their GMs they just had the best Draft in baseball. Jonathan Mayo makes a case for the Brewers, and I cited some other clubs with productive Drafts here. But top to bottom, no team did better this year than the Blue Jays.