Believe it or not, occasionally 500 Level Fan actually spends some time doing research, collecting data, organizing the results, and forming an educated and informed opinion. With the MLB first year player draft coming up on June 7th, this is one of those times. This year’s draft will be the first for the Jays under the direction of new GM Alex Anthopoulos. AA spent much of the offseason revamping the scouting department, beefing it up in hopes of increasing Toronto’s ability to find good, young, and cheap players. The first year draft will be his first real opportunity to use the knowledge he has acquired from this initiative.
So with the draft on the horizon, I thought it would be interesting to look at how Anthopoulos’ predecessors fared in the draft while they were at the helm of the Jays. Now, even a small child can tell you that the draft in any sport is a crapshoot, but baseball is the biggest shot in the dark of them all. The sheer volume of players, rounds, and minor league teams and levels, make baseball drafting an inexact science at best, and a blind dart shot at worst. But that being said, today I am armed with perfect 20/20 hindsight, giving me the ability to see where the Jays messed up and where they didn’t.
To make the study a bit easier, I focused only on Toronto’s first round selections, ignoring subsequent rounds and supplemental draft picks. I placed each first round pick into one of four categories:
Good: These are players who were successful Toronto Blue Jays. Not necessarily All-Stars, but good, solid contributors while wearing the blue bird on the uniform.
Decent: These are players who ended up being fairly successul major league players, but not for the Jays. Technically the draft pick was good, just not for the right team.
Bad: These are players who made the Blue Jays and either were not very good, or outright sucked.
Ugly: First round draft picks who never even made the major leagues.
For every pick that was not classified as “good”, I looked at other players the Jays could have selected in their draft slot but passed over. Of course, as I said, I have 20/20 hindsight, so I know what players ended up being All-Stars or Hall-of-Famers. But this is supposed to be fun, so I took creative license.
The Blue Jays have had three general managers before AA, and while we can effectively close the book as to how Pat Gillick and Gord Ash fared in their drafts, many of the players JP Ricciardi selected are still working their way up through the minors. But I think we can get a pretty good idea whether they’ll make it or not. Enough said – on with the game.
Contestant 1 – Pat Gillick
Tenure: GM from 1977 – 1994, 18 drafts with 18 first round selections
Good – Lloyd Moseby (2nd overall, 1978), John Cerutti (21st, 1981), Ed Sprague (25th, 1988), Shawn Green (16th, 1991), Shannon Stewart (19th, 1992)
Decent – Steve Karsay (22nd, 1990 – was traded for Rickey Henderson), Chris Carpenter (15th, 1993)
Bad – Matt Williams (pitcher, 5th, 1981), Matt Stark (9th, 1983), Alex Sanchez (17th, 1987), Eddie Zosky (19th, 1989), Kevin Witt (28th, 1994)
Ugly – Tom Goffena (25th, 1977), Jay Schroeder (3rd, 1979), Gary Harris (2nd, 1980), Augie Schmidt (2nd, 1982), Greg David (25th, 1985), Earl Sanders (26th, 1986)
Notable Players passed over – Ozzie Smith, Tim Raines, Tony Gwynn, David Cone, Dwight Gooden, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Dave Justice, John Smoltz, Mo Vaughn
Contestant 2 – Gord Ash
Tenure: GM from 1995 – 2001, 7 drafts with 8 first round selections
Good –Roy Halladay (17th, 1995), Billy Koch (4th, 1996), Vernon Wells (5th, 1997), Alex Rios (19th, 1999)
Decent – Felipe Lopez (8th, 1998)
Bad – Joe Lawrence (16th, 1996), Gabe Gross (15th, 2001)
Ugly – Miguel Negron (18th, 2000)
Notable Players passed over – Adam Wainwright, David Wright
Contestant 3 – JP Ricciardi
Tenure: GM from 2002 – 2009, 8 drafts with 9 first round selections
Drafting Results (Judgments as of May 2010)
Good –Aaron Hill (13th, 2003), Ricky Romero (6th, 2005), Travis Snider (14th, 2006)
Bad – Russ Adams (14th, 2002)
Ugly – Chad Jenkins (20th, 2009 – failed to sign him)
Too Soon to Tell – David Purcey (16th, 2004), Kevin Ahrens (16th, 2007), JP Arencibia (21st, 2007), David Cooper (17th, 2008)
Notable Players passed over – Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, Phil Hughes, Huston Street, Dustin Pedroia, Joba Chamberlain
It is very interesting to note that Gord Ash is often referred to as the GM who ruined the Blue Jays and set them off on the wrong direction. But one look at his drafting record proved that he knew what he was doing when it came to young players. Four of his selections (or 50%) showed flashes of brilliance in a Blue Jays uniform, and only one (Miguel Negron) failed to make the major leagues.
Pat Gillick, often called a mastermind and a genius, really did not have a lot of success in the first year draft, with six choices (33%) failing to advance past the minors. But it is interesting to note that his failed picks all came early in his GM tenure, within the first 10 years. As he became wiser and more comfortable, his drafting improved, and with his shrewd free agency moves and trades, and of course with his two World Series rings, he remains the ultimate Blue Jay GM.
Ricciardi left Toronto as a much maligned figure, and you can tell why when looking at his draft record. As a GM who promised to build around young and cost-effective players, he completely went off track in his final few years. Where early drafts netted him Hill, Romero, and Snider, he failed to sign Jenkins last year, and both Ahrens and Cooper do not look like major league players at this point in time. One glance at who he could have drafted is enough to make a Jays fan vomit.
So go forth young Alex, and choose wisely. Hopefully in ten years I can re-write this column and put you ahead of Ricciardi, Ash, and even – gasp – the great Gillick. Jays fans everywhere will be dancing in the streets if so.