Four Years Later: The Anthopoulos Era – Part Three

AA Three

In each of the past two weeks, I have taken a critical look back at different aspects of the first four years of Alex Anthopoulos’ tenure as GM of the Toronto Blue Jays.  Two weeks ago I began the series with a look at his hits and misses in free agency and with managerial hirings.  In part two last week, I discussed how well he has fared in the trade market, and took a look at 15 major deals.

This week, 500 Level Fan wraps up the series with a look at how well AA has fared in the MLB draft.  In this day and age, a premium is being placed on young talent, and the easiest way to acquire young talent is through the draft.  The draft is especially important for franchises that are not considered prime landing spots for free agents.  Toronto (in Canada, turf, recent history of losing) is sadly not the top destination for many of baseball’s premium free agents, placing additional importance on drafting effectively in order to turn a franchise around.

As has been discussed countless times, the MLB draft is vastly different than the first year player draft in other sports.  In the NFL, NBA, and NHL, a player taken in the first round, especially the top-3 or 5, can make an immediate impact.  Think of guys like Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, and Steven Stamkos in the NHL; Lebron James, Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, and Blake Griffin in the NBA; and Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, and Andrew Luck in the NFL.  Each was chosen first overall and immediately paid dividends for his team.

It’s much more difficult to judge draft success in baseball, and it is especially difficult to make a judgment on drafts within the past five years.  But that is exactly what we are going to try and do today.

So how can we do that?  How can we possibly grade AA when so many of the players chosen in those drafts are still toiling in the minor leagues?  How can you rate a GM when franchises have different philosophies and have different positional needs?  The short answer is that we really can’t provide any definite judgments –  but it is possible to draw some conclusions.

I decided to look at three categories:

1. Top-10 Picks: how are each of AA’s top 10 draft picks faring; how far have they progressed in the minors; will they be in the big leagues anytime soon?

2. Other Players: have any players selected after Toronto’s top pick (i.e. players the Jays could have chosen) achieved major league success?  If so, the Jays may be behind other teams on the development curve.

3. External Grades: both Yahoo Sports and Bleacher Report have published draft report cards, and can provide an objective third party review.

Alex Anthopoulos has been at the controls of the Jays for four first year player drafts, beginning in June 2010.  Let’s take a look at each of his drafts based on the above.

2010

Top-10 Picks: Of the first 10 players selected by the Jays, only 7 remain in the organization.  Noah Syndergaard was dealt to the Mets in the Dickey trade, Asher Wojciechowski went to Houston in the Happ trade, and Justin Nicolino was shipped to Miami in the Reyes trade.

Toronto’s top pick at 11th overall was Deck McGuire.  McGuire has risen as far as AA, and put up a 16-26 record, 5.28 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, and 262 K in 322 IP.  None of the other players (Aaron Sanchez, Griffin Murphy, Kellen Sweeney, Chris Hawkins, Marcus Knecht) have risen above single-A, save for the 10th selection (126th overall) Sam Dyson who pitched 0.2 innings in 2012 before moving to the Marlins on waivers.

Only Sanchez is still talked about as having the potential for major league success, as McGuire’s stock has fallen in recent years.

Other Players: There have been a total of 20 players chosen after Toronto selected McGuire 11th overall that have reached the major leagues, with the most prominent being White Sox star starter Chris Sale (13th overall).  Other notable names include Yasmani Grandal (12th), Christian Yelich (23rd), Mike Olt (49th), Brandon Workman (57th), Jedd Gyorko (59th), Drew Smyly (68th), Andrelton Simmons (70th), and Addison Reed (95th). 

External Grades: Yahoo Sports gave Toronto’s 2010 draft a B-.

Verdict: There’s obviously still time for McGuire to regain his form, and Sanchez may be the real deal.  But there is a lot to be desired about this draft class.

2011

Top-10 Picks: Only 5 of the first 10 players selected by the Jays in 2011 remain within the organization.  Joe Musgrove and Kevin Comer went to Houston in the Happ trade, while 2nd pick (35th overall) Jacob Anderson and 10th pick (169th overall) Andrew Chin are out of baseball.

Most disconcerting was the fact that Toronto’s first pick (21st overall) Tyler Beede did not sign with the club – the only first round pick in 2011 to go unsigned.  It was widely known before the draft that Beede was committed to Vanderbilt and wouldn’t sign, but Anthopoulos took a shot at him anyways.  (The fact that he recorded a terrible rap song after the fact provides a bit of solace).

The rest of the picks (Dwight Smith, Daniel Norris, Jeremy Gabryszwski, John Stilson, Tom Robson) all have fairly good numbers in various levels of single-A, with Stilson actually making the jump all the way to AAA Buffalo last season.  He looked pretty good there too (5-2, 2.09 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 47 K in 47.1 IP).

Other Players: Seven players selected in the first three rounds (after the Jays reached for Beede) have made the big leagues, with the two most notable being Seattle SS/2B Brad Miller and Cincinnati SP Tony Cingrani. 

External Grades: Yahoo Sports was down on Toronto’s 2011 draft, giving them a poor C- grade, while Bleacher Report (who were very high on Daniel Norris) chimed in with a B+.

Verdict: Despite the fact that four of the first five picks are gone, Norris and Stilson provide hope.

2012

Top-10 Picks: Of all of AA’s draft classes, 2012 might be his best shot at a winner.  Though only two of the players have risen above Rookie League, many look good early in their professional careers.  Anthopoulos had five first round picks at his disposal and selected OF D.J. Davis, P Marcus Stroman, P Matt Smoral, 3B/OF Mitch Nay, and P Tyler Gonzales.  Davis (.741 OPS, 6 HR) has looked pretty good, but Stroman might be the player to get most excited about . He played a full season in AA New Hampshire in 2013 and ended with a 9-5 record, 3.30 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 129 K in 111.2 IP.

Other Players: Only three players have tasted the bigs from the first three rounds of the ’12 draft, but shockingly not only do they have big league experience – they all also have playoff experience.  Alex Wood of the Braves (85th overall) and Paco Rodriguez of the Dodgers (82nd) each made an appearance in the playoffs, but the most damage has been done by 19th overall pick Michael Wacha, who has gone 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA and 0.70 WHIP this postseason.  He was selected two picks after Toronto chose Davis.

External Grades: Bleacher Report was extremely high on Toronto’s draft, giving them an A, stating “the Blue Jays had the best first round of all teams, selecting five players who may all be signable and possess tremendous upside. But their solid draft didn’t stop there, as they added exceptional talent in Chase deJong and Anthony Alford in the following rounds, as well as some more toolsy players and projectable arms as the draft progressed.”

Verdict: No dividends yet, but a lot to be excited about

2013

The good draft streak ended abruptly for AA this past summer.  For the second time in three years, the Jays failed to sign their first round selection (pitcher Phil Bickford), once again becoming the only MLB team to do so.  As far as the rest of the draft, Bleacher Report graded it a C+, and Baseball America labeled Bickford as “one that got away”.

*****

Overall, it’s a middling grade for Anthopoulos in the draft.  In four years he has failed to sign his top pick twice, and five of his other top picks have been dealt away in trades that haven’t worked out yet.  Though there are still a few guys to be excited about (Sanchez, Stroman, Norris) the regression of Deck McGuire, and the lack of success of many other early round picks is hard to swallow, especially when compared to the success of other teams, with players like Sale, Gyorko, Cingrani, and Wacha.

Time will be the ultimate judge of Alex Anthopoulos.  Through a series of shrewd signings and trades he put the Jays in a position to succeed last season, but with the faltering of the team comes the realization that maybe the trades and signings weren’t so shrewd after all.

I still like what he has done with the team.  I still have faith in him and believe in his vision.  But baseball is a results driven business, and unless Toronto takes a major step forward in 2014, he might end up in the discard pile with Ash and Ricciardi.

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