06/07/2004 9:00 PM ET
Jays go to school on Day 1 of draft
Toronto focuses on college players on Monday
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
|The Jays grabbed Zach Jackson with their sandwich pick, which was compensation for losing Kelvim Escobar to free agency. (Courtesy of Texas A&M)
TORONTO -- Call it an exit exam. The Blue Jays used the first day of the First-Year Player Draft to raid some fine academic institutions.
The trend was easy to spot from any angle: The Jays had 20 selections in the first 18 rounds, and 19 of their draftees went to college. Taking that one step further, 17 of the 20 went to four-year universities. All of Toronto's top 12 picks went to college, with 10 of the 12 playing in major conferences. There's a well-defined method to the madness, of course.
"Their history is readily available and accessible," said Jon Lalonde, Toronto's director of scouting. "We've seen them play a number of times and we've built up a dossier on them."
Indeed, the Blue Jays reduce risk by picking the players they know the most about. There's another important factor: College players are more experienced and more mature than their high school peers, and thus more likely to reach the big leagues quickly. That's the wisdom espoused by J.P. Ricciardi, Toronto's general manager. And he takes it a step further. He said that nobody -- personnel experts included -- can know which prospects are going to redeem their promise.
"The No. 1 thing for us is to get guys that can get here quickly and be Major League players," said Ricciardi before the draft. "I've said all along, we're not good enough to tell you if they'll be stars. We're good enough to tell you if they'll be able to contribute as Major League players."
With that in mind, the Jays had a productive day at the office. They split their focus between the two poles: Pitching and position players. Toronto selected 11 hurlers and nine batters. After nabbing two arms at the top of the draft -- David Purcey and Zach Jackson -- the Jays used seven of their next 10 picks on position players.
"That was a bit of a different strategy. In the last two years, we went position players first and then hammered pitching through the 10th round," Lalonde said. "We played the board and didn't draft for need. We got depth and quality bats that brought great vaule."
The first of those bats came in the second round. Toronto selected Curtis Thigpen, a catcher from Texas, with the 57th pick of the draft. Thigpen also played first base in college, but the Jays will line him up behind the plate. Anyway, his bat is what earned notice. The backstop hit .353 with six home runs, and he drew more walks (34) than strikeouts (24).
The Jays also got a pair of promsing first basemen. The first one, South Alabama's Adam Lind, came in the third round. Lind batted .392 with 12 homers and 60 RBIs. He slugged .659 -- more than 100 points higher than Thigpen.
The other one, Chip Cannon from The Citadel, was even more dangerous. The eighth-round pick batted .358 and set a school record with 17 homers. He walked 71 times against 49 strikeouts, reaching base more than half the time (.514) and notching the best slugging mark (.681) of any Toronto draftee.
"We got him in a spot where we think he can help us," Lalonde said. "Our area scout was on him early. He does all the things we look for."
Sixth-round pick Cory Patton put up some impressive numbers of his own. The former Texas A&M outfielder batted .335 with 11 homers and 67 RBIs. He had a .428 on-base percentage and a .598 slugging mark.
Toronto also got a pair of middle infielders with plate discipline. Ryan Klosterman, a shortstop from Vanderbilt, came over in the fifth round. He hit .349 with seven homers last season, scoring 66 runs and posting a .421 on-base percentage. Five rounds later, the Jays selected Brian Hall from Stanford. Hall is a speedy second baseman who also played some center field, and he hit .356 with nine homers.
It wasn't all about the batters as Toronto also nabbed a few more interesting arms. Mizzou's Danny Hill came as a compensatory pick in the third round, and UCLA's Casey Janssen followed one round later. Hill has a live arm and may eventually project as a reliever, but the Jays are going to start him at first. Janssen is another starter, evidenced by his stats in his senior season. Janssen put up a 10-4 record with a 3.16 ERA, holding his opponents to a .204 batting average.
A few rounds later, the Blue Jays notched their first small-college player. Shippensburg's Randy Dicken was picked in the seventh, one round ahead of Cannon. Dicken went 9-2 with a 1.59 ERA, but he was playing against a lower grade of competition than most of Toronto's draft picks.
"It's really tough. That's why you have to rely on quality scouts," said Lalonde, addressing how to grade players like Dicken. "He's a guy that's overcome some odds. He's a starting pitcher, and you can never have too many."
The Jays dipped down to the junior college ranks in the 11th round, and down to high school in the 16th. The former pick -- Kristian Bell -- is a pitcher. The latter, Jose Castro, is a shortstop from Puerto Rico. They went back to small schools for their final two picks: Michael Cooper from Santa Ana College and Joe McLaughlin Jr. from Oklahoma City University. If that last name sounds familiar, you've been paying attention. McLaughlin's dad and namesake is a former Toronto reliever.
The draft will conclude on Tuesday, with another 32 rounds of feverish picks. Lalonde said the Jays will start to draft for need on the second day, filling out the rosters of the club's lower-level affiliates.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.