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02/25/10 2:08 PM EST

Anthopoulos eyes international talent

Jays' general manager expands on his long-term vision

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Alex Anthopoulos stepped out of the batting tunnel at the Bobby Mattick Training Center on Thursday morning, wearing a sweater under a light jacket with his hands firmly in his pockets. It was a chilly Florida welcome after the Blue Jays general manager's return from the Dominican Republic.

"You know, it really wasn't that warm there either," Anthopoulos said with a laugh.

Anthopoulos was in the Dominican for much of the past week, touring the Blue Jays' new academy on the island and discussing the club's more aggressive approach to scouting and development with Marco Paddy, Toronto's director of Latin American operations.

A reporter jokingly asked Anthopoulos if he came back with any Cuban cigars, hinting at one of the other items on the young general manager's agenda: scouting.

The Jays have been linked to Cuban defector Jose Julio Ruiz -- a 25-year-old first baseman who some believe is ready for the Majors -- and it has been reported that the club held a private workout him on Tuesday. Toronto is also believed to have interest in 19-year-old Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechevarria. This all comes after the club pursued Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapman over the winter before the lefty signed with the Reds.

Anthopoulos did not take the bait.

"Without getting specific on players," he said, "we're trying to be as aggressive as we can and really explore every player that's out there -- at least doing our homework and doing our due diligence and making sure we're scouting these players, evaluating them, getting to know them a little bit. And, obviously, finding what the price points are and if they line up with how we evaluate the player.

"That being said, are we going to see every international player? Probably not. But that's something that I just sat down with Marco last week and we're trying to devise a plan of, 'How can we do our best to see as many of these players as we can?'

"We're trying to maybe be a little more aggressive and scout a little bit harder than we may have in the past."

This is a key element within Anthopoulos' long-term vision for the organization.

Currently, the Blue Jays have scaled back payroll for the Major League roster, but more funds have been poured into scouting and player development, and Toronto will have a substantial amount of financial leeway for signing picks in June's First-Year Player Draft. Anthopoulos reiterated that club ownership has not set monetary limits for any area.

If a move makes sense for the Jays, Anthopoulos has the backing of ownership. Given the current state of the franchise, though, the general manager believes it makes the most sense to spend more on acquiring young, high-ceiling talent rather than throwing large sums of cash at free agents. Anthopoulos wants to form a strong core before supplementing with expensive pieces.

That is why Anthopoulos has been active in pursuing players such as Chapman and in scouting other highly-touted prospects -- international and otherwise.

"There's really no [financial] cap if it's the right baseball opportunity," Anthopoulos said. "If we felt it was the right baseball opportunity, and we felt from a baseball operations standpoint that the money was well spent and it was the right move for us, [ownership] would endorse it and certainly support it. Again, we certainly need to get approvals on anything that we do, but there was no limit or ceiling or no cap that we have to work with."

Anthopoulos added that the money available for possible free-agent signings does not come from the same pool of funds that is for the Draft. Last year, Toronto did not sign three of its top four picks, giving the club three additional selections in the upcoming Draft. In all, the club boasts nine picks within the first three rounds.

"We're not going to go into the Draft shying away from certain players because they're too expensive," Anthopoulos said. "If we feel the value is there, and we put the right value on those players, we'll have the money to go sign those players. That being said, I think a lot was made of last year with not signing some of those picks.

"It's not that we didn't have the money to sign those picks. We just felt that the price point for those players, with the value that we placed on them, didn't line up and didn't make sense. So we elected to get the picks back."

In June, the Jays own the 11th pick in the first round and three selections in the sandwich round -- one each for losing Marco Scutaro and Rod Barajas in free agency and another for not signing draftee James Paxton last year. Toronto then has three second-round picks, including a second compensatory pick for Scutaro signing with Boston and one for not signing Jake Eliopoulos in the Draft. Between the third and fourth rounds, the club has one more compensation pick for not signing Jake Barrett last year.

This year's Draft will be headed by Andrew Tinnish, who Anthopoulos hired to serve as the Blue Jays' new director of amateur scouting. Anthopoulos said his approach to drafting will be to select the best available player when it's time to make Toronto's pick. Falling in line with his aggressive scouting of international players, Anthopoulos said he has stressed that he wants his staff to target high-ceiling athletes.

"We're trying to get players that we would have a hard time getting in free agency or we'd have a hard time getting in trades."
-- Alex Anthopoulos

Under former general manager J.P. Ricciardi, the Blue Jays had a tendency to focus on selecting college players over high school players. Anthopoulos said he does not plan on leaning more toward prep or college stars. His style will be to try to select as many impact players as possible, even if that involves more risk at times.

In the American League East, where the Blue Jays are forced to compete against the deep-pocketed Yankees and Red Sox, as well as the Rays and Orioles, obtaining young impact players through scouting is a vital part of Anthopoulos' plan.

"We're trying to get players that we would have a hard time getting in free agency or we'd have a hard time getting in trades," Anthopoulos said. "There's going to be more risk. Certainly, you're going to make mistakes -- you're not going to hit on all of them. But again, if 10 years in a row you hit on two of the 10 high-ceiling, high-impact guys, I'd rather have those two than five solid, average big league players.

"We feel like those are the type of players we can get in trades and we can get in free agency."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.