MLB draft primer: What can Blue Jays expect with 19th-overall selection?

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The difference between the 2020 and 2021 drafts is going to be profound for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Last year, they had the fifth-overall pick, which meant that an elite prospect was likely to come their way. One certainly did in the form of Austin Martin, who was widely projected to be a top-two pick.

This time around, as the 2021 draft starts up in Denver on Sunday, the Blue Jays’ first selection comes at number 19, and thanks to the George Springer signing, their next choice is number 91. A Martin type isn’t going to fall into their laps on Sunday, and by the time the club picks again it’ll be a few tiers down its draft board.

That doesn’t mean that the Blue Jays won’t be able to infuse their system with valuable players, but it’s going to be a little bit tougher this time around — and they’ll need to hit on talented prospects that other clubs are overlooking.

Best-ever 19th overall picks

The 19th-overall pick hasn’t produced many players who’ve made a significant mark on baseball history — with the obvious exceptions of Roger Clemens (139.2 WAR) and Bobby Grich (71.0 WAR). Beyond that duo, just five other players have produced double-digit WARs at the MLB level, and 29 of the 56 players picked at 19 have produced negative WAR or never reached the highest level.

While the history of the pick isn’t overwhelmingly positive, the Blue Jays have had some significant success with it picking both Alex Rios (1999) and Shannon Stewart (1992) at that spot. Their career WARs (27.3 for Rios and 24.9 for Stewart) rank third and fifth among players picked 19th. In between them sits former Angels manager Mike Scioscia.

It wouldn’t be fair to expect the Blue Jays to find the next Rios or Stewart — let alone Clemens or Grich — but names like Michael Wacha, Marco Gonzalez, Matt Barnes, Mike Foltynewicz, Shelby Miller and Andrew Cashner represent a reasonable expectation.

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Who could the Blue Jays take this year?

The Blue Jays have been consistently linked to high school centre fielder Jay Allen, who both ESPN and FanGraphs have pegged as the club’s choice in their mock drafts. Allen is a multi-sport athlete, who has potential to be a complete hitter, but may end up in a corner later in his career.

Other names to watch include high school lefty Anthony Solometo, who MLB.com has heading to Toronto, prep righty Andrew Painter, and Wake Forest righty Ryan Cusick.

Under this front office’s leadership, the Blue Jays have selected a college player with five of their six first-round picks — with Jordan Groshans as the sole exception. If that trend continues, prospects who could be around at 19 include pitchers Will Bednar, Michael McGreevy, Gunnar Hogland, and Gavin Williams.

How are the Blue Jays picks from last year faring?

Thanks to the 2020 minor-league season, the Blue Jays’ draft class has less pro experience than they otherwise would have, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t made an impression.

Fifth-overall pick Martin is hitting a solid .273/.394/.379 at double-A while splitting his time between centre field and shortstop. He’s shown an excellent command of the strike zone so far (12.6 BB percentage), but the Blue Jays would probably like to see him hit for a little more power as his ISO sits at just .106.

Second-round pick CJ Van Ejk has put up a rough 6.22 ERA in 46.1 innings for the Vancouver Canadians, but his 3.99 FIP suggests he may have had some tough luck and the team will be pleased with his 10.88 K/9.

Third- and fourth-round picks Trent Palmer and Nick Frasso have thrown fewer than 20 innings combined, so it’s tough to get a sense of where they are, while the club’s last pick (Zach Britton) is putting up an elite OBP in Dunedin, fuelled by a ridiculous 19.5 per cent walk rate, but isn’t doing much else with the bat.

Top Canadian Prospects

Tyler Black, 2B, (Toronto, Ont.)
Rankings: Baseball America (82), MLB Pipeline (57), ESPN (16)

Black’s carrying tool is a special bat that allowed him to hit .383/.496/.683 at Wright State this season. There are questions about how much his power will play as he moves up the ladder, and he isn’t seen as an elite athlete or defender, but the top-notch contact ability and mastery of the strike zone he possesses are hard to come by and it wouldn’t be shocking to see his named called in the first round — as CBS Sports projected in its mock draft.

Denzel Clarke, OF, (Pickering, Ont.)
Rankings: Baseball America (86), MLB Pipeline (98), ESPN (137)

From a tools standpoint, Clarke has everything MLB teams are looking for. His 6-5, 220-pound frame carries significant power potential, and he’s got excellent speed that makes him a plus contributor on the bases and in the field. The biggest question with Clarke is whether his hit tool will develop enough for him to tap into his raw power as he moves up the ladder.

Calvin Ziegler, RHP, (Heidelberg, Ont.)
Rankings: Baseball America (273), MLB Pipeline (123), ESPN (101)

Ziegler can ramp his velocity up as high as 97 mph, and he’s shown a promising curveball and changeup, meaning there aren’t many questions about his stuff. Like many pitchers his age (18) his success will depend on his ability to stay healthy and command the ball.

Eric Cerantola, RHP, (Oakville, Ont.)
Rankings: Baseball America (203), MLB Pipeline (247), ESPN (198)

Cerantola has the look of a high-risk, high-reward MLB prospect with an almost unlimited ceiling. He sits in the mid-90’s and has touched 100, and pairs that heat with a devastating high-spin curveball. The concern with Cerantola is his control as the big right-hander walked more than six hitters per nine in his collegiate career.

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Jordan Marks, RHP (Brights Grove, Ont.)
Rankings: Baseball America (151), MLB Pipeline (201)

Unlike Ziegler and Cerantola, Marks is seen as more of a pitchability prospect than someone with off-the-charts stuff. Even so, he’s topped out as high as 98 mph — although he generally sits lower than. Marks pairs his heater with a solid slider and changeup, both of which he’s able to command effectively.

What’s different about the draft this year?

For the first time in MLB Draft history the event will take place in July rather than June as the league has decided to make it part of the All-Star Week festivities.

“We are pleased to make our Draft the newest part of 2021 All-Star Week festivities,” commissioner Rob Manfred said when the move was announced. “The All-Star Game is a celebration of baseball, and the Draft will highlight the amateur levels of our great game and its future stars.”

Moving the draft back means that MLB teams have had a longer look at the prospects they’re selecting this year, a welcome development given how little most of them were able to play in 2020. On the flip side, those clubs will have fewer professional reps to provide their new draftees this year.

Another notable development is the move to a 20-round format, which represents a compromise between 2020’s truncated five-round draft, and the 40-round event that took place in 2019.

Best Blue Jays first-rounders of all-time

Roy Halladay, 1995, 64.3 WAR

Shawn Green, 1991, 34.7 WAR

Chris Carpenter, 1993, 34.2 WAR

Vernon Wells, 1997, 28.5 WAR

Lloyd Moseby, 1978, 27.5 WAR

Alex Rios, 1999, 27.4 WAR

Shannon Stewart, 1992, 24.9 WAR

Aaron Hill, 2003, 23.7 WAR

Marcus Stroman, 2012, 16.4 WAR

Noah Syndergaard, 2010, 14.9 WAR

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