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Blue Jays Draft Preview
By John Manuel
Scouting Director: Chris Buckley (first draft: 2001).
2000 Draft (First five rounds, picking 24th)
2001 Draft (First five rounds, picking fifth)
2002 Draft (First five rounds, picking 14th)
Starting in 1990 under then-scouting director Tim Wilken, the Blue Jays have produced a steady stream of big leaguers with their first-round picks. At that time, the organization went heavily and effectively after high school players, with righthanders Steve Karsay (1990) and Chris Carpenter ('93) and outfielders Shawn Green ('91) and Shannon Stewart ('92) all going on to big league careers, with Green emerging as a star.
In fact, among 1990s first-round draftees only Kevin Witt (1994), who has had limited big league time but has become a consistent Triple-A slugger, hasn't had a big league impact. The Jays' best big leaguers could be 1995 first-rounder Roy Halladay, their top starter, and 1997 first-rounder Vernon Wells, their center fielder. Both were high school picks. Collegian Billy Koch (1996) and prep product Felipe Lopez (1998) became trade fodder, and Puerto Rican outfielder Alexis Rios (1999) is blossoming in Double-A.
Rios illustrates the debate current scouting director Chris Buckley might be having with general manager J.P. Ricciardi, who has brought the Athletics' philosophy of drafting heavily from the college ranks with performance on equal footing with tools. Wilken and Buckley debated taking Rios in '99 when their other choices included such collegians as outfielder Larry Bigbie, outfielder Ryan Ludwick and righthander Matt Ginter.
Those players have all reached the big leagues while Rios hasn't, but their ceilings appear limited, while Rios' steady development is making him an attractive commodity for a trade, if not a future Blue Jays outfield fixture.
With Ricciardi in charge, however, the Jays figure to go heavily on the college route. The 2002 draft, the first in his tenure, has been an early success, with collegians such as Russ Adams, David Bush, Justin Maureau, Chad Pleiness and Jason Perry getting their careers off to fast starts. And in 2001, Buckley went heavily for college players when Gord Ash was the GM, taking Auburn outfielder Gabe Gross in the first round.
If last year's draft is an indicator, the Jays will focus on players with on-base skills who had good summers in the Cape Cod League, such as Toledo catcher Mitch Maier, Georgia Tech outfielder Matt Murton (a career .345 hitter in 200 Cape at-bats) and Stetson third baseman Brian Snyder. A pair of Team USA alumni--Tulane's Michael Aubrey (if he lasts that long) and Louisiana State's Aaron Hill--might be at the top of the Jays' list because of their advanced plate approach and offensive polish.
If the Jays go for a pitcher early, they could look to Mississippi State lefthander Paul Maholm or Houston righthander Brad Sullivan, whom they have heavily scouted.