SEE ALSO: John Manuel Archive
Last issue, I graded all 30 drafts from 2011 with five years of results and hindsight. The ’11 draft certainly made an impact on this year’s playoffs, from Puerto Rican shortstops Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez to what seemed like half the Red Sox’s roster.
The 2011 Blue Jays got an A for a class with big league rotation pieces Joe Musgrove, Daniel Norris and Anthony DeSclafani plus outfielder Kevin Pillar among their six big leaguers drafted and signed. But in my research, I noticed the previous Jays draft. And if 2011 was an A, 2010 was an A+.
As was the case in 2011, the Jays got little from their first pick; in 2011 they didn’t sign Tyler Beede, but in 2010, they drafted Deck McGuire, a Georgia Tech righty who has topped out in Triple-A and is now with the Cardinals. But the rest of the class . . . oh, what a class.
Toronto exploited the old rules to hoard extra picks and had eight of the first 93 selections, and it took advantage. Pick 34 overall: Aaron Sanchez. Four picks later? Boom—Noah Syndergaard. Righty Asher Wojciechowski (No. 41 overall) and lefty Justin Nicolino (80) soon followed, as did fourth-rounder Sam Dyson and sixth-rounder Sean Nolin. Even later in the draft, the Blue Jays kept finding big leaguers, such as outfielder Dalton Pompey in the 16th round and even 35th-rounder Danny Barnes. Both have been on Jays’ playoff rosters.
“It was a great time to be a Blue Jays scout,” said Tom Burns, then one of the eight
crosscheckers in the Blue Jays’ scouting department, three national and five regional. “We had a special group of scouts. We all worked hard and all had a passion for the Jays. The success of those two drafts is a tribute to the work of the scouts.”
A lot of things came together in those years—the draft rules, a general manager in Alex Anthopoulos who wanted to exploit those rules and ownership willing to finance those plans.
Back To The Future
The old Blue Jays of the Pat Gillick era in the 1980s and ’90s were known for their aggressiveness and boldness in scouting, and for the scouts who came out of that front office—Bob Engle, Tim Wilken, Chris Buckley, Don Welke, Chris Bourjos, Mark Snipp and Ron Tostenson, among many others. It was basically a training ground for future scouting directors and crosscheckers.
Anthopolous really just returned Toronto to its roots as a scouting and player-development organization in 2010 when he doubled the size of the scouting department. The 2009 Jays media guide lists 13 area scouts and four national crosscheckers, plus nine pro and major league scouts. A year later, Anthopoulos had assembled a staff with 21 pro and major league scouts, those eight crosscheckers and 24 area scouts. It was the largest scouting department in the game.
The industry noticed. BA’s 2010 archives are full of references to the Jays being linked to top talents, premium athletes and tough signs. But Toronto didn’t just take obvious players; its strength in numbers allowed it to go outside the scouting consensus, giving it deeper looks into players’ talents and makeup.
“Our area guys had smaller territories,” said Burns, who now works for the Major League Scouting Bureau. “Steve Miller was our area scout that signed Syndergaard, and he got to know him, saw him more than other scouts did. The same thing happened with a lot of our scouts. We did what we planned to do.”
Most of the members of that group left the Jays after J.P. Ricciardi joined the organization as GM in the fall of 2001, some on their own, many after Ricciardi let them go. Anthopoulos and scouting directors Jon Lalonde and Andrew Tinnish rebuilt the staff and rebuilt a sense of pride in scouting for the organization.
Burns cited Mike Mangan, now assistant farm director of the Pirates, as the only holdover from the previous regime. But in that 2010, two first-year scouts made immediate impressions for digging deep. Bobby Gandolfo, whom Burns supervised as a crosschecker, got Princeton righthander Barnes in the 35th round in 2010; Barnes was the first player Gandolfo signed, and he reached the big leagues in 2016 after posting a 77-6 strikeout-walk ratio in the bullpen in the upper minors.
Burns also cited Chicago area scout Mike Medici, who selected but couldn’t sign righthander Chad Green in the 37th round. Green wound up at Louisville for three seasons before being drafted by the Tigers and reaching the major leagues in 2016 with the Yankees. “He got to know the kid and really was so diligent,” Burns said. “He dug deep, targeting a high school pitcher who had gut feel for. He’s been proven right.”
So the Jays identified the right talent up and down the line to take maximum advantage of their draft. In the past, we’ve detailed how teams often failed to exploit such pick bonanzas, and the Rays did just that the next year, when they had 10 of the first 60 picks in ‘11. So far, Tampa Bay has gotten Blake Snell, a little bit from Mikie Mahtook and not much else from that bonanza.
Toronto got impact talent in back-to-back drafts, as well as internationally in its 2011 signing class and 2010 Cuban signee Adeiny Hechavarria, plus depth in later rounds, plus good reports on high schoolers who wound up in college that could come in hand three years later. Those talent evaluations, and the front office’s ability to back those evaluations confidently and financially, had Toronto ranked No. 5 in BA’s 2012 organization talent rankings. Anthopoulos was never shy about trading those prospects, and that’s why Sanchez is the best homegrown Jay left.
Making those deals helped get the Blue Jays to the playoffs the last two years, but it was not the way team president Mark Shapiro wanted to operate, and he and Anthopoulos couldn’t agree on a new contract last October. Anthopoulos, now with the Dodgers, obviously wasn’t the only departure. The Jays’ success in those days prompted other teams to hire their scouts such as Billy Gasparino (Dodgers scouting director), Tommy Tanous and Marc Tramuta (both Mets).
But their mark on the organization remains.
“We thought we were part of something special,” Burns said. “It’s gratifying to know the history has proven the value of the staff and has looked positively upon our work.”