06/07/2004 2:02 PM ET
With Purcey, Jays get their man
Contingency plan Zach Jackson taken as sandwich pick
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
|Southpaw David Purcey said he felt comfortable speaking with the Blue Jays prior to Monday's draft. (Courtesy of University of Oklahoma)
TORONTO -- It was such a prophetic statement that it caught the speaker off guard.
Two weeks ago, J.P. Ricciardi casually mentioned that the First-Year Player Draft was so deep in pitching that he might be able to get similar talents in the first and second rounds. On Monday, Toronto's general manager found his words exactly on the mark: The Blue Jays drafted two pitchers with their top two picks, and Ricciardi said he would've been happy with either one as his opening gambit.
The top choice, Oklahoma's David Purcey, was the 16th pick in the draft. Ricciardi was thrilled to snag the southpaw there, but 16 picks later, he was even happier to nab Zach Jackson with a sandwich pick, compensation for losing Kelvim Escobar as a free agent. Jackson had been Ricciardi's contingency plan, should Purcey be unavailable. Instead, he walked away from the draft with two premier prospects.
"Once we got past Kansas City, we knew we'd get one of our guys. We felt comfortable with Jackson in the first round," he said. "We thought they were two of the top four left-handed pitchers and we were real fortunate to get two of them."
Purcey, who had been drafted on two prior occasions, felt every bit as fortunate. He had always planned to go to college, so he never really expected to go pro in the other two drafts. As a junior, he was more interested in moving on and starting the rest of his life. With Toronto, he moves to a team that had shown rabid interest in him all season.
"I got a good feeling about Toronto. I felt really comfortable talking to them," he said. "I knew they had interest in me all year. I didn't know how much until today."
Purcey was perceptive: Ricciardi said he thought his scouts had been at all of the lefty's starts this season. In fact, he even made it out to two Sooners games, hoping to get an early look. Here's what he saw: The southpaw already has a Major League build, standing 6-foot-5 and weighing 240 pounds. He used that size to great effect, pitching his way to a 9-5 record with a 3.11 ERA. In 118 2/3 innings of work, Purcey allowed just 89 hits and struck out 130 batters.
It was more than the stats, though. Purcey has pitched in two wood-bat leagues -- the Alaska League and the Cape Cod League. Those leagues are often showcases for pro scouts, and Purcey made a name for himself in back-to-back summers. In 2002, Baseball America named him the Alaska League's best prospect. The following summer, the same publication named him the eighth-best prospect in the Cape Cod League.
He wasn't just pitching for extracurricular kicks. Purcey wanted to test his breaking ball against premier prospects and wooden bats, and the pitch passed every test. Did that experience make him more confident?
"That's as true a statement as you can have," he said. "It's a confidence-builder, learning how to pitch to wooden bats. By the end of the year, if you're still pitching good, you know you're doing something right."
Ricciardi, meanwhile, has summed this draft up as pitching-rich. Ten days before the draft, he frankly admitted that there weren't any position players he could envision picking with his top selection. He said that the Jays would pick a pitcher -- and more specifically, a college pitcher. He wasn't alone in that respect: Eight college pitchers had been drafted by the time pick 15 rolled around.
Position: LHP B/T: L/L
H: 6-5 W: 240
Born: 1982-04-22 Class: SR
EXTRA-LARGE. FRAME. THICK, STRONG BODY & LEGS. IMPRESSIVE PHYSICALLY. SIMILAR BODY AS MATT WHITE. NO WINDUP, HIGH 3/4 DELIVERY. FAIR MECHANICS. LONG ARC, PROPER ACTION. FB VELOCITY AVG, TOUCHES ABOVE AVG AT TIMES, MOST RIDE. SLURVE-TYPE CB. OCCAISIONAL STRAIGHT CHANGEUP. BIG BODY & IMPRESSIVE ARM. USABLE FB.
Was Ricciardi experiencing deja vu? In 2002, the player Ricciardi coveted -- Clemson's Khalil Greene -- went one spot ahead of his first pick. The Blue Jays countered by drafting Russ Adams, who's currently at Triple-A Syracuse. Greene, meanwhile, is already thriving in the big leagues as San Diego's starting shortstop.
This time, the last-minute shuffle never came. Arizona selected Florida State shortstop Stephen Drew, setting the rest of Ricciardi's draft in motion. He got Purcey, then waited around to see what would last to is next pick.
"Picking at 16, you're at the disposal of the teams that pick in front of you. We think we got two No. 1s," Ricciardi said. "Jackson was a bit of a surprise. We didn't think he'd be there at 32. When he was, we were ecstatic."
And with good reason: Jackson had a huge season and was projected as a mid-first round draft pick. His statistics tell the story. The southpaw was 10-6 with a 3.54 ERA, striking out 119 batters against only 26 walks. He worked 112 innings and allowed only 108 hits, holding his opponents to a .253 batting average.
Both pitchers are similar, working with power arsenals. In fact, the two hurlers already know each other and have dissected each other's games. Purcey has pitched against Jackson, and he offered his immediate approval. Both youngsters will likely start at Auburn of the New York-Penn League, possibly jumping to the Florida State League before the end of the season.
"We beat the Aggies that day, but he's a great pitcher with great stuff," Purcey said about Jackson. "I'm looking forward to getting to know him."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.