05/31/06 8:00 AM ET
Jays prepared for First-Year Player Draft
History indicates a preference drafting college players
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
Toronto inked free-agent pitchers A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan for a combined $102 million across five years in order to bolster its pitching staff this past offseason. The hefty price tags weren't all it cost the Jays to sign the pair, though. Toronto also lost the rights to its second and third-round picks in the upcoming First-Year Player Draft.
For what it's worth, Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi isn't that concerned.
"Well, I think the whole bottom line is, as a whole, it's not a very strong draft," Ricciardi said. "So it's probably the best year for us not to have a second or third-round pick. From that standpoint, we just go in and take the best player available at 14 and then line up the board and wait until it comes to our turn."
Toronto will be waiting for a while. After the 14th overall selection, the Blue Jays don't make another pick until the 120th slot. At that point, it's a safe bet that Toronto will have a number of college players in mind. Under Ricciardi's tenure, roughly 81 percent of the Blue Jays' draft picks have been from four-year colleges or junior colleges.
Some of those selections were instrumental in building this year's roster.
Aaron Hill, who played at Lousiana State University, was Toronto's first overall pick in 2003 and he's now the Jays' full-time second baseman. Shortstop Russ Adams, who played at University of North Carolina, was drafted in '02 and has 197 Major League games to his credit. Pitchers Dave Bush (drafted in '02 out of Wake Forest) and Zach Jackson (drafted in '04 out of Texas A&M) were traded to Milwauke in the deal that brought first baseman Lyle Overbay and pitcher Ty Taubenheim to Toronto. Adam Peterson, who was selected in 2002 out of Wichita State, was traded to Arizona in 2005 for Shea Hillenbrand.
"I think the proof is in the pudding," Ricciardi said. "We just think [college players] get here a little quicker and they help us a little quicker," Ricciardi said. "Some day, we will take a high school kid [higher in the draft]. It's just going to have to be the right situation."
Toronto has only selected 39 high school players across the last four drafts. The highest Ricciardi and the Jays have ever taken a prep star was at the 206th pick in 2002, when they picked pitcher Brian Grant, who was released this offseason after never advancing above Class A Auburn.
Here is a look back at the first selections Toronto has made in the last three drafts:
Ricky Romero, LHP, 2005, pick No. 6: Romero, who won the College World Series with Cal-State Fullerton in 2004, was the first pitcher taken in last year's draft. Due to his heavy workload during his last two college seasons, Romero only logged 32 2/3 innings of work between Class A Dunedin and Auburn. This year, the 6-foot-1 left-hander was sidelined in April with an injured triceps muscle, but he's shown no ill effects recently. Through his first four starts with Dunedin, Romero had a 2.33 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings. It seems likely that Romero will advance to Double-A before the year is over.
David Purcey, LHP, 2004, pick No. 16: The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Purcey advanced to Triple-A Syracuse for the first time this year, but Ricciardi said recently that he still feels the big left-hander is about a year away from being Major League ready. Last season, Purcey pitched at two different levels and finished the season at Double-A, where he went 4-3 with a 2.93 ERA in eight starts. The former Oklahoma Sooner has struggled some with issuing walks this season for Syracuse -- something he'll need work on before getting called up to the big leagues.
Aaron Hill, SS, 2003, pick No. 13: Hill has progressed quickly from his days at shortstop at LSU. In just his third season within the Jays organization, Hill received his call to the Majors to help fill in for injured third baseman Corey Koskie in 2005. He got off to such a great start that Toronto decided to keep him around after Koskie's return. After the departure of second baseman Orlando Hudson during the offseason, the Jays named Hill as his full-time replacement. He has been solid defensively for Toronto this year and his offense has started to come along. Hill could see a move back to shortstop before the season is through.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.