06/11/09 1:58 AM ET
Jays' Draft shaded with Canadian flair
Toronto picks pair of Canuck-born southpaws on Day 1
By Erika Gilbert / MLB.com
With the 37th overall pick -- compensation for right-hander A.J. Burnett's departure via free agency over the offseason -- the Jays selected Ladner, British Columbia, native James Paxton, a left-hander from the University of Kentucky. Toronto chose another Canadian lefty with its next pick in high schooler Jake Eliopoulos from nearby Newmarket, Ontario.
Blue Jays scouting director Jon Lalonde believes Paxton and Eliopoulos were the best players available when the Jays chose them -- the fact that they are Canadian is just a coincidence.
"We just take the best players," Lalonde said. "Obviously, we want to do a good job on players from Canada -- we want to make sure that we know about them, that we scout them properly, give them the attention that we think that they deserve -- and I think in this case we did that with both James and Jake. But when push comes to shove, it's about getting big leaguers, so we want to make sure we get the best players."
Although some fans may keep a closer eye on the Jays' homegrown talent, Paxton isn't worried about the extra attention.
"I don't really feel any pressure," Paxton said. "I've always dealt pretty well with things like that. I think it'll turn out fine for me.
"It's my first time drafted, and I'm just really excited that the Blue Jays drafted me and gave me an opportunity."
Lalonde described the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Paxton as a "big, physical college left-hander" with a plus fastball.
"His curveball, although a little bit inconsistent, is really good at times," Lalonde added. "We think it's got a chance to be a really good pitch for him. He competes well. Everything we've checked out on his makeup is top-rate. We love the fact that he's big and strong and still growing."
Lalonde said Eliopoulos, who pitches for Canada's National Junior Team and the Intercounty Baseball League's Brantford Red Sox, has a "really good" slider, as well as a two-seam sinking fastball and a changeup.
"He's got a great frame. He's athletic -- very quick, loose arm," Lalonde said. "He had great success this year pitching against pro-level competition and pitching in a men's league up here in the Intercounty."
Both selections go against the Jays' recent scouting trends, as Paxton is a client of agent Scott Boras and Eliopoulos is a high school pitcher. The Jays have not signed a Boras client since Roberto Alomar, and have tended to shy away from high school arms.
But Lalonde wasn't worried that Paxton, as a Boras client, will present a greater challenge when it comes to signing a contract before the Aug. 17 deadline.
"There are questions about signability for all the players that we draft, and we just want to try and get them signed," Lalonde said. "We want to try and be fair and hopefully get things done, but it's going to take time, and we'll work at it.
Blue Jays -- Top five selections
|20||RHP||Stephen Jenkins||Kennesaw St U|
|37||LHP||James Paxton||U Kentucky|
|68||LHP||Jake Eliopoulos||Sacred Heart Catholic HS|
|99||RHP||Jake Barrett||Desert Ridge HS|
|104||CF||Jacob Marisnick||Riverside Poly HS|
|Complete Blue Jays Draft results >|
"I'm sure James is excited, and we are, so I hope we can get something worked out in time that's fair and everyone feels good about."
As far as taking a chance on a high school arm -- as prep pitchers are famously hard to project as Major Leaguers -- so early in the Draft, Lalonde believed Eliopoulos was worth the risk, and that the Jays have the organizational strength to support his development.
"You always try to look for indicators -- things like size and arm strength," Lalonde said. "But these players are just so far away from being what they ultimately might become, it takes a tremendous development program.
"I think Dane Johnson -- he's our Minor League pitching coordinator -- he looks after all these guys. I think the proof is in the pudding with Dane when you look at the arms he's been able to graduate to the Major Leagues. He's the best at what he does in the business, and that's one of the reasons I think we kind of took the reins off with high school pitching, because we know we're putting them in good hands with Dane and [director of player development] Dick Scott."
It doesn't hurt that the Jays already have some good, young pitchers in their system, and even in the big club's rotation.
"I do think we've gotten to a position now -- and we've worked hard to achieve this -- of having some Minor League depth at the upper levels," Lalonde said. "There's no doubt that can buy you some time to hopefully maybe take a little bit more of a project or someone like a high school pitcher that will take some time to develop.
"It's not something we explicitly talk about per se, but I do think in the back of your mind you do feel a little better about it when you do have some guys in Double-A or Triple-A that you think are close that can help you out in the big leagues relatively shortly."
Erika Gilbert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.