(Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium - Vancouver, B.C.) - The glass half full tells us of Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman while the glass half empty speaks to Tyler Beede and Phil Bickford. The Toronto Blue Jays and 1st Round picks at the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft has always felt like closing your eyes as you put your hand into a bag of the unknown.
The 2017 draft sees Toronto holding onto a pair of picks that could garner the next future big league star. With the Blue Jays finishing in the post-season and coming within a few games of the promised land, Toronto gained the 22nd overall pick in this year's amateur bonanza. When Edwin Encarnacion's signature dried on a contract with the Cleveland Indians, they handed the Blue Jays the 28th overall selection in the draft as compensation for the offensively-gifted slugger who will try and help the Indians back to the World Series.
Toronto also holds the 61st (2nd round) and 99th (3rd round) picks giving them four of the Top 100 players to choose from, but let's focus on the first two selections at the top of the board and see what fruits they might be looking to pluck from that particular tree.
In the last 30 years, the Blue Jays have opted to use a first-round pick on a catcher two times. J.P. Arencibia (2007) and Max Pentecost (2014) were grabbed by Canada's team in hopes of finding the next big thing behind the plate. Arencibia would put up great minor league numbers, but never find his groove under the bright lights of the Major League stadiums posting a career .212 batting average with his best season coming in 2011 when he hit 23 home runs for Toronto in 129 games despite hitting a paultry (.219/.282/.438) for a Jays team that finished 81-81 (.500) under then-manager John Farrell.
Max Pentecost was selected out of Kennesaw State University with the 11th overall pick in the draft, two selections BEFORE current Major League star SS Trae Turner as the Blue Jays felt comfortable in the middle infield with then- Blue Jays SS Jose Reyes. As well, the Blue Jays had another pick in the 1st round grabbing LHP Jeff Hoffman, ironically used in a deal just months later to grab a shortstop in the form of Troy Tulowitzki.
Pentecost has spent more time on the Disabled List then on the field, but looks to be turning that corner nearly four years after his name was called by then-commissioner Bud Selig at the podium. The caveat here is that as Pentecost heals from a myriad of injuries, he is now projecting as a first baseman as his bat remains advanced, but his body's durability does not.
We'll get back to this in a moment.
With no real blue-chip prospect in the Blue Jays system despite some noted catchers (i.e: Mike Reeves, Reese McGuire, and Dan Jansen), and Russell Martin signed through 2019 (heading into Year Three of a Five-Year Deal), this might be the time to gamble on a catcher.
Florida Gators standout J.J. Schwarz is projected as a Top 20 pick in this year's draft as he can hit for power to all parts of the ballpark, but just struggles with the strikeouts. He is advanced in several other areas and has come from one of the best programs in the U.S., he could fall to #22 where the Blue Jays would be waiting with a curiousity about not just picking the proverbial "best player available" but filling a need that despite having a few solid guys in the system, remains glaring.
Could the Jays go with a first baseman? This seems to be another curious position for the Blue Jays even with Rowdy Tellez, Ryan McBroom and Max Pentecost looming on the MLB horizon. To be honest, this is just me doing my due diligence as Toronto has only selected a corner infielder once in the MLB Draft since Ed Sprague in 1988 (David Cooper 2008).
2016 didn't have alot of depth at the corners in the draft, but this year is different with upward of eight players who could be considered impact guys. Which of them could fall to #22?
Jason Willow from Victoria, B.C. is now within the Top 100 prospects in amateur baseball, and grabbing him this high might be a little forced by the Blue Jays, but Willow is considered one of the best prep players in North America and well, it's a stretch. Perhaps a little more 'sure' would be a player like Pavan Smith (Univ. of Virginia). Smith might not fall this far as his power and advanced approach will surely have him on several teams watch board. The power is just okay, but he hits everything on the barrel and is described as a 'dirt dog' and 'gamer' which in baseball terms is the best type of compliment you can receive.
Okay, let's allow Captain Obvious in for a second as if you've watched the Blue Jays at the podium dating back to the creation of fire, you know they go pitching, pitching and well, more pitching early on. Why not? In the past several years it has landed them Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard (yes, THAT Noah Syndergaard) and Justin Nicolino (early 2nd round) among others. Could you imagine that rotation? Yeah, me too, sigh.
LHP Hans Crouse is super intriguing if the 18-year old Southern California commit falls into the Blue Jays lap at #22, or #28 for that matter. Full of energy, full of character and with an advanced arsenal for a teenager, the lefty from Dana Hills, CA could be pursuaded to skip school for now with a few million bucks in his bank account. Crouse would need a few years to develop within the Blue Jays system, but with Sanchez, Stroman, Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ with hardly a grey hair between them, this could be worth the wait. If Toronto wants a more 'here and now' arm, LHP Seth Romero might garner a look as the University of Houston product has gone from a virtual nobody to one of the NCAA Premier arms.
The last 10 picks have gone like this for Toronto; with some beauties and some beasts. What will the Jays do at #22 and #28? We'll all find out together on Monday, June 12th, 2017.
||Kennesaw State University
||Oaks Christian HS (Westlake Village, Calif.)
||Stone County (Miss.) High School
||Barstow (Calif.) High School
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.