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Every day until Opening Day, Baseball Prospectus authors will preview two teams—one from the AL, one from the NL—identifying strategies those teams employ to gain an advantage. Today: the drafting philosophies of the Phillies and Blue Jays.

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TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

PECOTA Team Projections
Record: 80-82
Runs Scored: 786
Runs Allowed: 796
AVG/OBP/SLG (TAv): .255/.329/.420 (.274)
Total WARP: 24.5 (1.4 pitching, 23.1 non-pitching, including 0.0 from pitchers)

When the Alex Anthopoulos era began in Toronto, the change of philosophy in the amateur draft was evident out of the gate. The Jays held seven of the first 80 picks in the 2010 draft—the first with Anthopoulos at the helm with his hand-picked director of amateur scouting Andrew Tinnish—and spent four of them on high school pitchers: Aaron Sanchez with the 34th overall pick, Noah Syndergaard with the 38th, Griffin Murphy with the 61st and Justin Nicolino with the 80th. By contrast, during J.P. Ricciardi’s tenure, Toronto had selected just four prep arms in the first 10 rounds of all eight drafts combined. Since 2010, the Blue Jays have taken 15 prep arms in the first two rounds of the draft; the most by any other team is six:

Teams

% HS pitchers

Total Picks

HS pitchers

HS hitters

College pitchers

College hitters

Toronto

60%

25

15

5

4

1

Los Angeles (AL)

40%

10

4

3

2

1

Pittsburgh

36%

14

5

5

2

2

Houston

36%

14

5

2

2

5

Texas

33%

18

6

8

2

2

San Diego

32%

19

6

5

0

8

It’s not that the Blue Jays front office is going into draft day with a quota of high school pitchers to fill. But aggressively pursuing high-upside talent has been a point of emphasis for this regime even after Brian Parker replaced Tinnish as the director of amateur scouting in 2012 (Tinnish was promoted to assistant GM):

We’re looking for as much high ceiling talent as we can bring in. We’re looking for athletes who can impact the game both offensively and defensively and we’re looking for young arms that can pitch at the top of a rotation. In general terms, those are the kind guys we’re looking for and those are the kind of guys we’ve drafted over the last few years.

Maximizing talent at the top of recent drafts has come in all forms for Toronto. They’ve made calculated risks on signability, injuries, and profile concerns when drafting Jeff Hoffman (a potential first overall pick), D.J. Davis, Phil Bickford, Tyler Beede, Anthony Alford, Matt Smoral, Marcus Stroman, Daniel Norris, and Sean Reid-Foley, to name a few, but have opted for upside in all of these cases. The list goes on and several of these picks haven’t worked out for one reason or another, but such is the risk of investing in high-upside talent.

That also applies to the Latin America market, where the Jays have gone from essentially being non-players to one of the most aggressive spenders under Anthopoulos. Several signees have failed to develop but the Jays were rewarded with Franklin Barreto and a 2011 international class that features four prospects on this year’s Blue Jays top-ten list: Jairo Labourt, Roberto Osuna, Miguel Castro, and Alberto Tirado.

Anthopoulos’ emphasis on scouting and development has led to a horde of premium young talent entering the system during his tenure, but he’s also been savvy enough to recognize that the farm system is an asset through which he can upgrade the major-league roster. Trading prospects for established players isn’t a new strategy, but what stands out about Anthopoulos’ moves is that he’s sold high on several of his prospects before they’ve had the chance to sink or swim in the upper minors—specifically, Double-A or Triple-A, where success is more likely to translate to the majors.

Here are some of the notable trades from the Anthopoulos era that have involved trading away young talent for established major-league talent:

Date

Team

Player(s) traded

Player(s) received

7/14/10

Braves

Alex Gonzalez, Tim Collins, Tyler Pastornicky

Yunel Escobar, Jo-Jo Reyes

12/6/11

White Sox

Nestor Molina

Sergio Santos

7/20/12

Astros

Joe Musgrove, Carlos Perez, David Rollins, Asher Wojciechowski, Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, PTBNL (Kevin Comer)

David Carpenter, J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon

11/19/12

Marlins

Justin Nicolino, Henderson Alvarez, Anthony DeSclafani, Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Jake Marisnick, Jeff Mathis

Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes

12/17/12

Mets

Wuilmer Becerra, Noah Syndergaard, John Buck, Travis d’Arnaud

R.A. Dickey, Mike Nickeas, Josh Thole

11/28/14

Athletics

Franklin Barreto, Kendall Graveman, Brett Lawrie, Sean Nolin

Josh Donaldson

The levels of talent and upside traded away in these moves clearly vary, with the latter three deals significantly outweighing the first three in magnitude. But selling high on prospects with low-minors résumés like Barreto, Syndergaard, Nicolino, and Becerra stand out as the type of gambles that Anthopoulos has been willing to make to acquire major-league talent.

Lawrie and d’Arnaud were the centerpieces of their respective trades, but in both cases the Blue Jays were acquiring a cost-controlled player who had performed at a superstar level the year before. Anthopoulos may like a do-over on the Dickey deal, but at the time he was the best starting pitcher on the market and was owed just $9.5 million over the next two years. You rarely acquire players of that caliber without giving up at least one major-league-ready piece in return. Yet in both trades, the secondary player involved was a low-minors prospect with a high ceiling and a long way to go developmentally.

The trade with the Marlins obviously had a lot to do with picking up the contracts of the incoming players, but the fact remained that the two biggest prospects Anthopoulos parted with—Nicolino and Marisnick—had yet to prove themselves in the upper minors. Before Marisnick was traded, there were major concerns about whether he would be able to reach his offensive potential given his struggles in half a season at Double-A, but there was still enough to dream on that BP’s prospect team put a 60 OFP on him that offseason.

Even the smaller prospect-for-veteran moves the Jays have made involved parting with youngsters requiring significant development time before reaching the majors (with the exception of Collins).

The table below lists the minor leaguers traded away in these deals and the highest level they had reached at the time of the trade, with some notes and excerpts from the Transaction Analyses at the time. Not all of the guys traded away necessarily had the same high ceiling as a Syndergaard or Barreto but it’s clear that the trend has been to sell prospects that have long developmental journeys ahead of them (i.e. have yet to reach Double-A):

Player Traded

Highest level reached

Notes

Collins

AA

43 IP out of the bullpen in 2010. Undersized lefty seen as a pure reliever. Threw 67 IP in the majors for Kansas City in 2011.

Pastornicky

A+

Undersized shortstop lauded for his speed, baseball intelligence and makeup. At the time, Kevin Goldstein profiled him as a “future utility player with a good approach and excellent contact skills.”

Molina

AA

Five starts at AA at time of trade; coming off 2.21 ERA and 10.2 K/9 across two levels in 2011

Musgrove

Rk

Kevin Goldstein at the time: “The development from here on for the 19-year-old will depend on his secondary pitches. He has some feel for a slider, but can also get around on the pitch, causing it to sweep across the plate without much bite, and his changeup is still very much a work in progress. He has the most upside of any player sent to Houston in the deal, but he's a long, long way from the big leagues.

Perez

A

Goldstein: “Perez might be the most intriguing player in the deal. Certainly an expendable commodity due to outstanding catching depth in the Toronto system, Perez entered the 2011 season as a highly regarded catching prospect after an outstanding performance in the New York-Penn League, but he was unable to build on that in a disappointing 2011 showing at Low-A Lansing.”

Rollins

A

Successful full-season debut in 2012; middle-relief ceiling

Wojciechowski

A+

Goldstein: “Wojciechowski was a supplemental first-round pick in 2010 out of The Citadel based on some of the best velocity among college players in the draft, but he's lost a significant amount of stuff as a pro. The 23-year-old has been far more effective in 2012 during his second go-round at High-A Dunedin, but his fastball is now merely a plus pitch at 91-93 mph.”

Comer

Rk

43.1 IP at rookie ball. 57th overall pick in 2011 draft and included as PTBNL. Reports at the time were that his velocity had ticked down.

Nicolino

A

Jason Parks at the time: “The entire arsenal plays up because of his pitchability and overall feel for sequence and game situation, so even if the fastball doesn’t see a velocity spike during the developmental process, Nicolino can still profile as a middle-of-the-rotation starter. If the arsenal ticks up without sacrificing his feel for command, the sky is the limit. After a very strong Low-A campaign in 2012, Nicolino has the type of poise and polish to reach the Double-A level at some point in the 2013 season.

Marisnick

AA

Struggled with the bat in 247 PA at AA in 2012; Mark Anderson at the time: “He has the leveraged swing and natural strength to earn plus grades for his raw power, but that power has yet to manifest in games. Optimistic views envision a five-tool center fielder who contributes at an above-average level in all phases of the game. The pessimist’s view can see the hitting ability unraveling the whole package, leaving him short of such a lofty projection.”

DeSclafani

A

6th-round pick out of the University of Florida. Had completed his first season at Single-A and wasn’t considered more than a potential swingman at the time.

Becerra

Rk

Parks at the time: “A seven-figure player signed by the Jays in the 2011 J2 market, 18-year-old Wuilmer Becerra has all the tools to climb prospect lists in 2013. His 2012 debut was cut short after getting hit in the face, but the Venezuelan outfielder has the type of size/speed/power potential that is rarely found in one package.”

Syndergaard

A

Parks at the time: “The scouting report can make the lip quiver, thanks to a plus-plus fastball and two plus potential secondary offerings, but the inherent risk of pitching prospects and the professional resume that concludes at the Low-A level create a profile that is anything but a sure thing.”

d’Arnaud

AAA

Ranked 15th on the BP Top 101 prospect list that offseason

Barreto

A

Nick J. Faleris at the time: “Barreto provides the highest ceiling of the three prospects netted by Oakland, but is also staring at the longest developmental arc of the trio, with a major-league debut likely a good four years away.”

Graveman

MLB

Five relief appearances at majors; made six starts at AAA; majority of season spent at High-A

Nolin

MLB

One relief appearance at majors; made 17 starts at AAA in 2014

On the one hand, drafting high-ceiling talents and investing heavily internationally has rewarded Anthopoulos with a handful of players that are ready to make potential impacts on the big-league roster this season. Sanchez and Norris are expected to be in line for full-season debuts in the starting rotation and all signs are pointing to the club accelerating the timelines of Castro and Osuna to help stabilize an otherwise shaky bullpen.

However, this type of drafting and investment in Latin America has also provided Anthopoulos with the type of trade chips that other teams can dream on and often covet in prospect-for-veteran deals. It’s at least worth wondering whether the organization’s aggressive approach to the amateur markets has been made with some intent of using some of their high-ceiling prospects as trade chips to support the organization’s competitive window.

We’ve seen evidence that top-10 prospects who have been traded away over the past 25 years have fared worse than those who weren’t dealt, with the most reasonable explanation stemming from the information advantage front offices have about their own prospects compared to the rest of the league. If Toronto’s constant signing and selling of high-ceiling prospects is in fact a conscious effort, perhaps leveraging the information advantage is the driving motivation behind it.

The amount of information available on a high-school player or international player is limited relative to the type of polished college arm or hitter that the Blue Jays have avoided early in the draft. By investing heavily in these types of players the Blue Jays have not only acquired high-ceiling players but they’ve also acquired the right to access first-hand how they develop both on and off the field in those critical first years as professionals.

By hoarding so many high-ceiling prospects, it would follow that there would be a few that stick out internally as guys the organization feel less confident about relative to the industry consensus. This could have very well been the case when deciding whether to send Syndergaard or Sanchez to the Mets as the key secondary piece for Dickey.

Without access to Toronto’s internal rankings, this is speculation, and it’s impossible to know whether there is some conscious effort behind their constant draft-and-trade approach with high-ceiling prospects. It could be a mere coincidence, with Anthopoulos just taking advantage of the resources he’s accumulated on the farm. But at the very least, the pattern that has emerged over the past few years suggests that it could be a possibility.

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LouBro
3/30
Oh, what I would do for a do-over on the Dickey deal. Hated it at the time, and will hate it that much more when Thor is promoted this year.
Muboshgu
3/30
That trade is one of the few times I can type the following phrase: The Mets were smart.
Jayfan34
3/30
You don't have to be smart to have taken that deal, just not stupid. Would definitely like a do-over on that one.
giggles2525
3/30
What this article has highlighted is that Toronto has been rather adept at drafting high-end pitching talent, to be able to trade away all those arms and still go into 2015 having no trouble replacing young stud Stroman. His injury merely allowed them to move other top, young arms (Sanchez, Norris) into the rotation, which is incredible.
Kongos
3/31
For some reason that site that you used for draft picks doesn't seem to list Drew Hutchison, who is easily J.P. Ricciardi’s most successful draft of a high-school pitcher.
cmosch
3/31
Ah, yes. As davidik pointed out, Hutchison doesn't show up because he was taken in the 15th round. He slid that far because of a strong college commitment himself. Jays signed him for $400k. But yes, Hutchison and Henderson Alvarez definitely turned out to be two of the best HS/international arms that Ricciardi left behind for AA.
davidik
3/31
Greg Ioannou Look at the round filter... default set to <10 Hutch was drafted in the 15th
Kongos
3/31
Thanks!