The Jays sent out a release the other day announcing the signing of 14 of their picks from the June draft, including four of the nine selections they had among the first 113 in the nation. They are already doing far better than the did a year ago when they held firm and managed to sign just one from among their top picks, even losing out on top Canadian pitchers James Paxton and Jake Eliopoulos. Success in this draft is not complete though. Before the draft, Pollyanna president Paul Beeston and boy-wonder GM Alex Anthopoulos insisted that this year money issues would not be a problem and like Larry the Cable Guy they would “Git 'er done.” They would not be governed by “slot” recommendations. But in the immortal words of Marlon Brando (or someone like that), “It takes two to tango.”
The Jays' first selection, 11th overall, Georgia Tech righthander Deck McGuire has already been a problem. Projected as being ahead in his MLB development of last year's No. 1, Chad Jenkins because of his solid work in a major baseball conference at the ACC and a solid three-pitch repertoire, he has cast off bad vibes about being happy drafted by the Jays. On draft day, he refused to participate in a conference call with Jays' media, a long-time tradition on draft day even for players not yet signed. In fact when the Jays' texted him about a call in follow-up, when he found out who it was he never texted back. When Morgan Campbell of The Star went through the Georgia Tech sports information department, they said okay, then came back and said he didn't want to do it. Hmm! And then there's 5th round pick, shortstop Dickie Thon, son of the former major-leaguer by the same name. His father's response to being selected by the Jays was that he was not happy with the round his son was chosen in and not happy with the calls the scout kept hitting him with looking for a bargain price during the draft. Dickie Sr. Insisted that his son was off to Rice University on a scholarship. Since then Anthopoulos has spoken to the family and everything is chill. It sounds like it may still be chilly.
The Jays' goal each year under the new regime is to draft and sign two high-impact players instead of a bunch of average talents. In year one, the jury will remain out for a while. On to the mailbag.
Q: Hi Richard,
What is your opinion on the MLB draft? Talented kids dropping because they're asking for huge signing bonuses, high schoolers not signing, compensation picks for FAs and unsigned picks (that moves teams without compensation picks down in the draft order), teams unable to trade picks. Should they move towards the NBA or NHL model with a salary scale, kids either in or out, no compensation picks and teams able to trade picks. How would you change the draft so both teams and players would benefit and likely agree to the terms?
M. Wong, Toronto
A: The MLB first-year draft of amateur players has always seemed really messed up to me. First of all there is involved a definite Catch-22 for small-market clubs. Recall the original concept of Catch-22 in the fabulous Joseph Heller WW-II novel wherein the U.S. Army soldier wants desperately to get a discharge and a ticket out of the war because he claims he's insane. But the argument of the authorities is is that if he indeed wants to get out of the army and go home then it proves he's not insane. In the particular June draft version of Catch-22, teams finish in last place partly because they don't want to spend top money on top players then are awarded the top draft pick and are forced to spend top money on top players – or else choose someone of lesser talent that they project as “signable”. Messed up.
1: To be eligible, you are a) a high-school senior, b) have finished two years of university or junior college, or c) are a fourth year university student (three chances spaced two years apart);
2: You may sign with the team that drafted you up until May 31 of the following year, giving that team a full year to see you develop (helpful for Canadian kids) and you can engage an agent and still be eligible for NCAA schools as long as you have not accepted money from the team that drafted you;
3: Draft picks (in the first three rounds only) can be traded allowing a reluctant small-market club to opt out of having to pay big money bonuses and instead take MLB ready players in trade that can help you right here, right now;
4: Draft picks in the first round plus the first-round supplementary (i.e. those selected on the televised first night of the pathetic MLB Network Draft Night) can begin the MLB clock running immediately as per recent international contracts like Aroldis Chapman and Adeiny Hechavarria. This could be negotiated with the Players Association so that there is no pension time involved and maybe a separate list not counting against the 40-man roster but starting the arbitration and free-agency clocks running.
That's a start on suggested changes to the draft. It would take the entire Mailbag space or a couple of columns to finish the changes. But it's a great topic of discussion.
What is happening with the up and coming players at first, short, third, and catcher. All the other players in the mix at the moment are probably going to be around for a while. How many will we see in August and September?
Jim Anderson, Cambridge
A: Given what we know about the new GM and his goals for the Jays and methods of development, I would say that from the current Jays starting lineup the ones that would still be around on Opening Day 2012 when they are likely to contend are: 2B Aaron Hill; DH Adam Lind; CF Vernon Wells and LF Travis Snider. By that time, the young starterts will be young veterans allowing a young catcher like J.P. Arencibia to take over. First base will surely be Bret Wallace. Shortstop, unless something goes horribly wrong, will be Adeiny Hechavarria. That means A.A. Would have to spend money to fill holes in right field and third base because the team needs a couple of grizzled RBI men and they are not on any radar down on the farm, although it would be exciting if Canadian pitcher-turned-outfielder Adam Loewen could complete his improbable metamorphosis and become the third OF.
Q: Greetings Richard,
By all accounts, Vernon Wells is one of the classier men in baseball and clearly blessed with talent. Why then, does he chronically and egregiously ground out to short on a first pitch with runners on, killing yet another potential rally Every twelve year old pitcher in Canada knows you get Wells out pitching him a high one outside or similarly off his shoe tops. Is he just not intelligent enough to learn pitch selection, even after all these years? And why, on a team of mediocre hitters, has Dewayne Wise been brought back? At age 32, this fellow can't hit water falling from a boat? Does he have something on someone? A guy like this is only to be used when management is promoting " Guaranteed Loss Night." Your valued insight, please!
Selby Martin, Toronto
A: Whenever an Expos player would make an out on first pitch in a big situation, former manager and wizened philosopher Felipe Alou would disgustedly mutter: “The man does not want to battle.” I do not believe that Wells is a cowardly hitter but there are many players that believe the first pitch from a pitcher in a jam may be the best pitch he will see. The pitcher wants to establish the count with an early strike which usually means fastball. However, just because it is a fastball strike does not mean it is the pitch you were looking for and if it's not the exact pitch in the exact spot you were looking for then don't swing. That's why they give you three strikes before you're out. The more pitches you see in a clutch situation, the more chance the pitcher has to make a mistake and the more anxious he can get which will only benefit the next hitter as well.
As for Dewayne Wise, he is merely standing in for John McDonald while he is home with his family attending to his father. With the way Cito Gaston utilizes his bench players (rarely) there is no harm in having a guy with specific skills (speed & D) to come off the bench. Also if someone had a perfect game going, Wise is a good one to have in the outfield.
Q: Hi Richard,
I love your mailbag and insight into the game. One thing that I have always wondered about is why the pitcher in any given game doesn't stay on the bench to finish watching. If they are pulled in the middle of the inning I know they stay and watch till the end of the inning but then they hit the showers. I find it weird that in post game comments you hear things like how they saw the game winning hit while getting dressed or something. Is this because they need to start some sort post game cooling off ?
Joel Greyling, Almonte, ON
A: Starting pitchers watch the end of an inning usually because it is their runners on base and they are interested in seeing if their ERA is going to jump because some chump in the bullpen can't get the job done. As for leaving the bench, if you go to spring training you'll notice that after a pitcher's outing he usually stays out on the field and stretches and then goes for a long run to finish off his day. The spring is very relaxed about that, but the regular season they frown upon extra players running the warning track while the game is in progress. Instead, after they see the end of the inning, they go back to the training room and ride the exercise bike or the treadmill, get treatment on their throwing arm, maybe take a long soak in ice in the steel tub or whatever else is involved in their individual post-start ritual. Once naked it is frowned upon to return to the dugout especially after ice-tub shrinkage. Thus the TV.
Q: Hi Richard,
With Canadian pitching-turned-hitting prospect Adam Loewen having some success this year in the minors, I'm wondering if you can clarify his contract situation. After being released by Baltimore at the end of 2008, he signed a two-year contract with Toronto ending after this season. Does he then become a minor-league free agent again that anyone can sign or is there some way that the Jays can control him beyond this year?
Jeffrey Marcil, Hong Kong
A: The Jays took the unusual move of giving Loewen a guaranteed two-year minor-league contract when it was clear that his pitching career was over due to arm issues. This unusual move by the Jays was so that Loewen never felt pressured in that first year to go too fast in his new ambition and to know that the Jays had confidence and patience. Yes, in answer to your question, Loewen at the end of this contract is a minor-league free agent with the ability to sign anywhere he wanted, but it would be pretty un-Canadian of him to repay Jays' patience and goodwill with impatience and goodbye. My guess is that he is thrilled with his progress since March of 2009 and wants to finish it off with a major-league comeback for his home country Jays. That may come as early as this September in which case as a 40-man roster player he would be under team control for four more seasons.
Q: Hi Richard,
I don't understand the insertion of Jesse Litsch into the rotation so soon. His recent record in the minors is poor at best and the man on the mound Sunday looked overweight and out of shape. Why the rush?
Gord Little, Maple, ON
A: The Jays promised not to rush Litsch back to the major leagues as has been a forever mistake with so many MLB pitchers that felt good after Tommy John surgery, but broke down because they came back too soon. The traditional rehabilitation time for the T.J. surgery is a year. True to their word, Litsch made his Jays comeback against the Rockies a year and a day after his surgery. The Litsch addition to the rotation was never about winning in 2010. Nothing the Jays are doing is about winning in 2010 – except for manager Cito Gaston and his handling of guys like David Purcey. But the Jays need to see where Litsch fits in in their pecking order of young starters. He will be allowed to either pitch himself in or pitch himself out of the plans. He will become one of the eight-deep-starters they count on in 2011 or he will become inventory for possible trade.
Q: Are the Jays scouting closers, or do you think they will stick with the current group of guys (Gregg, Downs, Frasor, and maybe even Camp) for the rest of the season. Gregg's stuff doesn't seem good enough to win in the AL East and while the Jays were only planning on building for the future this year, I have to think it's a bit demoralizing for these young starters to pitch well and then come up with a Loss or No Decision because the bullpen blows the game.
Jasonm Sinnarajah, Tokyo, Japan
A: Winning the AL East was never in the 2010 equation, so in that case Gregg's (and in fact the rest of the pen's) documented struggles against the Rays and Yankees can be acceptable for the remainder of the season. Gregg's perception problems as a true closer with fans at home is that when he struggles in one of his funks it seems like he's playing Pub Darts, only from 60-feet, 6-inches, nibbling at the corners like he's at a Long John Silver's all-you-can-eat buffet table. As for the demoralizing of the Jays' young starters, I don't think it is possible by blowing leads and costing them wins – which actually doesn't happen as often as you might think. These guys are more concerned about six innings pitched or more, walks, WHIP and all those other individual stats that will keep them around into the future. These guys really do like each other inside the clubhouse and there is no blame game.
Love your insight. Two questions/comments from June 10 game.
#1. Leading 3-1 in top of ninth, Buck leads off with a single. Encarnacion hitting ninth and with a .206 average is not asked to sacrifice Buck to second as they try for a 4-1 cushion. Was there ever a more automatic occasion for a sacrifice bunt? Don't they teach bunting in triple A? Oh yeah, Encarnacion strikes out and Greg barely protects the two run lead.
#2. At 6'6" and 240 lbs. Greg certainly looks like a closer. But his stride off the mound looks stunted and seems to be no more than say 3'. I know he wants to plant his foot and generate some torque when he releases the ball.....but a larger stride with a man of his stature and batters would start to think his release was from half way to the plate. Your thoughts please.
Larry Dart, Haliburton
A: In response to Encarnacion, the guy's last sacrifice bunt was in 2004 at Chattanooga. He has zero major-league sacrifices and came up through another farm system so the Jays never had a chance to teach him how to bunt (not that they would have). He was born in the Dominican and went to high school in Puerto Rico (both of them islands). There is an old baseball adage about young players from the Caribbean that you can't “walk” off the island. Clearly, Edwin believes you can't “bunt” your way off the island, either. Cito has often stated that you can't ask a man to do something he can't do.
As for Gregg, we dealt with him in the previous question, but not everyone can have the delivery of Tom Seaver wherein your back knee drags in the dirt after you throw a fastball. Gregg is what he is.
Love everything that you do. I have a question about the draft. A lot of these kids will be away from home playing rookie league or wherever they get put. I know that a lot get paid very little while they work their way thru the minors. Do teams generally pay their room and board, and do they try and make sure that they eat well, or are they basically left on their own? Knowing what I know from my years as an 18 - 24 year old, I didn't always eat right, do any teams supply their kids with proper meals and or meal plans?
Bob Grier, Calgary
A: Please talk to my wife. As for your main question, the drafted kids that are collegians are well ahead of their high school brethren in terms of what it takes to be healthy and physically prepared for the underpaid grind of the minors. They have likely had university dietitians and team advisers all the way through school and understand the issue. The bonus babies in the first 4-5 rounds get enough money up front to take care of things and not worry as much, but the others need that June-July time at extended spring training in Dunedin to acclimate themselves to the day-to-day of pro baseball. In Florida or at the short-season, summer A-teams the Jays pay for a team hotel and offer transport to the ballpark and of course on road trips. They get meal money (not enough) but no meal plans. For many their personal meal plan as a first-year pro involves any food with a “Mc” in front of it.
Q: Hey Richard!
On the Last Jays homestand, when our mascot was poking fun of the ball boy, what made it worse is when you have Buck Martinez calling him 'BJ Birdie". While we miss the once famous icon, didn't Buck get the memo that it's Ace now?
Mike M., Scarborough, ON
A: Buck also has a season subscription to shows at the O'Keefe Centre, maintains his home delivery for the Telly and has a personal relationship with The Friendly Giant.
Is Johnnie Mac on the D.L.? He hasn't played a lick in several weeks. If he's not injured this just confirms my opinion that Cito does not play his full roster. He has at least 3 or 4 that may or may not see any action for several games or weeks at a time. It's not as though they're playing for the pennant - they will finish above Baltimore and that's it!
Bob Davis, Dorchester, ON
A: Sadly, John McDonald is home on bereavement leave in Connecticut tending to his seriously ill father and being with his family. As for his sparing use of the bench, you are right. His first instinct is to stick with his starters, but the fact is with 12 pitchers, it leaves four bench players. One is the backup catcher and you keep him there in case of injury. There is no defensive first baseman if you want to run for Overbay. McDonald and McCoy or Reed and Wise duplicate skills, noe of them being a bigger threat at the plate than the player they would be replacing. Voila! A bench that sits.
Q: In an earlier mail bag you shared your own ideal Blue Jays batting lineup which, if left up to you, you would use over the current one. I noticed you had Alex Gonzalez hitting in the two-hole instead of Aaron Hill. I agree with you that Hill should not be batting in the second spot. He's a notoriously aggressive (first-pitch) hitter, which doesn't always allow Fred Lewis the opportunity to swipe second when he reaches first base. Do you think Cito will ever juggle his lineup in this regard and what is his reason for keeping Hill hitting behind Lewis? If not Gonzalez how about Overbay? He's not only patient and sees a lot of pitches but can also be a doubles machine.
Darrell Holtze, Guelph, ON
A: Hill, in private conversations in the clubhouse, would rather bat third, which encourage me in that column you refer to about a changed lineup. Since that mailbag item, Cito did move Overbay down to the seven-hole, so we're getting there slowly but surely. With Hill emerging from his funk (still being hackingly aggressive) and Lind still in his and with Jose Bautista settling down maybe the manager is coming closer to a Hill-3, Wells-4, Lind-5, Bautista-6, Overbay-7 lineup, leaving the two-hole open for Gonzalez. If that happens, I promise to remain humble and not take any extra credit for it.
Q: Hey Richard,
Saw an interesting article in a recent Sports Illustrated regarding an increasing amounts of sports injuries suffered by children (those in high school and younger). In particular, mentioned that a greater amount of young pitchers are being seen by renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews. He advised that high school kids should be throwing 2 pitches, a fastball and a change up. He goes on to say that young pitchers should never throw a curve ball. I have also heard in the majors that pitchers who throw a large amount of curve balls are susceptible to injury as well. This leads me to my question. I'm not too familiar with the science behind pitching, but can you please explain why throwing curve balls can be so destructive to pitchers? Thanks,
A: I'm not sure that just because Dr. Andrews is seeing more young players that it means the elbow and shoulder injuries are happening more often. I think previously players that suffered those arm injuries would just give up pitching and move on. But the good doctor's fame and major-league money have combined to make surgery for their young pitchers an attractive option for ambitious parents. Remember that the pitcher with the most ever major-league wins post-Tommy John surgery is Tommy John. As for the difficulty of throwing the curveball on the skeletal structure, just think of this. Hand a baseball to a toddler that has never seen the game of baseball. Take a few steps away and ask for it back. The result will be more of a front-of-the-body shot-put motion. The baseball throwing motion bringing the ball far back of the shoulder and coming through is unnatural. Now add the twisting torque of a well-executed curve ball and your body is saying “what-the-hey”. The reason many pitchers ice after a game is temporary internal bleeding. 'Nuff said.