Jays mailbag: Draft schmaft? Not with this administration
There are two deadlines that must concern the Jays coming up this summer.
The first is July 31 the major-league trade deadline without waivers. The Jays will likely be willing to give up any of their veterans that don't figure into their winning future. The bullpen is overflowing with them. They would also be willing to pick up useful veteran hitters that have a Type A or Type B status attached to them on an expiring contract, because as we know, GM Alex Anthopoulos is crazy about draft-choice compensation.
The second deadline of concern is Aug. 15, when June amateur draft choices must be signed or instead go to school and then go back into the draft. The Jays daring '11 draft list of high-ceiling players includes more high schoolers than Cancun on spring break. It will cost the Jays an awful lot of money above slot if they want to ink all of their guys, but if they do, their minor-league pitching will be incredibly deep and produce for them through the next 6-7 years.
On to the mailbag.
I like everything about your mailbag but I have a criticism to make. There is never enough accountability of Alex when he does things. He kept it secret about the $5 mil he gave the Angels in the Wells deal, the $500,000 payout to a player you don't want to get. Hopefully you will say something about this joke of a draft that Alex made. He had picks of 21, 35, 46, 53,and 57, and what did he do, he selected the 33, 157, 81, 49 and 102 ranked players. Is this what you call being prepared for the draft? He should have just picked the players who were ranked by MLB at those spots. With these choices, he shouldn't have to pay big bonuses, especially for their 2nd pick who was ranked 157th, 122 spots lower. I know drafting is a crap shoot, but still when your picks are that far off what the experts say there is something wrong. If all teams do as the Jays, then why not eliminate MLB scouting?
Angelo Romanin, Woodbridge
A-Oh, there's plenty to criticize about GM Alex Anthopoulos and much of it has been done in this space, but the negative gets lost in the larger body of other things that he's done well.
When Anthopoulos took over as the club's GM he had been a keen observer of what got his predecessor and immediate boss J.P. Ricciardi into trouble. Thus, he has tried to be the anti-J.P. in the eyes of ownership and his mentor Paul Beeston.
It's why we get the ultra-secretive GM who shares info even within his organization only on a need-to-know basis. He's a GM who in winter meetings trade discussions prefers one-on-one talks with the other GM or at most four people in the room so he can narrow down the sources of leaks, a GM who sweeps the room for listening devices and looks under table lamps for bugs before he begins to speak about any personnel decision -- okay maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but you get the point.
Under AA, every trade rumour involving the Jays finds legs with no input from the Jays. On the other hand, under Ricciardi, every trade rumour began in the GM's office or else was expanded upon and corrected from there.
In November, we criticized AA for not revealing the length and value of his new manager John Farrell's contract. He explained it just complicated things, but he was wrong. He was critiqued for the unannounced extra money as you point out, that was headed to the Angels in the Vernon Wells deal. He's criticized for not allowing any of his lieutenants to have a voice when it comes to Jays' policy, for not admitting that service time, free agency and Super-Twos have anything to do with some seemingly shady player options to the minors, involving players clearly ready for prime-time.
But he must be doing something right. He has re-established respect for the Jays around baseball. Agents like dealing with his people. Players love the way they are treated as men and respected as equals -- except for some that have failed here were shipped out and must blame someone.
After Wells was traded, Vernon admitted in Anaheim that he sent Anthopoulos an expensive Cartier watch with a gushy note. That was after he had been dealt, but was in appreciation for the way he had been dealt.
Yes, we don't always agree with the way Anthopoulos handles his information. Sometimes you feel that in his passion to be the anti-Ricciardi plus the pro-Anthopoulos that in a previous life he may have been a Zamboni driver at Flyers home games – doing his job at both ends of the Spectrum. But as he matures into his Jays job, we expect him to loosen up and to be less secretive on issues that are standard information in the rest of baseball.
The bottom line is that Anthopoulos in his two years has not been perfect, but has been the best thing that happened to the floundering Jays in terms of getting them seriously back into the AL East fray. No whine, no fear, no excuses.
As for this just-completed draft, I have a question for you. What exactly is it about MLB and MLB.com that makes you believe that their rankings are better than individual club rankings, including the Jays. These are MLB people that as evaluators wish they could work for clubs. They are compiling their rankings based on information they receive from club scouts and from what little video is out there for them to see.
According to Jays' scouting director Andrew Tinnish, a total of eight different Jays' evaluators saw at least one of first round pick Tyler Beede's starts. Not enough? They have area scouts and regional supervisors and cross-checkers who have sat down in kitchens with the families of the top players. They know personalities and signability. They know their needs. Every high school player has a letter-of-intent for school. But many times money and organizational trust can carry the day.
Face it, if a team wanted to fire all its scouts and just go with MLB.com or other Internet sites as the basis for its draft, hey, more power to you. It's been done before. In the late '70s when Baseball America began doing its extensive pre-draft work as the basis of Canadian Baseball Hall-of-Famer Allan Simpson's powerful new publication, renegade, eccentric A's owner Charlie Finley decided “who needs scouts.” Charlie O. lived in Chicago and the fact is for a while his chief executive on site in Oakland was a 13-year-old batboy, a clubhouse kid who went on to become hip-hop artist MC Hammer. No kidding. Doo, doo-doo-doo, U Can't Touch This. Maybe the Jays could hire Bieber.
During his Q&A session on ESPN.com, Keith Law made a very interesting comment about J.P. Ricciardi when he drafted Russ Adams. Law blasted Ricciardi by saying that the GM ignored every other scout's opinion that Russ Adams could not play shortstop, yet Ricciardi drafted him anyways. From your years in baseball, do you have any stories in which a GM ignored his scouting team's opinion of a certain player, drafted the player anyways, and the pick turned out to be a "home run" (pardon the pun)?
Zaki Ameen, Milton
A-It was clear that from the moment Ricciardi accepted the job from a bedazzled president Paul Godfrey that he already had a first-year game plan that could not be swayed. Ricciardi treated his first 12 months like NFL teams that go into a game with the first 12 offensive plays charted out. Down-and-distance didn't mean a thing.
With Ricciardi, it was the mantra of “compete on a budget” so his first move had been to get rid of overpaid shortstop Alex Gonzalez to the Cubs for a lefthander, Felix Heredia, whose biggest impact in Toronto came when swinging a baby carriage and making contact with the mother of his baby. He was bounced shortly thereafter. That A-Gon trade was made at the winter meetings in Boston in December 2001. The wheels were set in motion.
J.P. needed a shortstop of the future to explain the dismissal of the fan-favourite Gonzalez and he needed a college shortstop because they were perceived as closer to the big leagues. By that first June draft, he had not had time to dump all of Gord Ash's left over scouts and advisors so when they disagreed in the war room, there was only one opinion that counted. Thus it was Russ Adams? Great guy. Good golfer. Bad shortstop.
The best example I remember of what you are asking about, a fluke on draft day, came in '78 in the Expos' war room. It was the fourth round and they felt they needed some more power. Their preferred guy Rob Deer got taken by the Brewers two picks before their turn and there was panic and indecision. The late John McHale asked for suggestions. A guy named Dave Hostetler, a first-baseman, had set a USC home run record, but nobody in the room had seen him play. They looked at the lofty HR total shrugged and chose him. Three years later as a September '81 call-up, Hostetler crushed an 0-2 Pete Falcone fastball deep into the night at Shea Stadium, clearing the visitor’s bullpen out into the parking lot 450 feet away for his first major-league blast. It was impressive.
The next spring the Expos traded Hostetler and Larry Parrish to the Rangers or future batting champ Al Oliver. The trade press conference was in the Expos' clubhouse at West Palm Beach. As Rangers GM Eddie Robinson walked by me in the tight entranceway before entering the room, he leaned close and asked: “What's Hostetler's first name?” Yikes! Rodney Dangerfield had more respect.
Rivera is a solid 1st baseman. Who knew? The problem, however, is that we have our first baseman of the immediate future in Lind. Should we be concerned that Rivera will start to get some of Lind's time at first, pushing Lind to DH? Lind seems to hit much better when he is in the field.
Ben Collins, Toronto
A-I agree. It's unbelievable that Rivera is such a passable first baseman because as a hitter, he seldom bothers to reach first base if it's a routine grounder or a popup or fly ball. He watches, then stops halfway to first and spins off towards the dugout. Even if it's the third out and even if he's playing first he more often than not avoids touching the bag like it's covered in anthrax.
As for Lind, he needs to improve his core fitness, something he readily admitted, before he returns to playing first base everyday. And as for hitting much better when he is in the field, don’t forget he was the AL's top DH two years ago, but the cogent point with Lind is that when he is not hitting well, as was the case in 2010, being the DH gave him too much down time to wallow in his failures. If he continues the way he has been since returning from the DL, it will work for him as the DH until he is physically able to stand the grind of the ups and downs of fielding the first-base position.
Q-They keep saying what talent Kyle Drabek has. Can he throw sweeping curves, splitters? Change ups? The Jays need pitching help badly, agree?
Robert Bent, Richmond, B.C.
A-Drabek is a rookie. Drabek is 23-years-old. Drabek is working with a rookie catcher. Drabek is facing veteran hitters who have seen video of Drabek's starts and make adjustments. Drabek needs to make adjustments of his own. He has great stuff, including a sweeping curve, but it's hard to stay in command of your off-speed stuff and maintain the touchy-feel needed to change speeds when you're mind is racing 100 miles-per-hour, when you're busy self-flagellating and cursing the fates on the mound. One word of advice for Drabek. Chill!
Two-part question for you. First off, has anyone ever told you could've easily replaced big ol’ Tom Selleck in the instant baseball classic, Mr. Baseball? If a sequel ever comes around you should certainly throw your name out there. Secondly, a slightly less serious question, but pertaining to the draft, how does one become a professional baseball scout?
Spinner Emmerson, Etobicoke
A-You clearly have not seen me manage my Oakville A's Major Midget rep team. I would gladly take that Tom Selleck “Mr. Baseball” comparison, but more often than not it's “Santa Claus”, “You old fart” or “A-hole” that rules the day.The best heckle I ever heard while in uniform was against Cambridge in a tournament about eight years ago. I went out to argue a call with the ump, I believe it was a balk by the young Cambridge pitcher. After my arm-waving pas-de-deux around a young ump that ultimately proved futile, a lone voice from the bleachers yelled out: “That's why I don't read The Star anymore!”
As for the process of becoming a baseball scout, there is a clear blueprint that I discovered first person with a young friend, Oakville native Matt Higginson who is now a full-time scout with Oakland. Matt played baseball at Gardner Webb in South Carolina on a baseball scholarship as an infielder. When he was done he came back and tried to get into pro baseball in some capacity. He found the best way was to travel to the Winter Meetings that were at Disney World that year, pay for the “job-seekers” seminar, troll the lobbies dressed in suit and tie like he was serious about his job, get help in meeting the right major-league people in the hectic lobby scene, present himself well, don't oversell, accept any foot in the door that is offered even as an unsalaried bird dog scout, hope that at some point said club feels like you are worthy of them spending money to send you to scouting school at their expense, take advantage of that break and work hard, then let the chips and prospects fall where they may. That's the way the Jays' Jon Lalonde did it and also Matt Higginson.
Q-What's to stop a prospect from signing with a team, then going to college on his own as a walk on and not accepting any scholarship? He still develops, goes to school and could leave at anytime and since time was already put in towards a degree, he can go back and finish later. Is this allowed? If not, why not?
Shawn L, Bowmanville
A-What would stop that is NCAA regulations. They used to have a rule that if you were a pro in any sport you could not play any sport at an NCAA school, but at least now if you're a pro baseball player you can still play college football which has helped MLB sign multi-sport high school stars to baseball contracts. It's not just the scholarship aspect that the NCAA is concerned about. Even in hockey, playing in the OHL makes you a pro in the eyes of the NCAA and you can't play hockey at one of their member schools – sorry Mike Danton. Besides, the chronology you suggest makes no sense to any MLB team that has a signature on a contract. MLB teams would rather have their own coaches working with a young high school prospect than have him go to school if he's already their property. Colleges handle players for the benefit of the school. Teams handle prospects with more concern for health. They don't want a young starter going to NCAA and starting a Friday night game then closing a championship game on Sunday
Q-Do you think the Blue Jays can reach the playoffs or be a possible contender?
Miguel Spence, Scarborough
A-If the Jays in 2011 can stay mathematically alive for the division or a wild-card through the third week of September they should be thrilled. Next year given an expected influx of cash to fill the holes this is the year they can contend or reach the playoffs.
Q-Hey Richard. Corey Patterson is having a great year at the plate, with his highest average since 2003, when he was with the Cubs. Do you think with the reservoir of outfield talent in the minors, AA will make a deal while his value is seemingly high? And is it too early to squeeze J.P. Arencibia into the 5 hole behind Adam Lind? His 30 RBIs could rise exponentially with more guys that hit for power on base, and Hill and Rivera (who don't figure into the long term "Master Plan") struggling to hit in runs! Cheers!
Alex Henriquez, Toronto
A-All of your suggestions make sense. I hate to take credit, but Patterson has been red hot since I called him out on Twitter, something to the effect that “has Patterson's 'best before' date come and gone.” Since then he has taken off. But since the Jays are not intent on contending this year, I could see them trading Patterson and Juan Rivera before the deadline. I could see them trading Edwin Encarnacion and also if Aaron Hill looks like he won't be a Type B this year, offering him up along with his two quite reasonable option years for 2012-13. All those guys are performing well enough to draw interest. Also, it has reached the point where if you had Bautista-Lind-Arencibia and left them all year, John Farrell would have a solid heart of the order around which to build.