Under Alex Anthopoulos's two-year reign, the Toronto Blue Jays have employed a go big or go home philosophy in the first-year player draft.
The ambitious 35-year-old general manager has assumed big risks and shelled out big bonuses to predominantly big pitchers, most of them 6-foot-3 or taller.
But baseball's new collective bargaining agreement restricts what a team can spend on draft picks, so the Jays' strategy of selecting the best talent and worrying about what they will cost later will need to be modified.
Leading up to this year's draft, held over three days beginning Monday at 7 p.m. ET, Anthopoulos has likely had more meetings with his scouting director Andrew Tinnish than in previous seasons.
Under the new CBA, each team is limited to a defined "signing bonus pool" amount to spend on selections in the first 10 rounds. Each draft position has been assigned a slot bonus value. To calculate how much the Jays can invest in picks in the first 10 rounds, you have to add up all of the individual slot values.
The Jays have 14 picks in the first 10 rounds, ie. their basic 10 selections plus a second first-round pick for not signing 2011 first-rounder Tyler Beede and three compensatory picks from the free-agent departures of Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch and Jose Molina. If you tally up the individual slot values, the Jays have $8,830,800 US to use on 14 selections.
Under the new system, the Jays can still pay over slot value for a pick, but that means they will have to pay under slot for another selection to stay within their limit. If they exceed their defined "signing bonus pool" amount, they will be taxed 75 or 100 per cent on the overage and may also have to forfeit future early round picks, depending on how much they eclipse their limit.
The Jays forked out $8.99 million to draft picks from the first 10 rounds in 2011 so, at first glance, the new rules don't seem all that inhibiting. But keep in mind that the Jays signed only 11 of 15 selections in the first 10 rounds last year and couldn't come to terms with Beede, who would've garnered the largest bonus.
The new CBA also specifies that if a club is unable to sign a pick, their slot bonus amount can't be used on another draftee. And for those thinking that clubs should wait until after the first 10 rounds to choose a can't-miss prospect to be free of the CBA's "signing bonus pool" restrictions, there are also rules guarding against this. Any bonus that exceeds $100,000 US that's handed out to a player after the 10th round will count against the "signing bonus pool" amount.
All of this means that Anthopoulos has likely dedicated more time and resources to pre-draft evaluations than in prior campaigns. With the new CBA regulations, teams need to know if a player is going to sign and approximately how much they will sign for before the draft.
With two of the Top 25 (17th and 22nd overall) and five of the first 60 picks in this year's draft, Anthopoulos has Toronto in an enviable position. In their previous two drafts, the Jays garnered a reputation for selecting high-risk, high-ceiling, high-school prospects. But with the new hard slotting signing bonuses in place, some baseball pundits believe that more high schoolers will opt to go to college rather than sign.
College players, on the other hand, have fewer options and generally represent less risky investments. However, some scouts consider this to be the worst class of college position players in recent memory.
With Kelly Johnson set to become a free agent at the end of the season and no immediate replacement in their system, the Jays could use one of their first five selections on a second baseman. But they also needed a second baseman last season and Anthopoulos declined to use an early pick to land one.
The Jays' current lineup and minor-league system is also loaded with players with high strikeout rates, so they would benefit by adding an excellent, all-around contact hitter that can get on base regularly.
But even with these needs and the new draft rules, Anthopoulos and his staff are bound to do something surprising in the early rounds of this year's draft.
Here are some of the players that experts have linked the Jays to in the first round:
Lance McCullers, Jr., RHP
This 6-foot-2, 205-pound high schooler out of Florida is the son of the former big leaguer with the same name. The promising right-hander possesses a 94-to-96-mph fastball and a devastating slider. A solid all-around athlete, McCullers also played shortstop and hit for power in high school.
Nick Travieso, RHP
In his mock draft, ESPN's Keith Law has the Jays selecting this 6-foot-3, 200-pound high-school right-hander with their second first-round pick. Blessed with the perfect pitcher's frame, this flame-throwing Floridian owns a mid-to-high 90s fastball, a swing-and-miss changeup and has an excellent feel for pitching
David Dahl, OF
Both MLB.com draft expert Jonathan Mayo and Baseball America have the Jays choosing this 6-foot-2, 190-pound outfielder with their first pick. Often compared to Johnny Damon, this Alabama teen is a disciplined, high-average hitter with 20-to-25 home run potential. He also possesses above average speed and projects to be a capable corner outfielder.
D.J. Davis, OF
Thanks to an outstanding high school season, the speedy centre fielder has soared up the draft rankings. The fleet-footed 6-foot, 170-pound Mississippi native has developed into a selective leadoff hitter, a tremendous base-stealing threat and a solid defender.
Gavin Cecchini, SS
Law has the Jays choosing the younger brother of Red Sox third-base prospect Garin Cecchini with their first pick. This 6-foot-2, 185-pound high school shortstop boasts a quick bat and decent power potential, but needs to develop more plate discipline. He's a steady if unspectacular defensive shortstop with confidence and a solid feel for his position.
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