The success of this year's draft of high schoolers and collegians for the Toronto Blue Jays will be largely measured by whether or not the club can sign two Mississippi-born centre-fielders.
With their first pick (17th overall) in the 40-round draft that concluded on Wednesday, the Jays selected speedy high-schooler D.J. Davis (Wiggins, Miss.), while in the third round, they opted for multi-sport star Anthony Alford (Petal, Miss.), who has told scouts he intends to play college football.
If you believe in omens, the Jays probably should have avoided players from Mississippi altogether. Among the less-than-distinguished Mississippians that have toiled for the club are Howard Battle, Jarrett Hoffpauir and Fred Lewis.
Most baseball pundits feel, however, that Davis won't be difficult to sign. His father, Wayne, was an outfielder in the Jays' organization from 1985 to 1988, and Davis was ranked lower on most draft lists, so there's a good chance he'll settle for less than the $2 million US signing bonus slotted to his draft position.
The speedy six-foot, 170-pound centre-fielder has developed into a selective leadoff hitter, a tremendous base-stealing threat and a solid defender.
Though he has been compared to Kenny Lofton, some scouts believe he'll hit for more power than the longtime Indian.
Unlike Davis, Alford will be very challenging to sign. Widely deemed the best athlete in the draft, he plans to play football at the University of Southern Mississippi. But Alford is the type of pick that Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has successfully gambled on in the past.
A five-tool talent, Alford is a six-foot-two, 210-pound speedster, who doubles as a quarterback and possesses more power than Davis.
Realizing it will take more than the $424,400 bonus slotted to Alford's draft position to sign him, the Jays selected seven unheralded college seniors in rounds four through 10. With little negotiating leverage, college seniors are bound to sign for a fraction of their slot value.
For example, Sportsnet reports that sixth-round pick Eric Phillips signed for $5,000, despite a slot value of $173,200. So selecting college seniors appears to be a strategy to free up money to offer Alford a signing bonus well above his slot value.
Under the new collective bargaining agreement, 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. If you tally up the individual slot values, the Jays have $8,830,800 to use on their 14 selections in the first 10 rounds.
The Jays can 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 on the overage and may also have to forfeit future early round picks.
The new rules also specify that if a club is unable to sign a pick, their slot bonus amount can't be used on another draftee. Teams have until 5 p.m. ET on July 13 to sign their picks.
But while the success of the Jays' draft will be largely measured by whether or not they can sign these two Mississippi-born outfielders, there were plenty of other developments for the Jays during the three-day event.
Here's a rundown:
Has Matthew Smoral signed with the Jays or not?
Peter Gammons of the MLB Network reported on Wednesday that Matt Smoral, the six-foot-eight, 220-pound high school lefty the Jays chose with their first supplemental round selection (50th overall), had signed with the club. But despite a tweet from his account that said, "Off to Dunedin" - the spring training home of the Jays - Smoral has denied that a deal has been completed.
ESPN's Keith Law, however, reported on Twitter on Wednesday that he had heard that Smoral had landed a bonus of "around" $2 million - double his slot value - from the Jays.
Smoral, who has a commitment to attend the University of North Carolina, broke his foot and missed most of his high school season. A first-round talent, the Ohio-born lefty's arsenal includes a mid-90s fastball and an above average slider. Scouts like his athleticism, but there are questions about how he'll recover from his injury.
Other players that have signed or are close to signing
In an interview with the National Post, Tyler Gonzales, the Jays' third supplemental round pick (60th overall), indicated he was close to signing. The six-foot-two right-hander out of Texas, who boasts a low-to-mid '90s heater and a dynamite slider, said that his bonus would be close to his $857,200 slot value.
The Bluefield Daily Telegraph is reporting that Jays' 14th round pick, Zak Wasilewski, has signed. The six-foot-two left-hander from Tazewell, Va., missed the entire 2011 season due to Tommy John surgery, but his fastball has been clocked in the mid-'90s in 2012.
Big pitchers, 1 small one
The Jays continued to stockpile pitchers that were six-foot-two or taller. One key exception was Marcus Stroman, a five-foot-nine right-hander out of Duke University that the Jays selected with their second, first-round pick. Arguably the most advanced pitcher in the draft, Stroman boasts a 93-to-96-mile-per-hour fastball and a lights-out slider that many feel are good enough for the major leagues right now.
The Jays waited until the 12th round to select their first Canadian. With the 385th overall pick, they opted for Ryan Kellogg, a six-foot-five, 220-pound southpaw from Whitby, Ont. Kellogg was originally slated to be a fourth-to-sixth round pick, but his bonus demands and commitment to attend Arizona State University scared teams away.
The Jays also nabbed southpaw Shane Dawson (Drayton Valley, Alta.), outfielder Nathan DeSouza (Milton, Ont.) and third baseman Shaun Valeriote (Guelph, Ont.) in the 17th, 26th and 39th rounds respectively.
Blue Jays' 2012 draft picks
COMPENSATION ROUND A
COMPENSATION ROUND B
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