On Wednesday, the Toronto Blue Jays will have the fifth-overall selection in the MLB draft. This will be their most important pick in over 20 years.
This is the Jays’ highest draft pick since 1997, and the team is at a point in its cycle where it still needs to add a couple of pieces to its core. The heavily shortened 2020 draft suggests they cannot compensate for early-draft blunders with late-round gems.
To put it lightly, a lot is riding on this draft pick. It could make or break the franchise’s World Series hopes down the line. Recently, the Blue Jays have been linked to college pitchers such as Emerson Hancock , Max Meyer , college second baseman Nick Gonzales , and even the draft’s top prep bat, Zac Veen. Nobody knows with certainty who the Jays are going to pick. Even the Blue Jays’ front office won’t know who they’ll pick until the four teams above them select a player.
There’s one way we can try to predict what type of player the Jays will come away with. By looking at history.
The fifth-overall pick has produced MLB greats such as Buster Posey (2008) and Dwight Gooden (1982) but has also produced busts such as Christopher Lubanski (2003) and Justin Wayne (2000). This provides us with a sense of the potential outcomes, but it’s not a fair analysis.
To get a fair analysis, I used data collected by Nick Ashbourne of Sportsnet to look at every draft since the start of the century to see how players who got drafted in the fourth-to-sixth-overall range panned out. The range was expanded to increase the overall sample size from 20 players to 60 players, and because players that got drafted in that area are generally considered elite talents, but not generational ones.
The players were divided into four categories of draftees: college pitchers, high school pitchers, college hitters, and high school hitters. The data seen below is a brief overview of what the Toronto Blue Jays can expect from their top pick on Wednesday, varying on the type of player they draft.
College Pitchers (Potential Draftees: Emerson Hancock , Reid Detmers and Max Meyer )
Total MLB Seasons: 100
MLB WAR: 77.1
Combined Hardware: Three All-Star appearances
Notable Names: Andrew Miller, Ricky Romero, Drew Pomeranz, and Brandon Morrow
Analysis: Typically, college pitchers are deemed safe draft picks, especially high in the draft, which is tolerated because only two of the 21 pitchers never reached The Show. However, there have been a lot of mediocre players here, and not much star power.
Of the top-10 pitchers in MLB by WAR, three were drafted out of college higher than fifth overall (Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, Stephen Strasburg), three were later-round picks (Lance Lynn, Jacob deGrom and Shane Bieber), and three were drafted from high school (Zack Greinke, Charlie Morton, and Lucas Giolito). Only Max Scherzer was a college pitcher taken at a similar spot, (11th).
High School Pitchers (Potential Draftees: Mick Abel )
Total MLB Seasons: 48
MLB WAR: 98.5
Combined Hardware: One Cy Young Award, six All-Star appearances
Notable Names: Zack Greinke, Zack Wheeler, Dylan Bundy, and Gavin Floyd
Analysis: Zack Greinke accounts for the majority of the value listed above, and all of the hardware. The conventional wisdom is selecting a high school pitcher early in the draft could give you a star, but will likely be a bust.
Of these 11 players, three of them (Mike Stodolka, Clint Everts, Matt Hobgood) never made the major leagues.
It is very unlikely the Blue Jays select a high school pitcher because the top high school pitcher available, Abel, is not being ranked near the fifth pick.
College Hitters (2020 Examples: Nick Gonzales or Heston Kjerstad )
Total MLB Seasons: 89
MLB WAR: 240.1
Combined hardware: two MVPs, two Rookie of the Year Awards, 22 All-Star appearances, 14 Silver Sluggers, seven Gold Gloves
Notable names: Buster Posey, Mark Teixeira, Ryan Zimmermann, Ryan Braun, Matt Wieters, Anthony Rendon, Kyle Schwarber
Analysis: Clearly, this is the category with the most value. College hitters are much easier to assess then high school hitters. Also, they are not as susceptible to injuries. This category has some true superstars. Floor is not a factor since every one of the 14 players made it to The Show. This group also contains very underwhelming players like Tony Sanchez or Christian Colon, but if you draft a college hitter at this point in the draft, they are very likely to give you some sort of MLB contribution.
High School Hitters (2020 Example: Zac Veen)
Total MLB Seasons: 20
MLB WAR: 8.5
Combined hardware: N/A
Notable names: Rocco Baldelli, Alberto Almora
Analysis: To be completely fair, multiple players in this category have not had their career pan out just yet. Players like Kyle Tucker or Clint Frazier would bail this group out and make it look drastically different in the future. As of now, it’s a junkyard.
Baldelli is the only draftee who ended up impacting an MLB team, and his career was relatively short. This category is dangerous because there’s no Zack Greinke to change its shape. The Jays probably won’t select a player in this category.
The Blue Jays are best off selecting a college hitter because history shows they have produced the best players of all the categories above. However, the Blue Jays need a pitcher more then they need a hitter, so it’ll be interesting to see how this draft plays out.