Jays aiming high in draft

Jays aiming high in draft

TORONTO -- It's not just a draft pick. It's a landmark.

The Blue Jays have the sixth pick in the June 7-8 First-Year Player Draft, which represents their highest position since 1997. The Jays drafted a high school player named Vernon Wells with the fifth pick that year, and he's currently one of the team's most accomplished players.

It was a high pick and a good pick for former general manager Gord Ash, but that doesn't mean it was inevitable. This year, J.P. Ricciardi doesn't want to take anything for granted.

"That doesn't mean it's your best pick. Your highest pick could be in a lighter draft class," said Toronto's current GM. "And it matters. Sometimes there are three players that you want and the rest don't fall into place. You just have to try and make the best of what's out there."

He'll have to deal with some pretty heady history. Since 1990, 13 of Toronto's 15 top picks have reached the Major Leagues. And it wasn't just for cups of coffee, despite the uncertain status of current Jays Aaron Hill and Gabe Gross.

The Blue Jays have four more of their own top picks on the current roster, but a few others -- Shawn Green, Shannon Stewart, Chris Carpenter and even Felipe Lopez -- are still playing key roles for other teams. That group of picks is a disparate bunch, and Ricciardi wouldn't rule out anything this year.

"We're thinking of the best guy available," he said. "Most likely college, but there are a couple high school guys that have jumped up and gotten our attention. There are guys we'd have some interest in."

Ricciardi has been to see four or five of the prospective players that might be available when he picks. One of those is reportedly Ricky Romero, a left-handed pitcher for Cal State Fullerton.

In 15 starts this season, he's posted an 11-4 record with a 2.57 ERA and a 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (120:29). Baseball America recently surmised that Romero "probably won't make it out of the first 10 picks."

That alternative -- one of many possibilities -- would add to Toronto's two-pronged draft last year, when the Jays nabbed southpaws David Purcey and Zach Jackson with their top two picks. In fact, Ricciardi has nabbed so many arms in recent years that he'll likely look for bats in the later rounds.

"Once you get to the third round, you're really at the disposal of whatever's out there," said Ricciardi. "We're really more inclined to go after hitters this year, because in the last three years we think we've addressed a lot of our pitching. Not that you can never have enough, but we'd have a lot of pitching and we'd like to get some more bats in the organization."

Toronto's last three first-round selections:

David Purcey, LHP, 2004, Pick # 16: Purcey was one of two southpaws picked high by Toronto in the last draft, 16 picks ahead of Zach Jackson. Purcey is pitching relatively well at Class A Dunedin, but Jackson has already earned a promotion to Double-A New Hampshire. The Blue Jays don't want to rush either arm -- they want them to progress slowly and force the team's hand at each stop.

Aaron Hill, SS, 2003, Pick # 13: The Jays drafted college shortstops in back-to-back drafts and have enjoyed their rapid ascents ever since. Hill won the Futures Game MVP last year and Minor League All-Star berths in each of his first two professional seasons. That streak will end this season, with good reason: Hill's already in the big leagues, filling in for an injured Corey Koskie.

Russ Adams, SS, 2002, Pick # 14: Adams tore through Toronto's Minor League system in 2 1/2 seasons, reaching the big leagues for the first time last September. This year, he established himself as the Blue Jays' everyday shortstop in Spring Training and has performed adequately, but he'll likely have to hold off a challenge from Hill to keep that job long-term.

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.