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Blue Jays zero in on position players

Blue Jays zero in on position players

TORONTO -- Offense dominated the early rounds. Balance was the theme of Toronto's draft as a whole. And when this year's First-Year Player Draft ended Wednesday, the selections that the Blue Jays made were once again comprised mainly of college players.

Picking up collegiate athletes has been the draft strategy implemented ever since J.P. Ricciardi took over as Toronto's general manager before the 2002 season. This year, the Jays used the same formula, but focused more on position players rather than pitchers from the start.

When the 50th and final round had concluded, Toronto had drafted 27 position players versus 21 pitchers. In the first 14 rounds, the Jays picked up 10 position players compared to just two pitchers -- a result of the club's draft strategy and the absence of draft picks in the second and third rounds.

"We try to line them up based on ability, but within that you do always have underlying goals," said Jon Lalonde, Toronto's director of scouting. "We were hoping some offensive players would fall to us at certain spots and it seemed as though they did."

Toronto selected its first hurler -- right-hander Brandon Magee of Bradley University -- with its second overall pick in the fourth round. The Jays didn't have second or third-round selections due to the free agent signings of A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan in the offseason.

"A lot of pitchers we did like fell in that dead area for us, between the first pick and the fourth round," Lalonde said. "A lot of the betters arms -- obviously, everybody treasures those -- they just fell out and got selected in that area. When we got through that next wave of players on our board, there were a lot of offensive players."

The first position player who the Jays obtained was high school outfielder Travis Snider, who was taken with the 14th overall pick in the first round and is expected to sign with Toronto once he finishes school. Snider, who is from Mill Creek, Wash., became the first prep star taken by the Jays in the first round with Ricciardi at the helm.

In fact, Ricciardi hadn't taken a high schooler higher than 206th overall in the previous four drafts. During Ricciardi's tenure, Toronto has tended to avoid high school players in the early round and roughly 80 percent of its picks have been college players. Since 2002, Toronto has drafted 204 college players and 47 high schoolers.

While Toronto's first selection signaled change, the picks that followed held true to the club's recent draft trends. When it was all said and done, the Jays had selected 40 players from four-year colleges or junior colleges and only eight draft picks came out of high schools.

"We just value that a lot," said Lalonde, referring to drafting college athletes. "In almost all cases, a college player has a documented track record that you can look at his performance in school, in summer leagues, and you can really build up a file on the player. Unless we really feel strongly about a high school player's ability, we do rely heavily on that track record."

Of the college athletes selected, Toronto chose as many pitchers (20) as position players. The same couldn't be said of the high schoolers drafted by the Jays. Toronto selected five prep infielders, two outfielders and just one pitcher (Lee Verweel, a left-hander from Toronto who was taken in the 45th round -- one of five Canadian-born players selected by the Jays).

It marked the first time under Ricciardi's watch that Toronto hadn't drafted at least three high school pitchers. Of the 47 prep athletes taken across the last five drafts, 24 were pitchers, but only eight of those players were taken across the last three years.

"There's obviously a lot of examples of high school pitchers who have achieved great success," Lalonde said. "The ace of our staff [Roy Halladay] is right on top of that list. But in the grand scheme of things, a lot has to go right in terms of development for a high school pitcher."

Overall in this year's draft, Toronto selected 14 right-handed pitchers, seven lefties, 13 infielders, 10 outfielders and four catchers.

One of the infielder's taken was 18-year-old Jonathan Fernandez, the son of former Blue Jays shortstop Tony Fernandez. Jonathan Fernandez, who played for American Heritage High School in Westin, Fla., was selected in the 48th round by Toronto and is one of a few draft-and-follow players the Jays picked-- athletes who plan to attend college, but can still sign with the club before next year's draft.

Toronto will also have to follow the progress of left-hander Brad Mills (selected in the 22nd round out of University of Arizona), right-hander Graham Godfrey (34th round, College of Charleston) and right-hander Luke Tucker (39th round, Florida State University). All three slipped in the draft due to signability issues and were picked up by the Jays.

"We'll see what they're thinking and we'll try to work on them over the summer," Lalonde said. "They are talents that we liked and we'll see if we can keep the dialogue going."

Overall, though, Toronto was happy with the crop of players it finished with.

"We're excited about the class," Lalonde said. "We think there's a lot of balance there and some youth."

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

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