Jays concentrating on collegiate picks

Jays concentrating on collegiate picks

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays will have plenty of downtime between picks in this June's First-Year Player Draft. That's quite a change from a year ago, when Toronto owned a pile of selections through the first and second rounds, providing little time to breathe for the scouting department.

This year, the Jays have just one shot in the first round -- with pick No. 17 -- to claim another piece to the club's future. Last June, Toronto had already made seven selections before the third round began. That allowed the Jays to strengthen their system by grabbing various types of players.

With the lone pick in the first round, no selections in the compensatory round and just one pick in each round to follow, the Blue Jays will likely keep their focus trained on collegiate athletes. With the core of Toronto's big league roster set for the next few years, though, the team has been more open to drafting high-ceiling high schoolers as well.

MLB.com will carry every pick of the 2008 Draft, which takes place June 5-6 at The Milk House at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla. Day 1 coverage on BaseballChannel.TV begins at 1 p.m. ET with a special ceremonial Draft of former Negro Leaguers who will be on hand at The Milk House.

The First-Year Player Draft follows at 2 p.m. with a simulcast of ESPN2's broadcast of the first round and compensation picks. The remaining rounds on Day 1 will be shown exclusively on BaseballChannel.TV, with live analysis on site from MLB.com Draft guru Jonathan Mayo and David Rawnsley of Perfect Game USA.

Several of the top amateur prospects are expected in attendance in Orlando for Day 1 of the Draft, and each of the 30 Major League clubs will be represented by front-office executives and baseball luminaries. Fans are welcome to attend Day 1 of the Draft, and admission to The Milk House is free with seating limited to a first-come, first-served basis.

Day 2 will get under way at 11:30 a.m. and continue through Round 50, if necessary. Every pick on Day 2 can be heard live at MLB.com.

Here's a glance at what the Blue Jays have in store as the First-Year Player Draft approaches:

In about 50 words
This will be J.P. Ricciardi's seventh First-Year Player Draft as general manager of the Blue Jays. Early in his tenure, Ricciardi pinpointed college players who could rise fast through Toronto's farm system. Over the past two years, the Jays have shown a willingness to select more high school players, who might take longer to develop.

The scoop
"We'll take the best available guy at this point. If you look at the way we drafted last year, we changed a little bit of our philosophy in the sense that the Major League team was pretty well put together for the next three or four years. So you have a little bit more time with the younger kids.

"I think we're in the same boat this year, too. If there's a younger kid out there that we think has got an upside in some way, we would probably lean toward going that way. But where we pick in the Draft is not the ideal spot to be. You have to see what falls into your lap." -- Ricciardi

First-round buzz
The Jays are more likely to select the top available player at pick No. 17 than draft to fill a particular position. As Ricciardi noted, though, Toronto's slot isn't the most ideal place to pick. The Jays would probably jump at the chance to select someone like Arizona State first baseman Brett Wallace, who is a patient hitter with power to all fields. It might be more likely that a pure hitter such as Wichita State third baseman Conor Gillaspie is still on the board by the time Toronto's pick rolls around. The Jays could also be intrigued by Canadian-born catcher/third baseman Brett Lawrie, who is from Langley, British Columbia.

Shopping list
Under Ricciardi's watch, the Blue Jays have established decent pitching, outfield and catching depth. That being the case, it's possible that Toronto will look at using its lone first-round pick on the best available hitter -- perhaps a corner infielder. The depth behind the big league rotation is also uncertain, so the Jays will probably stick to their trend of adding college arms throughout the Draft.

Trend watch
Throughout Ricciardi's tenure as Toronto's GM, the Jays have opted to focus the majority of their selections to college players, especially when pitching is involved. In each of the past two Drafts, though, Ricciardi bucked that trend by using the club's first pick to obtain high school hitters.

Ricciardi noted that the Jays had the luxury of steering away from the organizational philosophy to a certain extent last year due to the high volume of picks in the early rounds. Toronto could afford to take on some longer-term projects, while continuing to add more developed college players.

"Last year, I thought we did a great job of really, the best way to describe it would be diversifying our portfolio," Ricciardi said. "We took some college kids. We took some high school kids. We mixed and matched some really good high school bats and some good college arms, and a couple of fliers on some athletes.

"You have that liberty when you have that many picks. This year, we've got one pick and we've got three picks in the top 100. We'll try to make the most of it."

Recent top picks
The Jays' two first-round selections from last June's Draft -- third baseman Kevin Ahrens (16th overall) and catcher J.P. Arencibia (21st overall) -- have enjoyed decent starts this season. Ahrens, 19, was batting .272 with one homer and 18 RBIs through 39 games with low-Class A Lansing, while the 22-year-old Arencibia was hitting .278 with six homers and 27 RBIs in 38 games for high-Class A Dunedin.

Outfielder Travis Snider, who was the 16th overall pick in the '06 Draft, has hit .232 with eight homers and 24 RBIs in 43 games, while battling a left arm injury, between stints with Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire this season. Left-hander Ricky Romero (sixth overall in the '05 Draft) has gone 2-2 with a 5.94 ERA through nine starts with New Hampshire this year.

Rising fast
Left-hander Brett Cecil continues to rise rapidly up Toronto's organizational ladder. The Jays used the 38th overall pick on Cecil in last June's Draft and he has already climbed to Double-A New Hampshire. The 21-year-old southpaw posted a 1.27 ERA in 14 games with Class A Auburn last year, and Cecil followed that showing with a 1.74 ERA in four starts with Class A Dunedin earlier this year. Since being promoted to Double-A, Cecil has posted a 3.18 ERA through four starts.

Cinderella story
In May of last season, the Jays promoted right-hander Jesse Litsch from Double-A to fill in for injured ace Roy Halladay. Litsch, who was selected by the Jays in the 24th round (717th overall) in the 2004 Draft, went on to claim a permanent spot in what has since become one of the game's top rotations. Litsch posted a 3.81 ERA in 20 starts as a rookie in 2007 and the 23-year-old is 5-1 with a 4.22 ERA through nine outings this season.

In The Show
While a handful of draftees from Toronto's 2004 class have enjoyed stints in the big leagues, no players selected by the Jays in the past three Drafts have ascended to the Majors. Some standouts from the '04 class include Litsch, Casey Janssen and Adam Lind.

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