The MLB Draft begins on Monday, so what better time to look back in Jays history and decide who were the best Blue Jays first round draft picks. Like most teams the Jays have found some great players in the first round, but they also had their fair share of draft busts.
During the glory day the Jays didn’t rely on very many drafted players to get them to the promised land. In fact, the only first round pick to start for either Jays championship team was Ed Sprague. If you look at the regular starting nine for both World Series squads only three players, Sprague, John Olerud and Pat Borders were acquired via the draft. Toronto built its 80′s and 90′s powerhouse teams through trades, free agency, the international market and of course the Rule 5 Draft. Over the last decade the draft has become a more useful tool to rebuilding the franchise.
The Jays may not have used the Draft very much to build themselves into a contender the first time around, but they still unearthed a few gems in the first round through the years . And, more often than not, the best first round picks were made in the middle or late in the first round. Here are the 10 best.
The Blue Jays drafted Sprague as both a catcher and a third basemen out of Stanford with the 25th overall pick in 1988. Sprague was the second third basemen to be chosen in the first round following the White Sox Robin Ventura at No. 10.
Sprague played eight seasons in Toronto and was a major part of both World Series championships. He wasn’t a starter in 1992, but hit one of the most important home runs against Atlanta in Game 2, delivering a game-winning pinch-hit blast off Jeff Reardon. Sprague took over the starting job at third base in 1993 and had some mediocre seasons at the plate before peaking in 1996 when he hit a career-high 36 home runs and drove in 101 runs.
The 1988 draft was heavy on pitching up front with Alan Benes going first overall and Steve Avery and Gregg Olson also going in the Top 5. Olson, the Rookie of the Year in 1989 was one of four players drafted that year that won the Rookie of the Year Award, including Bob Hamelin (1994), Pat Listach (1992) and Eric Karros (1992).
Other notable players drafted before Sprague in 1988 included Jim Abbott, Tino Martinez, Charles Nagy, and Royce Clayton. Noteworthy players selected after Sprague include Brian Jordan, Marquis Grissom, Luis Gonzalez, Jim Edmonds and Tim Wakefield, who was taken by Pittsburgh in the eighth round as a first baseman before developing his knuckler.
Toronto drafted Alexis Rios out of San Pedro Martin High School with the 19th overall pick in 1999. He was the fourth outfielder taken in the draft following first overall pick Josh Hamilton and a pair of draft busts, B.J. Garbe at No. 5 and Rick Asadoorian at No. 17.Other notable players taken before Rios’ number came up include Josh Beckett at No. 2, Barry Zito at No. 9 and Ben Sheets at No. 10.
Rios arrived in Toronto in 2004, appearing in 111 games while hitting .286 with a .338 OBP and a .702 OPS. His lack of consistent power foreshadowed the future as he hit only one home run. He was all All-Star in 2006 and 2007. In 2007 he hit a career-high 24 home runs while also stealing 17 bases. The following season his steal total skyrocketed to 32, but his home total dipped to 15. In 2009 it all came crashing down for Rios in Toronto. His average, which had hovered around the .300 mark the previous three season plummeted to .264 while his power and running game also declined. In August he was waived and quickly claimed by the Chicago White Sox where he continued to frustrate management with inconsistent and often lackadaisical play.
Rios proved to be a draft mistake in the long run which makes it inevitable to look at some of the stars taken after him in the 1999 draft that Toronto could have got their hands on instead. Just a few notable names drafted after Rios include Carl Crawford, Brandon Phillips, Justin Morneau and Shane Victorino. 1999 was also the year Jake Peavy was drafted in the 15th round and Albert Pujols was a major coup for St. Louis in the 13th round.
Carpenter was drafted out of Trinity High School with the 15th overall pick in 1993. Pitchers were very popular early on in the 1993 draft and Carpenter was the 10th pitcher off the board. The only pitcher taken before Carpenter that came close to living up to Carpenter’s career was Billy Wagner, taken by Houston at No. 12. A few other pitchers taken over Carpenter included Darren Dreifort at No. 2 by the Dodgers, Brian Anderson at No. 3 by the Angels, Wayne Gomes at No. 4 by the Phillies and Jeff Granger at No. 5 by the Royals. If you’re trying to remember those names you’re likely not the only one. Other pitchers taken before Carpenter that ended up as busts included Steve Soderstrom, Kirk Presley, Daron Kirkreit and Matt Drews.
Unfortunately for Toronto Carpenter’s best years on the mound came after he left Toronto. Carpenter made his Toronto debut in 1997 and spent the next six seasons in the rotation. He showed glimpses of putting it together, but could never find consistency while compiling a 49-50 record, a 4.83 ERA and a 1.51 WHIP. By comparison in eight years with the Cardinals after departing from Toronto Carpenter was 95-42 with a 3.06 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP. If Carpenter had delivered those kind of numbers with the Jays he would be much higher on the list.
You’ll likely find arguments for and against Romero being chosen sixth overall in the 2005 draft. The biggest reason for this is the player chosen right after Romero, but we’ll get to him in a second.
Romero was drafted out of Cal-State Fullerton where he helped the Titans win the 2004 College World Series. He was the first pitcher selected in the 2005 Draft ahead of names like Mike Pelfry, Matt Garza, Clay Buchholz and Jeremy Hellickson. The big name taken right after Romero though was shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Of course the Jays had no interest in Tulowitzki because they expected Russ Adams to be their shortstop of the future.
Through his first three seasons in Toronto Romero’s win total has climbed each year and his ERA has also decreased each season. The 2011 season was hopefully a sign of things to come for Romero after he posted 15 wins for the first time and an ERA under 3 at 2.92. He also posted a solid WHIP at 1.14 and a made the All-Star team for the first time. It’s been a rocky start for Romero this season despite what his 6-1 record might tell you and he’ll need to continue on the path he set in 2011 to keep the naysayers from bringing up Tulowitzki’s name for the rest of his career.
Just to add some more fuel to the fire Tulowitzki wasn’t the only big name taken after Romero in 2005. Also drafted after Romero that season were Andrew McCutchen, Jay Bruce, Jacoby Ellsbury and current Jay Colby Rasmus. The list of players taken before Romero is also pretty impressive and includes Justin Upton, Ryan Braun, Alex Gordon and Ryan Zimmerman.
The Jays nabbed Hill from LSU with the 13th pick in the 2003 draft. He was the fourth infielder drafted in the first round following second pick Rickie Weeks, 10th pick Ian Stewart and 11th pick Michael Aubrey. Also taken ahead of Hill were No. 1 pick Delmon Young, Nick Markakis, Paul Maholm and Lastings Milledge.
Hill arrived in Toronto in 2005, splitting time that season at shortstop, third and second in 105 games. His bat showed promise while he was shuffled around the infield, hitting .274 with 40 RBI. Hill’s numbers steadily improved until 2008 when his career was interrupted by a concussion that shortened his season to 55 games. He returned strong in 2009 with the best season of his career, hitting .286 with a .330 OBP, 36 home runs and 108 RBI. Injuries curtailed his production in 2010 and in 2011 his numbers plummeted resulting in a trade to Arizona for Kelly Johnson.
Hill may have had only a few good seasons statistically in Toronto, but judging by the rest of the players selected after him in 2003 he was a worthwhile pick at 13th overall. At least Toronto didn’t end up with Jeff Allison at No. 16 or bust Brandon Wood like the Angels did at No. 23. If you want to know some more notable players selected after Hill in 2003 a few would include Chad Billingsley, Carlos Quentin and Adam Jones. The big blow for Toronto in the 2003 draft was taking Josh Banks in the second round ahead of the likes of Andre Ethier and Jonathan Papelbon and Matt Kemp.
Stewart went 19th overall in the 1992 draft out of Miami South Ridge Senior High School. He was the sixth outfielder drafted after Jeffrey Hammonds at No. 4 and draft busts Chad Mottola, Calvin Murray, Kenny Felder and Chad McConnell. Two other players drafted before Stewart as shortstops would end up playing the outfield in the Majors, Preston Wilson at No. 9 and Michael Tucker at No. 10.
Stewart made his Major League debut in 1995 but saw action in only 12 games that season and 51 over the next two years. He earned a starting job in the outfield in 1998, hitting .279 with a .377 OBP and 51 steals. Stewart’s average was over .300 the following season at .304 and he hit .300 or better for his next five seasons. His best year in Toronto came in 2000 when he hit .319 with a .363 OBP and a .882 OPS while clubbing 21 home runs with 69 RBI, 107 runs scored and 20 steals.
Stewart’s mix of speed and above average pop made him quite the steal for the Jays in the draft when you consider what a few other teams ahead of them ended up with, such as busts like Calvin Murray, Ken Felder and Chad McConnell.
The big mistake for the Jays in the 1992 Draft was taking Bradon Cromer later in the first round with the 34th overall pick. You know who went 35th overall? Johnny Damon. A few other notable picks later in the 1992 draft include Jason Giambi in the second round, Frank Cattalonotto in the 10th round and Raul Ibanez way down the line in the 36th round.
In some draft years taking Vernon Wells with the fifth overall pick may have meant passing up on another major All-Star. In 1997 that wasn’t really the case. Wells ranks as a very good pick when compared to a few other Top 5 picks in that draft, mainly No. 1 pick Matt Anderson and No. 4 pick Jason Grilli. Imagine if Wells had gone earlier and the Jays had to stomach a major bust like Anderson or Grilli?
Wells made his Toronto debut in 1999, but didn’t takeover the starting job in center field until the 2002 season. That year hit drove in 100 runs for the first time while hitting .275 with a .305 OBP and 23 home runs. The following season he set a new franchise record with 215 hits. He also hit 33 home runs and drove in 117 runs while appearing in his first All-Star game and winning the Silver Slugger. Those would all be career high numbers for Wells, but he still did put together some big seasons, including a 32-homer campaign in 2006 and a 31-home run season in 2010.
The one real standout name among outfielders taken after Wells in the first round was Lance Berkman. He went to Houston 16th overall. Jayson Werth, who found his way to Toronto via trade a few seasons later went to the Orioles 22nd overall. A few other notable names taken in later rounds in 1997 include Rick Ankiel, Chone Figgins, Michael Young (by Toronto in the fifth round), Tim Hudson and Orlando Hudson, taken by Toronto in the 43rd round.
Moseby was one of the Toronto’s early building blocks, selected out of Oakland High School with the second pick in 1978. Going first in the draft was power hitting third baseman Bob Horner to the Braves, while after Moseby the Mets grabbed All-Star shortstop Hubie Brooks with the third pick.
Moseby was drafted as a first basemen, but would play his entire Toronto career, 10 seasons, in the outfield. He didn’t take long to get to the Majors, making his Toronto debut as a 20-year-old in 1980. Moseby really took off in 1983 when he hit .315 with a .376 OBP, 18 home runs, 81 RBI and 27 steals. In his 10 years with the Jays Moseby hit .257 with a .333 OBP and a .748 OPS. He boasted a nice mix of power and speed with 149 home runs, 255 steals and 651 RBI.
The 1978 included a number of surprising gems for a number of teams after the first round. This included a pair of future Hall of Famers with Cal Ripken getting taken by Baltimore in the second round and Ryne Sandberg going to Philadelphia in the 20th round. The Phillies later traded him to the Cubs in a horrible deal for Ivan de Jesus. Other notables from the 1978 draft included Tim Wallach, Steve Sax and Kent Hrbek. The Blue Jays also struck gold by drafting Dave Stieb in the fifth round.
The first round of the 1991 draft was a travesty for a number of teams. It wasn’t for the Blue Jays. Toronto took advantage of a number of draft busts by snagging Green out of Tustin High School with the 16th overall pick. The Yankees were the hardest hit, spending a ton of money on No. 1 pick Brien Taylor only to get burned when he injured his arm in a fight. Green was the sixth outfielder taken in the first round following a number of busts, such as Mike Kelly at No. 2 and Joe Vitiello at No. 7, as well as one Major star in Manny Ramirez at No. 13.
Green appeared in three games with Toronto in 1993, but didn’t crack the lineup on a regular basis until 1995 when he hit .288 with 15 home runs in 121 games. He broke out in a big way in 1998, hitting 35 home runs and driving in 100 runs while also stealing 35 bases. He exceeded those numbers a year later when he mashed 42 home runs and drove in 123 while hitting .309 with a .384 OBP and a .972 OPS. That was his last year in Toronto though as he was traded to the Dodgers after the season.
After the Jays plucked Green at No. 16 the rest of the first round was pretty void of impact players at the Major League level. The only real notable players taken after Green in the first round were Pokey Reese, Aaron Sele, Justin Thompson, Bobby Jones and Scott Hatteberg. Not a list of All-Stars. Beyond the first round other notable picks in the 1997 draft included Jason Schmidt, Brad Radke, Derek Lowe and Matt Lawton.
The Blue Jays must have been overjoyed when Halladay fell all the way to No.17 in the first round of the 1995 draft out of Arvada West High School. Eight other pitchers were taken before Halladay in the 1995 draft and you likely have never heard of half of them. The first pitcher taken was Kerry Wood at No. 4 by the Cubs, who just recently retired. The other known names picked before Halladay were Ariel Prieto, Matt Morris and Mark Redman. The busts, who teams likely wish they could cast aside in exchange for Halladay these days include Jonathan Johnson by the Rangers at No. 7, Mike Drumright at No. 11, Andy Yount by the Red Sox at No. 15 and Joe Fontenot at No. 16. Yes, Halladay could have been a Red Sox if they hadn’t favored good ole’ Andy Yount.
Halladay has been called Toronto’s best pitcher in franchise history. Whether you believe that accolade should go to Dave Stieb or Halladay you have to admit either pitcher is worthy of the title. Halladay arrived in Toronto in 1998 and nearly threw a no-hitter in his second professional start. Halladay’s rising star took a detour during the 2000, as he was sent all the way back down the ladder to low A ball to completely rework his mechanics after getting lit up repeatedly. The retooling worked though starting in 2002 when he won 19 games. The following season he won 22 games to claim his first Cy Young Award. In 12 seasons with Toronto Halladay went 148-76 with a 3.43 ERA and a 1.198 WHIP. His WAR in those 12 seasons was 45.6.
What’s even more astonishing is that, now that Kerry Wood has retired Halladay and Todd Helton are the only active players from the first round of the 1995 draft. A few other gems unearthed in the 1995 draft were Carlos Beltran in the second round, Joe Nathan in the fifth round, Mike Lowell in the 20th round and Juan Pierre in the 30th round.
Some of the rest:
John Cerutti – 21st pick 1981
Steve Karsay – 22nd pick – 1990
Billy Koch – 4th pick – 1996
Felipe Lopez – 8th pick – 1998
Dustin McGowan – 33rd pick – 2000
Gabe Gross – 15th pick – 2001
Russ Adams – 14th pick – 2002
David Purcey – 16th pick – 2004
Travis Snider – 14th pick – 2006
J.P. Arencibia – 21st pick – 2007
Brett Cecil – 38th pick – 2007
David Cooper – 17th pick – 2008
It’s possible this list could need a few revisions down the road with a few more recent draft picks moving up the depth chart in the Minor leagues and also a few finding success in the Majors. Will J.P. Arencibia maneuver himself into the list in a few years? Maybe Dustin McGown will finally get healthy and tap into his vast potential later on like Carpenter did? Or, will Deck McGuire, Aaron Sanchez or Noah Syndergaard impress when they make it to the show?