Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A Jay a Day: Chad 'Stephen' Jenkins, the difference is pitchability

Hopefully for Chad Jenkins, it's not a bad omen that MLB.com's draft tracker displayed his name incorrectly for several minutes.

The Blue Jays seem to have said "yes" to the several-million-dollar question about going over slot to sign a draft choice; baseball nerds everywhere, rejoice! There was interest in that than who they were actually going to draft. Jenkins, a Roy Halladay-idolizing right-hander from obscure Kennesaw (Ga.) State, was described as a "a cheap option who could rise quickly to the major leagues." However, they used the compensatory pick they got when A.J. Burnett flew the coop to take a Canadian left-handed pitcher, James Paxton.

Paxton's agent is Scott Boras, so yippie-ki-yay, it looks like they're finally going over slot, finally. Expect that A.J. Burnett angle to become a big part of Paxton's backstory.

Anyway, this is about the slotting thingamajig. Former Jays assistant GM Bart Given wrote Monday night at sportsnet.ca wrote that the Jays pretty much had to do it this time around, if not in the first roundt: "After a while, what's the point of playing the game with one hand tied behind you back?"

For the time being, this looks like a win-win. Leave aside that it is is lily-gilding to say Jenkins was seen as a potential 10th overall pick. The Washington Nationals were seemed mostly interested in using that pick on someone who would "agree to a pre-draft slot deal." Meantime, Paxton, who can touch 98 mph and who played for the University of Kentucky with Ottawa native Chris Bisson, the Wildcats' second baseman, ended up falling to the Jays at 37th overall.

There was some more CanCon. The Jays' second-rounder is another Canadian lefty, Jake Eliopoulos from Walkerton, Ontario. (A pitcher from Walkerton? It must be something in the water. What, too soon?) Hell, if you want to localize even farther, the third-rounder, high school righty Jake Barrett, played for Team USA when it won the silver medal at the world junior championship in Edmonton last summer. Barrett, who was on the cover of ESPN Rise, is apparently supposed to be going to Arizona State.

Anyway, ours is not to say how those four pitchers will develop for the Jays. It would be a minor miracle if two of them have a substantial major-league career. Jenkins, for one, is a very intelligent pitcher, with a three-pitch mix. Oddly enough, if you poke around on Google, "three-pitch mix" comes up a fair bit with Barrett and Eliopoulos. They all have pitchability.

In a sense, it seems like the Jays worked around the broken draft system. As Given explained:
"The MLB draft is broken; the lack of enforceable slotting allows the best players to set a bonus price so high, they essentially place themselves with the teams employing the largest budgets. Not surprisingly these teams have commonly been the Red Sox and Yankees, although the Tigers and a couple of others have joined the superpowers in recent years.

"Toronto's organizational policy of not going over slot has effectively reduced the number of players available for director Jon Lalonde's scouting department to draft. If an amateur player's representative set a high price tag, the Blue Jays have placed him on the 'unsignable due to price' board. In recent years, this board has increased in size to contain hundreds of names.

"In a way, it's been commendable that Toronto has been the only team to play by the rules in recent years. But after a while, what's the point of playing the game with one hand tied behind your back?"
That dynamic came into play with Mike Trout, a high school outfielder from New Jersey who is seen as a five-tool player and who was available. Trout, who is said to be demanding a $2.5-million US signing bonus, went appropriately enough 25th overall to the L.A. Angels (by the way, Bud Selig's pronunciation of "Los Angeles Angels" has to be heard to be believed).

Trout, at least according to MLB Network (like the The Tao of Stieb says, can we get this in Canada, please?), provided the feel-good moment of the first round since he was in the TV studio in Secaucus, N.J. However, it's really kind of twisted. You have a plaer who's elated to be taken 25th instead of 17th since the Angels have a bigger budget than clubs which were drafting earlier. Only in Bud Selig's world could that be treated as positive news.

Anyway, it's nice to see one's favourite team in any sport come around. Imagine the fallout if an owner came out and said he would pay his players the lowest salaries in the major leagues. It would be bloody scandalous. The refusal to go over slot is on a smaller scale. It does not get much attention outside of Seamheads. There's enough trouble in Canada getting people to understand that draft choices cannot be traded in baseball. However, people have to understand, it's not about the payroll with the Jays. It's about what they put into player development at the front end, going over slot in the amateur draft and international scouting. They weren't doing that for several years. There's a little glimmer of promise, although it looked shaky there when Chad Jenkins' name was called tonight. It's probably too naive by half to hope playing the Canada card would help in negotiations with Paxton, but one can always dream.

Jenkins seems like he could be a good buy-low. Two writers at Baseball America who did a mock draft saw him ending up with the Jays:
"We have other options for power lefties in this draft though. Two, Andy Oliver and Canada native James Paxton, are attractive at 20 but also have Scott Boras Corp. advising them. ... In the end, Kennesaw State righthander Chad Jenkins is too attractive. Yes, there are college closers we could convert (and we've had success doing it), but why do that when Jenkins is on the board? He has stuff, he has pitchability and he has relatively low mileage on his arm because the Owls were never postseason-eligible while Jenkins was in college. Make it so." (Emphasis mine.)
For those wondering, Kurtenblog did a riff on "pitchability" right before the 2007 World Series.

Mike Wilner said on Jays Talk tonight that Jenkins expected ETA in the majors would be late 2011. Coming from an off-the-beaten-path school such as Kennesaw State, which plays in something called the Atlantic Sun conference, isn't a mark against him. He didn't put a lot of extra miles on his 21-year-old arm by pitching in the post-season, when college coaches run up ginormous pitch counts.

Plus, you have to like that Jenkins described being scouted as "hot and heavy." He must be a Seinfeld fan.

Bottom line, the Jays took three youngsters with pitch, wait for it, ability.

Besides, it was another part of a good sports night. We're getting a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup final. The Orlando Magic ensured the NBA Finals will not be a sweep for Kobe Bryant and the L.A. Lakers. Meantime, at Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox lit A.J. Burnett up like the Coconut Grove fire in a 7-0 rout.

(Incidentally, someone in the Tampa Bay Rays front office obviously was a big fan of The Band, judging by the given name of their first-rounder, LeVon Washington.)


Andrew Bucholtz said...

Well, they did go with Boras client James Paxton in the second round, and they'll likely have to go over slot if they want to sign him. That will be interesting to watch. He's got the whole Canadian PR boost going on as well.

sager said...

Yeah, I'm revising this post as we speak. The Jays went big on CanCon, since they took Jake Eliopoulos, a left-hander from the Brantford area, 70th overall ... and Jake Barrett, the pitcher they took with the 99th selection, was on Team USA when it won the silver medal at the world junior in Edmonton last season. (Whoever the Jays have looking at pitchers out West might have also had something to do with getting Scott Richmond, who pitched for Edmonton's indy ball team.)

Louise said...
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