By Andrew Hendriks
Canadian Baseball Network
Despite finishing last year’s regular season tied with Baltimore for the fifth most wins in Major League Baseball, the Blue Jays still found themselves in an enviable position when Rob Manfred stepped up to the podium and formally kicked off the 2017 MLB First-Year Player Draft on Monday.
Having been afforded the ability to select twice in the first round due to the free agent departure of Edwin Encarnacion last December, Toronto used the 22nd and 28th picks within this year’s opening round to draft a pair of college athletes in Logan Warmoth and Nate Pearson, respectively.
Warmoth, a 21-year-old shortstop out of the University of North Carolina, spent time in the Cape Cod League last summer and slashed .270/.330/.450 across 27 games with the Brewster Whitecaps. The 6’0” infielder followed up his impressive showcase outing by starting 53 games at short for the Tar Heels in 2016, batting .337 with 14 doubles, two triples and four home runs as a sophomore. Defensively, he made only 11 errors in 212 chances.
“Being in North Carolina, we’ve seen a lot of (Warmoth) over the years,” said Steve Sanders, the Blue Jays director of amateur scouting via phone conference on Monday.
“He really took a step forward in a number of facets. Hit for more power, on base and made some strides defensively. He just continued to grow on us the more we watched him and was a guy that we were really hoping to have an opportunity for tonight.”
Out of the draft, Toronto’s decision makers are optimistic about Warmoth’s ability to stay at shortstop as he begins to make the transition to professional ball.
“We feel really good about Logan’s chances of staying at shortstop. He’s got great instincts, his feet and hands work well over there and he’s a smart baseball player. An instinctual defender, we feel really good about how his skills will translate at the pro level.”
Pearson, 19, is a hard-throwing right-hander out of Central Florida (NJCAA Region 8). In 13 starts with the Patriots as a sophomore, the native of Oldsmar, Fla., went 5-2 while allowing an even 60 hits, walking only 23 batters, striking out 118 and posting an ERA of 1.56 over 81 frames.
At 6’6”, the Blue Jays like Pearson’s size and plan on developing him as a starter in the minor leagues.
“We feel (Pearson) has an opportunity to come out and use four pitches with big stuff and has a chance to start,” said Sanders. “He’s got a big fastball that touches triple digits at times, two breaking balls and a developing feel for a changeup. As a bigger guy with a good delivery, we certainly feel that he has a great chance to start and that’s how we intend to send him out.”
Opting to target college talent over riskier high-school types, the Blue Jays will not only have an easier time signing their first two selections but will also be able to start them higher up the minor league ladder should the two sides come to terms on a deal in the coming weeks.
“All in all it was an exciting night for the group, and we’re all incredibly happy and pleased with the way things unfolded” added Sanders, who was making his Draft debut as a director on Monday. “We’re looking forward to two more days and hopefully adding some more impact players to the organization."
One of only three teams awarded a compensation pick as result of a departing free agent, Toronto will make a total of four selections within the top 100 during this year’s event.
WHAT THE PROS ARE SAYING
Logan Warmoth (22nd overall)
Baseball America - #19
MLB Pipeline - #27
Pick value - $2.8M
Jim Callis, MLB.com - “When I was talking to scouts last summer about the best players in the Cape Cod League -- a showcase circuit for college players -- Warmoth's name came up a few times as a sleeper. But he's not a sleeper any longer. In a Draft thin on shortstops at the college level, he was clearly the best, showing advanced hitting skills and potential average tools otherwise across the board.”
Nate Pearson (28th overall)
Baseball America - #13
MLB Pipeline - #35
Pick value – $2.3M
Jim Callis, MLB.com - “Pearson has the best fastball in the college ranks this year and wowed scouts by hitting 102 mph in a recent bullpen workout. His secondary pitches are works in progress, but he can get to the big leagues quickly if deployed as a reliever. He's got the frame and the fastball to make a difference in the late innings.”
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