Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft begins on Monday with the first round and first compensation round being completed on the opening day of selections. The Blue Jays make their first pick at No. 11 and boast eight picks among the first 100 overall.
Andrew Tinnish, the Blue Jays director of amateur scouting, will be overseeing the Draft for the first time, working under the direction of general manager Alex Anthopoulos. Tinnish discussed the upcoming Draft with reporters on Wednesday afternoon at the Rogers Centre.
Here is a transcript of most of the question and answer session:
Reporter: Have you been getting much sleep lately?
Tinnish: Not much. Maybe four or five hours. We’ve been starting pretty early — 7 a.m. meetings. The last probably month or so has been a grind, bouncing around game to game. You’re not really in one place for longer than a day. It’s more picking out the players that you need to see toward the end.
Reporter: How is this year different for you?
Tinnish: For me, specifically, it’s obviously a lot different just because of the role. As far as the Draft itself, I think every year has its strengths and weaknesses. This year, for me, I think it’s pitching heavy, especially at the high school level. But, certainly, it’s a different approach maybe this year than we’ve had in other years because we have so many picks. Nine picks in the top three rounds. In years past, we’d have a first round pick and maybe we lost a second and a third, you can eliminate probably 20 or 30 players that you don’t really need to scout. This year, everyone is in play.
Reporter: You also have more scouts this year than you’ve had for a long time. Does that present any challenges in your position?
Tinnish: I think the benefits and the plusses far outweigh the challenges. I think if we didn’t have our regional crosschecking system in place, there would be some challenges. The way it’s set up right now, we have 25 area scouts with five regional cross checkers overseeing five area scouts [each]. In a lot of cases, they’re direct line to the office is through their regional scout. We talk to them a lot, but we’re getting more coverage than we’ve ever gotten, obviously. You have basically twice the man power that we had in the past. The most important thing for us is that our guys are getting more looks at the best players. So they walk into the Draft room hopefully with more conviction of the player. Instead of seeing the player two or three times, they see the player five or six times.
Reporter: You mentioned the strength of high school pitching. That’s something that in early rounds this organization has steered away from in recent years. Is that something where you guys might have a shift in philosophy?
Tinnish: Yeah. I think Alex’s philosophy and my philosophy, it’s basically the same. We’re open-minded to any player. We’re basically going to line our board up bases on ability and take the best players available regardless of whether it’s a college shortstop or a high school right-handed pitcher. From our perspective, we don’t want to pass on talent.
Reporter: You said it’s different for you this year. How so?
Tinnish: Number one, it’s more exciting. I mean, I felt like I had an impact before in the role that I was in [as assistant scouting director], but obviously it’s a greater impact. It’s greater accountability and responsibility, but at the same time I enjoy that. I have an opportunity to see more players than I’ve ever seen. In the past, my role was maybe 50-50 office and out evaluating players, where now it’s basically 100 percent out evaluating players. The travel is extensive, obviously, but it’s exciting because you’re out every day seeing a good player. Really, I’m trying to see the top guys because of all the picks we have at the top. I’m trying to, as best I can, see players that we’re going to consider in, let’s say, the top three rounds. So every day you’re out there seeing good ballplayers.
Reporter: Alex has said that the way to rebuild the organization is through the high-end picks. How do you do that and are their risks involved?
Tinnish: Absolutely. I think with any player in the Draft there is risk. This isn’t the NBA or the NFL, where you’re drafting a player who’s Major League ready. There’s a lot more challenges in this sport to get to the highest level. Obviously, there are exceptions. There are guys like [Mike] Leake and [Drew] Storen and on June 8 [Stephen] Strasburg will be making his debut just coming out of their Draft. But, as far as upside, there’s risk. But, as far as college players, there’s risk, too. The way we look at it is we’ll take a risk on a player that we feel has a chance to be a star. Maybe it’s a 20-percent chance to be a star versus a 75-percent chance of another player being an everyday player. The everyday player on our scale, which is the 50s and 55s in the system we use, those players are easier to get in trades or through free agency or Minor League free agency. The players who are 70s and 80s are a lot tougher to get. I’m not saying they’re out there, but that’s what we’re shooting for.
Reporter: Having more scouts, and the way you set it up, is that to help reduce the risk?
Tinnish: I hope so. I think for me it goes without saying, and I’m sure you guys feel the same way, the more you see a player, whether it’s in high school or here in the big leagues, the more comfortable you get with that player. We have a running log of how many games or innings pitched or plate appearances we’ve seen with a lot of these guys. I certainly have more comfort with a player I’ve seen 20 at-bats versus 10 at-bats. The more you watch, the more you bear down, the more answers you get on a player. Having more scouts gives us, I think we have a little bit of an advantage just as far as mass looks.
Reporter: Are there ways to find out a little bit more about the players off the field?
Tinnish: Makeup for us is huge. Talent is definitely number one for us, but the quality of the person, the character and the makeup, is very important as well. We grade players on their work ethic, their competitiveness and their off-field makeup. A lot of work goes into it. Mostly in the offseason, but certainly during the year as well. Our scouts are contacting summer coaches, coaches, teachers, teammates, things like that. At the end of the day, you have to make the decision yourself on what you see with your eyes and talking with the player, meeting with the player. But at the same time you take pieces of information from other people as well. Some guys will trick you, but we do our best to come up with the best possible decision.
Reporter: Is it tempting to alter your strategy at all because of the high volume of early picks?
Tinnish: It’s probably a little easier to say, hey, we’re going to take a chance on this guy and that guy and that guy, because we have nine picks in the top three rounds. But, I would hope going forward that we would continue to pick that way. I guess, for me, if a guy’s ceiling is a 55 everyday player, and that’s a good player, and it’s high probability that he gets to that, to me that’s almost a risk in itself because you’re not saying that you’re getting an All-Star caliber player. These guys don’t grow on trees — it’s tough. But, with the division we play in and the philosophy of our general manager, we’re in a position where we want to try to be aggressive with guys with upside.
Reporter: How does last year, not signing some picks, impact what you’re doing this year?
Tinnish: I don’t think it really changes things. For me, personally, and I think for the group right now as we sit here today, it’s a benefit because we have more picks. Obviously, we would’ve liked to have signed guys, but it didn’t work out. It doesn’t really change too much, because that’s the way the rules have always been. It’s only been two years where you have that pick protection and if you don’t select the player you get the player back the next year. I’m more excited about it than anything just because it’s extra picks.
Reporter: If one of those unsigned picks from last year comes around as the best available player when it’s your choice…
Tinnish: We’d take the player. We don’t have any hard feelings against the players. We’ve seen the players this year. They have ability. If it comes to a point where it’s our turn to pick and that player is the player on the board, then we’ll take that player. No question.
Reporter: Signability used to be a factor for this club. Has that changed?
Tinnish: I think it’s always a factor to a certain extent. Right now is a time where we’re hearing a lot of numbers. This guy wants $2 million. This guy wants $3 million. The one thing I’ll say is we’re going to line our board up based on the players’ ability and I think that we’re going to be smart about things, we’re going to be prudent, but at the same time we don’t want to pass on ability.
Reporter: What do you think of the Canadian content in this year’s Draft?
Tinnish: I think the Canadian content in the Draft is strong. Since I’ve been scouting, it’s always really been strong. Between the [Adam] Loewen and [Jeff] Francis first rounders to guys like Brett Lawrie and Phillippe Aumont, there’s a lot of talent in Canada. Whether these guys go down to the State and get drafted as juniors or come out as high school players, I was definitely impressed with the Canadian talent. It’s good to see, too. Obviously being Canadian [from Hamilton, Ontario], I like to see that and I like to see that baseball in Canada continues to grow. I think at the elite level, baseball in Canada is as strong as it’s ever been and that it will continue to grow.
Reporter: What’s your philosophy on subjective scouting vs. performance related scouting?
Tinnish: For me personally, and Alex and I have had a lot of discussions about this, I think first and foremost you need to listen to your people — your scouts — and what they say about the players’ abilities. What you see with your eyes, I believe, is more important than anything. Certainly, statistics, makeup, healthy, they’re all factors as well. Primarily, what you see with your eyes, players’ mechanics, strengths, weaknesses, that is paramount. That is number one.
Where the Jays pick in the early rounds:
Comp round A:
No. 34 (Marco Scutaro free agent compensation)
No. 38 (James Paxton unsigned in 2009)
No. 41 (Rod Barajas free agent compensation)
No. 69 (Jake Eliopoulos unsigned in 2009)
No. 80 (Scutaro free agent compensation)
Comp round B:
No. 113 (Jake Barrett unsigned in 2009)