Blue Jays buck pitcher trend, add to middle-infield depth in 1st round of MLB draft

TORONTO - The Blue Jays had every opportunity to make the expected move with the 12th overall pick in the MLB draft on Monday night.

Florida right-hander Brady Singer had fallen, while fellow college arms Logan Gilbert and Ryan Rolison were still on the board. Even high school lefty Matthew Liberatore, a potential top-five pick, sat untouched.

Instead, the Blue Jays bucked their trend of targeting college pitching in the first round and went for high school shortstop Jordan Groshans. It was an off-the-board selection, but a look at the Blue Jays' farm system suggests Groshans is part of a new strategy emerging in Toronto.

"His ability on the field is undeniable," director of amateur scouting Steve Sanders said late Monday. "Both offensively and defensively, he brings tools to the table. He's somebody we believe has the potential to be a middle-of-the-lineup hitter at the major-league level and impact the lineup."

Toronto made college shortstop Logan Warmoth its top pick in 2017, six picks before scooping up right-hander Nate Pearson - who's earned far more hype - with its second of two first-rounders. Jump to the fourth round, and the Jays grabbed shortstop Kevin Smith, who earned a promotion to High-A Dunedin last week after hitting .355 with a 1.046 OPS in Single-A Lansing.

"We think that he has the attributes that are going to make him not only a great player but a great teammate, and (he will) fit in really well with the things that we're doing in the organization right now," Sanders said of Groshans.

What the Jays are doing in the organization right now is stockpiling middle-infield talent with offensive upside, and they're doing it in a variety of ways.

Bo Bichette was the organization's first piece of this recent wave in the second round of 2016, which was the year Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro took control of the organization. Like Groshans, scouts were unsure if he would stick at shortstop, but his bat had the potential to be above average for the position. Bichette's certainly has been so far, making him Toronto's top prospect not named Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Cavan Biggio, a second baseman, has been one of the biggest breakout stories in Minor League Baseball with Double-A New Hampshire. Samad Taylor, the spark plug at second in Lansing who was acquired in last season's Joe Smith deal, is impressing scouts as a 19-year-old.

Of the bunch, only Warmoth is a natural shortstop, but Bichette has taken serious strides this summer and is changing that perception.

"Jordan is a shortstop and we certainly plan to give him opportunities to play there," Sanders said. "We think that he's certainly capable and has the skills to go out and play short. We've seen him play some third base over the summer and, like a lot of guys, that's probably something that will be played out over time."

As long as these players have the athletic ability, the bat, and check off Toronto's ever-important 'character' box, they're in. Shortstops can be moved off the position, whether it be to second, third, or the corner outfield, but the Blue Jays see this as a pipeline of premium talent.

They've carried this over to their international efforts, as well. In 2017, the Blue Jays signed Miguel Hiraldo for $750,000 out of the Dominican Republic. He won't stick at shortstop long-term, but he had one of the best bats in last year's international signing class. Toronto also made a splash with Leonardo Jimenez out of Panama, another shortstop who signed for $825,000 and may actually stick at the position.

This summer, the Blue Jays are favorites to land Dominican phenom Orelvis Martinez, one of the top available international players who will demand a significant bonus. Martinez is, of course, a shortstop.

Much like Bichette and these international signings, Groshans comes with risk and requires patience.

"By taking a player at a younger age, obviously, we've just had slightly less time to watch him develop," Sanders said. "While there is some risk associated with that, we certainly feel good about taking Jordan and the trajectory we feel he's going to be on from here on out."

This risk is allowed, however, by a farm system suddenly set up to do something the Blue Jays have been scrambling, and failing, to do for years: produce positional talent consistently. Toronto hasn't taken it as far as the Cubs' model just yet - binge-acquiring young positional talent and paying for pitching - but there's been a clear shift.

Groshans is now one of that strategy's biggest tests. Unlike Bichette, who came in as a very unique prospect with a one-of-a-kind swing, Groshans will be a project for Toronto's player development staff as he grows within the system.

"Jordan's a big kid, certainly for a shortstop. For being a bigger guy, he moves really well," Sanders said. "He's got great body control, and we're confident that, as an 18-year-old, he's certainly going to add strength, grow, and fill out as he matures."

When the Blue Jays selected Bichette as a high school shortstop in 2016, they started him in the Gulf Coast League before debuting him in Single-A the following season. A similar path can be expected for Groshans.

Keegan Matheson is the editor-in-chief of Baseball Toronto, which he founded in early 2018 after previously covering the Blue Jays for He appears regularly across sports radio and television networks in Canada as a Blue Jays and MLB analyst. Now living in Toronto, Keegan is originally from Nova Scotia.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

Blue Jays buck pitcher trend, add to middle-infield depth in 1st round of MLB draft
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