How Blue Jays' 2023 Draft class balances big swings, safer bets

July 11th, 2023

TORONTO -- With 19 names called by the Blue Jays over three days of the 2023 MLB Draft, the waiting game begins.

First comes the matter of signing these draftees, then the long road of player development. Toronto’s college-heavy Draft should help the Single-A Dunedin Blue Jays and High-A Vancouver Canadians quickly, but others, like first-round pick Arjun Nimmala, will begin their pro journey at the club’s development complex.

There are plenty of new names to learn, so you can start here, with our Blue Jays Draft Tracker.

In the big picture, here are three takeaways to know about this class:

Early balance of risk and reward
Just like you saw in 2022, the Blue Jays chased major upside with two high school players in the early rounds, surrounding those picks with college selections.

A year ago, that was lefty Brandon Barriera in Round 1 followed by infielder Tucker Toman with a Round 2 compensatory pick. The Blue Jays were able to sign Toman away from an NCAA commitment with an over-slot bonus, and they’ll look to pull off the same in the coming days.

After selecting Nimmala at No. 20, Toronto sat out Round 2 after forfeiting that pick for the signing of . The club found an athletic NCAA right-hander in Juaron Watts-Brown at No. 89 overall, then it went back to the high school ranks for right-hander Landen Maroudis with pick No. 121. Maroudis also played the infield at Calvary Christian when he wasn’t pitching, but the Blue Jays now have an opportunity to unlock the potential he has when focusing solely on the mound.

Balance is critical in the MLB Draft. This isn’t necessarily a need-based event, like you’d see in the NFL, where a quarterback-needy team will often pass up better players to get its QB of the future. Instead, it’s about balancing the big swings with “safer” players that your development staff can help grow.

Nimmala’s upside is immense, but when you combine his age (17) and the fact the Blue Jays didn’t pick in Round 2, it’s important for the team to hit on some older, more advanced NCAA prospects through those first 10 rounds. Maroudis balances that, though, and given what’s possible at Toronto’s new player development complex in Dunedin, Fla., young players with upside are more intriguing than ever.

In search of the on-base machines
Spencer Horwitz has become a bit of a model in the Blue Jays’ organization. The 24th-round pick from 2019 who now ranks as Toronto’s No. 18 prospect wasn’t exactly a superstar entering the Draft, but he did one thing extremely well at Radford: He got on base and limited strikeouts.

You’ve seen more of that since, with last year’s third-rounder, Alan Roden, being the best recent example. Roden was coming off a season with Creighton in which he walked 29 times and struck out in just eight plate appearances, good for a .492 on-base percentage. This season with High-A Vancouver, Roden is reaching base at a .434 clip, again walking (40) more than he strikes out (31).

This year? Remember the name Brennan Orf. The big first baseman and corner outfielder posted a .506 on-base percentage (55 BB, 40 K) and 19 home runs last season with Southern Illinois-Edwardsville in the Ohio Valley Conference. That’s an exceptional tool, and while he’ll need to fill out his game, the Blue Jays love rolling the dice on this exact profile. Sam Kulasingam out of Air Force brings something similar, coming off a .537 on-base percentage (50 BB, 24 K) as a junior.

Canadian content
The Blue Jays know what’s going on in their own backyard. This organization has scouted Canada well in recent years, and given its connections to amateur baseball in this country, the Blue Jays should have the best feel for Canadian talent.

Toronto didn’t select a Canadian until Round 18 last year, but it grabbed a pair in Rounds 5 and 9 on Monday.

Connor O’Halloran (Rd. 5), from Mississauga, Ont., is a lefty out of Michigan who should jump right into full-season ball after becoming the first pitcher in his school’s history to record multiple 100-strikeout seasons. The 2023 Big 10 Conference pitcher of the year has the athletic style of delivery the Blue Jays love, and he could move quickly.

Sam Shaw (Rd. 9), from Victoria, B.C., comes out of Lambrick Park Secondary School. Shaw has a commitment to play NCAA ball at Xavier, but he offers another dose of homegrown upside if he chooses to begin his pro career now and head to the Blue Jays’ complex.