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Jays 'proud' of draft accomplishments

Jays 'proud' of draft accomplishments

CHICAGO -- The Blue Jays stuck with their game plan in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft on Tuesday, nabbing college players with nearly all of their early picks. Toronto's first nine draftees all went to four-year universities, as did 14 of the team's 17 picks on the first day.

The Jays took a look at younger players on the second day, when they took 17 players from high school or junior college and 15 players from four-year universities. The second-day split was fairly even in another way -- Toronto nabbed 17 pitchers and 15 position players.

"It's good to get it over with. I think we're all proud of what we accomplished," said Jon Lalonde, Toronto's scouting director. "You work 12 months to prepare for two days. It's kind of like a wedding in that respect."

The wedding's done, and now the Blue Jays can coast to the after-party. In the early rounds of the draft, they concentrated heavily on players from major conferences. Their first pick, Ricky Romero, came from Cal State Fullerton, the NCAA's defending champions.

After that, Toronto took four straight players from the Southeastern Conference -- thought by many to be the premier baseball conference in the country. Three of those players were hitters, playing right into J.P. Ricciardi's pre-draft philosophy.

"Once you get to the third round, you're really at the disposal of whatever's out there," Toronto's general manager said before the draft. "We're really more inclined to go after hitters this year, because in the last three years we think we've addressed a lot of our pitching. Not that you can ever have enough, but we have a lot of pitching and we'd like to get some more bats in the organization."

Consider that mission accomplished. The Jays didn't have a second-round pick, but they brought in some heavy hitters in the third and fourth rounds. Mississippi's Brian Pettway came first, trailed by Ryan Patterson from Louisiana State. Both players are extremely similar, as far as their prospect status.

They both showed power and patience against SEC pitchers, which bodes well for their immediate future. Pettway hit .391 in 65 games, notching 20 homers and 34 walks with only 44 strikeouts. Patterson hit .369 with 20 homers and 56 RBIs, walking 30 times against just 28 strikeouts.

"We think Pettway has legit power. I'd say that Patterson doesn't have quite as much raw power," said Lalonde. "He's a very good hitter, though, and he has an outstanding track record with the wooden bat. He does a lot of things well."

The Blue Jays went back to Ole Miss for their fourth pick -- left-handed pitcher Eric Fowler. The southpaw went 7-2 with a 3.09 ERA, working 81 1/3 innings and striking out nearly five times as many batters (96) as he walked. Finally, they nabbed Auburn catcher Josh Bell with their fifth pick, completing their early-draft run through the SEC.

"It's kind of funny how that worked out," Lalonde said. "Last year, we're on a Big 12 run. This year, my scout in the deep south had a big day."

Two picks after Bell, Nevada outfielder Jacob Butler capped the offensive portion of the draft. Eight of the team's final 12 picks went for pitchers, with most of them coming from smaller schools. The Jays' ninth- and 10th-round picks, Paul Phillips and Josh Sowers, fit perfectly as representatives of that group.

Phillips was taken from Oakland University in the Mid-Continent Conference, while Sowers came from Yale of the Ivy League. Both have interesting backgrounds. Phillips, a third-year sophomore, went undefeated in his final two years of high school. He struggled a bit last season, but the Jays decided that his potential was too much to ignore.

Sowers, meanwhile, has the bloodlines if not the experience against big-time competition. The right-hander's brother, Jeremy Sowers, was Cleveland's top pick in the 2004 draft. Sowers dominated the Ivy League, notching a 6-1 record with a 2.10 ERA in nine starts.

"Whenever you get down to that area of the draft, you want to roll with your area scouts," said Lalonde. "They're your foot soldiers, and your cross-checkers probably don't see players that late in the draft. You never want to reach for players."

That stands double for the team's two high school picks from the first day: Wesley Stone and Robert Hogue. Stone, taken in the 11th round, is a shortstop. Hogue, a left-handed pitcher from Edmonton, was the team's last selection of the first day.

"We're pleased, but you're always greedy," said Lalonde when the first day was done. "There's almost a pie-in-the-sky scenario, but it doesn't always work out that way. We stayed true to our strategy and got the players we liked in spots we liked them."

Those two got some company on Wednesday, when Toronto went looking for some younger talent. The Jays got seven pitchers from four-year schools and eight position players from that level. By contrast, they had seven high school position players and seven pitchers from junior college.

"Basically, when you get to the second day, there are a lot more variables," said Lalonde. "You know a lot less about these guys because you haven't seen them as much. You try to make every pick count -- with some time and some seasoning, that's the method to that madness."

Lalonde said that the highlight of the second day was the team's first two picks -- right-handed pitcher Reidier Gonzalez and USC's Zachary Kalter. Gonzalez came from a junior college in Florida, and Kalter will likely play the field instead of pitching like he did in college.

"Gonzalez is a bulldog type -- a real competitor," said Lalonde. "And we liked Kalter as a junior college hitter, but USC had him pitching for most of the year."

Later on in the second day, the Jays had their beaks in plenty of unconventional areas. They drafted a few Canadians and a few high school players from Puerto Rico. Modestly, Lalonde deflected the credit for those picks to his foot soldiers.

"The credit on those players goes to the area scouts. They make those picks," he said. "We have a terrific scout in Puerto Rico. His name is Jorge Riviera, and he had a lot to do."

Another second-day phenomenon is the draft-and-follow -- draft choices that teams have no intention of signing right away. Those names are usually prep school seniors or junior college players, and the organizations monitor their progress over the next year before deciding whether they want to sign them.

Lalonde estimated that the Jays took 18 players that fit that description. Seventeen of them came on the second day, with Hogue being the lone exception. How do teams decide whom to sign and whom to watch?

"We just think it's in the best interest of those players not to turn professional right away," he said. "Maybe they have a different impression of what they should sign for than we do, and maybe we'd just like to see more of them."

That's exactly right -- a scout's job never ends. The relief of finishing the draft only lasts a few days. After that, they have to start working to sign players and working to observe some others. And that's before they start preparing for next year's draft. The annual draft ritual may seem like a wedding, but you'll never hear Lalonde asking for a divorce.

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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