In a switch, Jays draft high school OF

Jays draft high school OF with top pick

TORONTO -- The seed for this year's top draft selection by the Blue Jays was planted nearly a year ago, when a handful of Toronto scouts headed to a showcase event in Long Beach, Calif., that featured some of the top high school talent in the United States.

While there were many budding stars to evaluate, one slugging outfielder in particular caught the club's attention. Travis Snider displayed a mechanically sound swing, showed signs of developing into a good power hitter and also practiced patience at the plate -- traits that created a buzz in Toronto's front office.

"To me, he was far and away the best hitter at that event," said Jon Lalonde, Toronto's director of scouting. "He really stood out."

Snider, from Jackson High School in Mill Creek, Wash., stood out so much that he forced the Blue Jays to examine their past draft philosophies and prompted a shift in direction -- using the 14th overall pick of Tuesday's First-Year Player Draft on an 18-year-old high schooler.

During the previous four drafts, general manager J.P. Ricciardi steered away from picking high school players in the early rounds in favor of more polished college athletes. As a result, the upper tiers of the Jays' farm system are now filled with players who advanced quickly up the organizational ladder.

Entering this year's draft, roughly 80 percent of the Blue Jays' draft picks under Ricciardi's tenure had been from four-year colleges or junior colleges. Toronto selected only 39 high school players across the prior four drafts and the highest Ricciardi and the Jays had ever taken a prep star was at the 206th pick in 2002.

"We feel our system in the Minor Leagues is reaching a point where we have enough quality young players that have reached the higher levels," Lalonde said. "We could afford to take a younger player that would take a little longer to develop."

Snider, who led Jackson to a 27-0 record and a state title this spring, was thrilled Toronto believed that he was the one high school player worthy of taking in the first round.

"It's an honor. It shows that J.P. and the rest of the Blue Jays organization have strong faith in my ability to play the game," Snider said. "I look forward to taking this opportunity to show them that they made the right decision. It's just an honor to be a first-round pick, especially with a team that's pretty college oriented."

The Blue Jays also weren't completely sold on the list of college players that might have been available when the 14th selection rolled around. That mind-set, coupled with what they saw in Snider -- a player whom they describe as being mature beyond his years -- helped convince them he was a risk worth taking.

"We really felt, in terms of college players, the crop of the draft was quite thin," Lalonde said. "So we wanted to give ourselves some more options there at that 14th pick. The comfort level we were able to establish with Travis as a person, as well as a player, really pushed it over the top."

His numbers didn't hurt, either. This season, the left-handed-hitting Snider posted a .522 batting average with 10 home runs and 39 RBIs in 60 at-bats for Jackson. The 6-foot, 220-pound outfielder had 41 runs and 26 hits, including eight doubles and two triples.

Baseball America rated Snider, who also starred as a running back and linebacker before breaking his right ankle during his sophomore year, as the 18th-ranked prospect available for the draft and the fourth-best high schooler on the board.

One of the issues that goes along with selecting high school players is that question of signability. The Blue Jays don't anticipate any contract problems with Snider, though.

"We've gotten to know him and we do believe he's very signable. We don't foresee that being an issue with Travis," Lalonde said. "In our discussions with him, he's made it clear to us that if he was selected in the right spot, he was very interested in starting his professional career right out of high school."

Snider has also had discussions with Arizona State University, which is interested in his services for next season. If Snider chose to suit up for the Sun Devils instead of one of Toronto's farm teams, the Blue Jays would lose their negotiating rights with him.

"We're going to work quickly to try and make sure that doesn't happen," Lalonde said.

Snider made it clear that scenario wouldn't happen.

"I'm very excited to get my career started and get going as quickly as possible," Snider said. "It's going to be a good night of celebration and I look forward to getting out there tomorrow and getting ready for the Minor League season to start."

Snider is represented by agent Joe Urbon, who heads the baseball division at Octagon Sports. Urbon is also the agent for Toronto first baseman Lyle Overbay and Jays Minor League left-hander David Purcey, who is pitching for Triple-A Syracuse.

The history that the Jays have with Urbon could help make the signing process with Snider a quick one. If he does choose to turn pro right out of high school, Lalonde said, Toronto would most likely assign him to the Rookie Advanced level with the Pulaski Blue Jays this summer before sending the outfielder to instructional league this fall.

"It's sheer excitement," Snider said. "This has been a childhood dream of mine to have the opportunity to play professional baseball."

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