TORONTO -- The Blue Jays once again opted for speed with their first overall pick of the First-Year Player Draft, but this time it was on the basepaths and not the mound.
Toronto broke its streak of acquiring hard-throwing pitchers with the top pick by selecting high school center fielder D.J. Davis at No. 17 overall of the first round on Monday night.
Davis was considered one of the fastest players in the Draft, and while his approach at the plate still needs some work, the Blue Jays feel they found someone with plenty of high-end potential.
"D.J. is a high school center fielder with huge upside," Blue Jays director of amateur scouting Andrew Tinnish told reporters during a conference call. "It's a quick bat. He's an "eight" runner on the two-to-eight scale -- left-handed hitter with surprising strength for his size.
"We feel like there is strong projection to the body. We feel he has a chance to be a top-of-the-order centre fielder, with maybe a little more power than the traditional leadoff hitter."
Davis is the son of former Blue Jays Minor League outfielder Wayne Davis, who played in the club's system from 1985-88. He immediately drew comparisons to current Toronto top prospect Anthony Gose because of their similar range and foot speed.
Unlike Gose, there are some question marks about Davis' arm strength, but his ability to cover ground is well above average, and that bodes well for a future in center.
"He has tremendous range," Tinnish said. "I think that's what keeps him in center. It's harder to play center than it is to play corner, and one of the things that stood out when I saw him, on several occasions on routine fly balls to the left or right fielder, by the time they caught the ball he was -- and I'm not kidding -- standing behind them.
"He has plus-range in the outfield, we definitely think he's a centre fielder and he's going to have a good chance to cover ground out there."
Davis' ability to hit the ball into the gaps and to all fields has been well-documented, but Tinnish suggested there is the potential for some power as well. The native of Wiggins, Miss., is listed at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, but at just 18 years of age his body has yet to fully mature.
The ability to add increased strength plus the overall development of his approach at the plate is something that could help Davis exceed expectations with a surprising amount of pop.
"He has more strength than you'd think," Tinnish said. "The first time I really noticed that was actually when I shook his hand. ... He's very well built, and there's projection to his body. His hands are very big and strong, and I think that's a good indicator for raw bat speed and power.
"I think you'd be a little bit surprised when you see him take some swings with how far he can hit the ball at this stage. When you see his father, who is basically the same type of frame as him except a couple of inches taller and a little bit wider, you feel like there's a chance he's going to get stronger and fill out even more."
Last season, Davis played in 25 games and batted .376 with 32 hits, six doubles and 18 RBIs while being a perfect 11-for-11 in stolen-base attempts at Stone County High School in Mississippi. He has a commitment to play at Meridian Community College next season.
As with any high schooler, it's possible Davis will come with signability concerns, but Tinnish didn't want to get into too many details about negotiations at such an early stage.
"Tomorrow morning we'll kind of address that," Tinnish said of Davis, whose cap slot at No. 17 is $2 million. "The priority right now was picking them. ... As far as getting the players signed and getting the ball rolling with that perspective, we will start that process tomorrow."
The Blue Jays have a total of 14 picks in the first 10 rounds of the Draft, which is tied with St. Louis and San Diego for most in the Majors. Toronto has a cap of $8,830,800 for its selections, with an average of $630,711, which ranks fifth among teams.
Five of those selections occurred on Day 1. The 17th selection was the Blue Jays' pick based on last year's standings, while No. 22 overall was given to the club as compensation for failing to sign 2011 first-round pick Tyler Beede. The last time the Blue Jays had two first-rounders was in 2007, when the club took shortstop Kevin Ahrens (No. 16) and current starting catcher J.P. Arencibia (No. 21).
Toronto followed up its selection of Davis by taking college pitcher Marcus Stroman at No. 22. The 21-year-old is a hard thrower, with the type of advanced skills that could translate into a relatively quick ascension through the Minor Leagues. MLB.com had him ranked as the 10th-best prospect in the Draft, while the pick comes with a price slot bonus of $1.8 million.
"As the Draft started to unfold, it felt like there was a good chance that Marcus was going to get to 22," Tinnish said. "I wouldn't say that we were shocked or surprised at either of them.
"Davis was ahead. Davis was the top guy on our board when it was our turn to pick. That has always been our philosophy is to take the best available player when it's our time to pick. Stroman was the next pick, and we were fortunate to get both of them."
Toronto also had three compensatory picks between the first and second rounds following the departures of Jose Molina, Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch via free agency during the offseason. It marked the third consecutive year the Blue Jays have possessed at least five picks on Day 1.
The Blue Jays used their final three selections on a trio of high schoolers. Left-hander Matthew Smoral, who was considered a candidate for the early stages of the first round until a foot injury ended his season in April, was taken at No. 50.
Smoral was followed by third baseman Mitch Nay of Hamilton High School in Arizona at No. 58, while right-hander Tyler Gonzales of James Madison High School in Texas was taken with the final pick of Day 1 at No. 60.