Jays nab powerful college arm in first round

Jays run with college arm in first round

Jon Lalonde settled into his seat at Stillwell Stadium in Kennesaw, Georgia, back in April to get his first look at pitcher Chad Jenkins. The Blue Jays' director of scouting had his reports on Jenkins, but Lalonde needed to see the big right-hander work in person.

All Jenkins did that day for Kennesaw State was use 93 pitches to fashion a shutout in a win over the University of South Carolina Upstate. Impressed, Lalonde had members of Toronto's front office monitor the rest of Jenkins' starts. The pitcher then stretched a shutout streak to 41 innings with the Jays' eyes in the stands and didn't lose another game.

On Tuesday night, the Blue Jays waited patiently to see if Jenkins would still be available with the 20th overall pick in this year's First-Year Player Draft. He was still on the board when Toronto's first selection came up, and the club jumped at the opportunity to grab the pitcher off the pile of talented collegiate arms.

"It was kind of a no-brainer for us," Lalonde said. "We really felt good about taking him. He's someone we've done the work on. We've scouted him hard all year and we believe in him. He was really the guy that we had targeted."

Jenkins was one of two college arms the Blue Jays added to open their part in this year's Draft. Toronto also selected University of Kentucky left-hander James Paxton with the 37th overall pick in Compensation Round A. The Jays received the sandwich pick after pitcher A.J. Burnett -- a Type-A free agent over the winter -- signed with the Yankees.

Selecting Jenkins continued a club trend of adding college arms, but grabbing Paxton in the compensatory round and left-hander Jake Eliopoulos in the second round strayed from organizational philosophies.

Taking Paxton -- a native of Ladner, British Columbia -- went against Toronto's habit of avoiding clients of agent Scott Boras. Drafting Eliopoulos (Newmarket, Ontario) out of Sacred Heart Catholic High School was a change of course for a team that has typically steered clear of high school pitchers in the early rounds of the Draft.

One change that likely played a role in Toronto selecting Paxton is Jays interim president Paul Beeston's willingness to consider exceeding the recommended signing bonus for a particular slot.

"The big thing is just that Paul's a supporter," Lalonde said prior to the Draft. "We can come to him with scenarios and different chains of events that could happen, where maybe a player we didn't expect to get there does, and if it is an exceptional case, maybe we can try and fight the fight.

"At the end of the day, it's about accumulating the most talent you can. So, we always want to be diligent in finding out what it takes to sign players, and we want to be responsible. But, it's nice to know that in the right circumstance, maybe you could do something a little bit out of the ordinary."

Paxton fits that description. Jenkins was a more predictable selection.

Since general manager J.P. Ricciardi took over in 2002, the Blue Jays have focused many of their early round Draft selections on collegiate arms, adding pitchers who hopefully have the ability to ascend the organizational ladder swiftly. Jenkins is the third college pitcher selected with the Jays' top pick in the eight Drafts overseen by Ricciardi and his staff.

In 13 starts this past season, the 21-year-old Jenkins went 8-1 with a 2.54 ERA and five complete games, including a pair of shutouts. Over 92 innings, the 6-foot-4, 235-pound righty compiled 98 strikeouts and only 15 walks en route to taking home the Atlantic Sun Pitcher of the Year award. Besides the shutout streak, Jenkins also enjoyed one stretch of 24 2/3 innings without issuing a walk.

"I command the ball pretty well," said Jenkins, who also said he had a feeling he might wind up with the Blue Jays. "I don't like to walk a lot of people, so I go straight after the hitters and keep coming at them."

If Jenkins' personal scouting report sounds similar to the style of Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay, that might not be accidental. Halladay is one reason why Jenkins is really excited to join Toronto, putting an accounting degree on hold in order to sign quickly with the club.

"It's honestly a dream come true," Jenkins said. "It's even better because I've grown up watching Halladay for a while now. So, to even hope to get the opportunity to play beside him is another dream come true."

One criticism that Jenkins has faced is the fact that he pitched in the Atlantic Sun Conference, as opposed to pitching in a more competitive region. Lalonde said that was discussed internally, but the Blue Jays believe Jenkins' stuff would have been just as impressive in other conferences.

"Stuff is stuff, whether you're pitching in the Southeast Conference or Sunday night slow pitch," Lalonde said. "I think it's a little tougher if you're evaluating a hitter out of that conference. ... We really believe in Chad's stuff. We believe in his makeup. The level of competition, while it was discussed, it really was not a major concern."

Lalonde said that Jenkins pitches "comfortably" in the 90-94-mph range with his fastball and the big right-hander has good life on his two-seam sinker. Jenkins also features a tough slider, which registers between 83-85 mph and is considered his best out pitch. The righty also throws a straight changeup that can hit around 82-85 mph.

"He's a big, physical right-hander -- a durable body," Lalonde said. "He sinks the ball well, should get a lot of ground balls in pro ball. Power stuff. Its a power body with power stuff. The beautiful thing is it's also plus command. He really can command his fastball to both sides of the plate, and I think that gives him a leg up over a lot of other guys that throw hard and maybe are a little more erratic with their command."

Jenkins is the first pitcher taken in the first round by the Blue Jays since the club selected left-hander Ricky Romero (Cal State-Fullerton) with the sixth overall pick in the 2005 Draft. One year earlier, Toronto used the 16th overall pick on lefty David Purcey (Okalahoma). Both Romero and Purcey opened this season in Toronto's rotation.

It's likely that Jenkins will initially report to short-season Class A Auburn. As for how long it might take the right-hander to work his way up to The Show, Lalonde said that is impossible to forecast. If everything goes according to plan, Jenkins could rise fast, though.

"I think Chad Jenkins will tell us how far away he is," Lalonde said. "If it all comes together, I could see him moving fairly quickly, but you never like to place timetables or get expectations up beyond fair levels. I just want him to go out, work hard and he'll tell us when he's ready to get here."

Day 1 Draft results:
Round 1 (20th): Jenkins, RHP, Kennesaw State:
Jenkins provides a rare combination of power and finesse. The hard-throwing right-hander uses four-seam and sinking two-seam fastballs, mixing in a sharp slider and a changeup. He is a strike-thrower who works both sides of the plate well and should be able to produce ground balls at a good rate.

Comp. Round A (37th): Paxton, LHP, Kentucky:
Through 13 starts with Kentucky in 2009, the 20-year-old Paxton had piled up 115 strikeouts against 20 walks over 78 1/3 innings. The Canadian left-hander was 5-3 with a 5.86 ERA over that span. Being a Boras client, signability could be a potential stumbling block for the Blue Jays.

Round 2 (68th): Eliopoulos, LHP, Sacred Heart Catholic HS:
Toronto is taking a chance on a high school arm in Eliopoulos, who is considered the top Canadian pitcher from the 2009 graduating class. The slim left-hander (6-foot-3, 178 pounds) features a fastball that can touch the 88-91 mph on the radar gun and also has a curveball and changeup.

Round 3 (99th): Jake Barrett, RHP, Desert Ridge (Ariz.) HS:
Barrett, who will turn 18 in July, has a unique three-pitch repertoire for a high school pitcher. The hard-throwing right-hander features a fastball that can reach 94 mph as well as a hard curveball and a splitter. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Barrett was a member of the USA National 18-and-under squad.

Round 3 (104th): Jacob Marisnick, OF, Riverside Poly (Calif.) HS:
The 18-year-old Marisnick (6-foot-3, 185 pounds) projects to be a corner outfielder. He opened the 2009 season hitting .408 with four home runs, 23 RBIs and 21 stolen bases for Riverside Poly. Marisnick, who has signed a letter of intent to play for University of Oregon, hit at a .495 clip in '08.

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