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Blue Jays not afraid to take risks in '14 Draft

Club bulks up pitching, targets some players considered tough signings

Blue Jays not afraid to take risks in '14 Draft

In drafting Jeff Hoffman, the Blue Jays have selected a right-handed pitcher as their first pick of the First-Year Player Draft for the fifth time in the past six years.

And the club continued to beef up on the mound with its pitching selections, building off the 2013 Draft, which saw the team take 10 pitchers who stood at least 6-foot-2 and weighed no fewer than 195 pounds. The club took 22 pitchers over the course of the three-day Draft this year, of which 16 stood at least 6-foot-2. Of that 16, 11 weighed at least 195 pounds, and seven of those tipped the scales at least 215 pounds.

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Behind the plate was also an area of focus for Toronto. The team replenished its reserves at catcher, using its second pick in the first round to take 21-year-old Max Pentecost from Kennesaw State, before going with high school backstop Matt Morgan in the fourth round.

The Blue Jays took five catchers throughout the three-day Draft, adding Michael Papierski -- an Illinois higher schooler -- in the 16th round, and later Drew Lugbauer (Arlington (N.Y.) HS) in the 21st round and Kevin Garcia (Loyola Marymount) in the 30th round.

Catchers Travis d'Arnaud, Yan Gomes, J.P. Arencibia and Carlos Perez all left the organization in the past two years.

In the opening rounds of the Draft, the team took several risks that could yield high rewards.

In taking Hoffman at ninth overall, the Blue Jays got a top-flight pitcher many considered to be one of the best players available but whose stock fell because he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow in late April. He had Tommy John surgery a couple of weeks later and is expected to miss at least the next 12 months.

"We just felt the talent was too good to walk away from," Blue Jays director of amateur scouting Brian Parker said. "This guy was going go top three, top four picks prior to his injury, and we just felt like even with the Tommy John this was a good gamble for us."

The club was somewhat shielded by that risk because it had another pick two spots later, 11th overall, and went with Pentecost, considered to be one of the best all-around catchers available.

Toronto continued to aim high on Day 1 and potentially got a major steal by taking right-hander Sean Reid-Foley with the 49th overall selection.

There was some added risk in taking Reid-Foley, who fell out of the first round and dropped until midway through the second at least in part because of signability concerns.

The 18-year-old has a commitment to Florida State University, and the Blue Jays will have to persuade him to turn pro. There was similar concern over their third-round selection on Day 2, Nick Wells, another high school arm with the opportunity to go play college ball.

"Hopefully we can get some things moving with some of these guys and get going," Parker said.

Day 2 saw the Blue Jays add their first outfielder of the Draft, taking the power-hitting high school prospect Lane Thomas in the fifth round.

The 18-year-old recently finished up his senior season at Bearden High School in Knoxville, Tenn., where he hit .376, with 36 home runs, 123 RBIs and 177 runs scored over four seasons.

Parker said Thomas brought a promising combination of potential and athleticism.

"We like the bat," he said. "It's kind of the common theme with some of these guys. ... Another great makeup kid we're very excited about."

They used their seventh-round selection to take another outfielder, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound college senior Zack Zehner.

Zehner has yet to hit for a lot of power, but he has the body type that could develop him into a power producer.

The 21-year-old outfielder hit .319 with a .376 on-base percentage and an .809 OPS in 47 games for the Cal Poly Mustangs this season.

"We actually scouted him last summer pretty hard," Parker said. "…He was coming out of a JC last year, and we tried to sign him last summer as an undrafted kid and he didn't sign; he wanted to go back to school, and we were able to follow him this spring and were able to get him in the seventh round this year."

Some experts thought the Blue Jays did especially well on Day 3 of the Draft, including MLB.com senior writer Jim Callis, who liked the team's selection of three Illinois players -- Jake Latz (11, 324), Michael Papierski (16, 474), and Tanner Houck (12, 354).

The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Houck, a right-hander, can touch 93 mph with his fastball, which features a heavy sink and should gain velocity as he gets stronger. He also throws a split-changeup and slider.

Latz, meanwhile, is a left-hander with a low-90s fastball, and Papierski is a catcher committed to Louisiana State University next season.

In total, the Blue Jays drafted 22 pitchers, seven outfielders, seven infielders and five catchers. Of the 22 pitchers selected, 16 of those were right-handers. Fourteen of their picks were high schoolers; 16 were college seniors.

Jamie Ross is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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