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Robert MacLeod

Picking 21st in MLB draft a 'crapshoot' for Jays Add to ...

Over the past week or so, Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has been padding his frequent-flier points.

He flew to California for a day and then caught a redeye back east, all for the sake of scouting a baseball prospect or two who will probably never even wind up on the Jays' roster.

Such is the nature of major-league baseball's first-year player draft, a laborious affair spread out over three days where teams stock their organization with players who, in all likelihood, will never make a big-league club.

"The draft is very difficult," said Andrew Tinnish, the director of amateur scouting for the Blue Jays. "We've done studies where if you get one solid everyday big-leaguer out of a draft and a handful of extra guys, you've done a good job. So having extra picks up high is extremely valuable."

That's not a luxury the Blue Jays have heading into the 2011 draft, which will begin on Monday.

Unlike last year, when Toronto had four selections in the top 40, including the 11th overall pick, the Blue Jays' first pick this time does not roll around until No. 21.

"Obviously when you pick No. 21 it's a crapshoot," Anthopoulos said.

The Blue Jays also own three supplement (or sandwich) picks between the first and second round that they were awarded through the loss of free agents Scott Downs, John Buck and Miguel Olivo.

That means the Blue Jays will also get to pick 35th, 46th and 53rd before the process moves into the second round, where Toronto has two more picks - 74th and 78th.

The draft this year, which will last 30 rounds with the selection of 1,500 high-school and college players, is viewed as decent with several prospects who carry the can't-miss label.

The Pittsburgh Pirates, the owner's of baseball's worst record in 2010, will choose first and one of the players they will be eyeballing is Anthony Rendon.

Rendon is a third baseman at Rice University who's had some injuries but is still expected to be a top-three pick.

Gerrit Cole, a right-handed pitcher out of UCLA, is also being mentioned as a possible No. 1 along with University if Virginia pitcher Danny Hultzen, considered the top left-hander available.

Bubba Starling, an outfielder from Kansas City who has a football scholarship to the University of Nebraska, is felt to be the top high school player eligible.

Anthopoulos believes the draft is high on content, likening it to the 2005 draft when Justin Upton was selected No. 1 by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Ryan Zimmerman went fourth that year to the Washington Nationals, Ryan Braun fifth to the Milwaukee Brewers and Troy Tulowitzki seventh to the Colorado Rockies.

All four of those players have gone on to be all-stars.

The Jays selected pitcher Ricky Romero sixth at that draft.

Anthopoulos said a top-10 pick in 2011 should yield an impact player. He said teams choosing after that, through to the end of the first round, should also wind up with a quality pick.

As far as Canadian talent in the draft this year, Tinnish termed the market as just being "okay."

Last year, teams chose 30 Canadians in the draft, led by catcher Kellin Deglan of Langley, B.C. The Texas Rangers selected him 22nd.

The Blue Jays said they will not be scared off drafting any player who would command a higher signing bonus because of his ranking in the draft. "I think we're in a position to be competitive to go after players that we want to get," Tinnish said.

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