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By his own count, Jon Lalonde has spent more than 100 nights in hotel rooms from Puerto Rico to California since February, travelling to observe talented players as director of scouting for the Toronto Blue Jays.

And while Lalonde believes the Blue Jays will walk away with a good prospect selecting 20th overall in today's opening round of Major League Baseball's first-year player draft, he admits the process is by no means foolproof.

"I think anybody will tell you that handicapping the baseball draft is the hardest of any of the major sports drafts," said Lalonde, who grew up in Midland, Ont. "But, absolutely, we have the expectation of getting a good player at No. 20. Somebody who could contribute and help us and, hopefully, help us quickly."

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The difficulty, Lalonde said, is trying to project where a player might be four or five years down the road - the length of time it takes many draft picks to wind their way through the minor-league system and into the majors.

"Unlike football or basketball, I think most of the baseball players who are getting drafted are further away from becoming what ultimately they might become," Lalonde said. "In a lot of cases, they're not even using the equipment they're going to use in professional baseball."

The first three rounds of the draft will be carried live on the MLB Network. The draft will continue tomorrow, with rounds Nos. 4 through 30, before wrapping up on Thursday with rounds 31 to 50.

At 20th, the Blue Jays' plan is to simply choose whom they feel is the best player still on the board, be it a pitcher, infielder or outfielder.

According to general manager J.P. Ricciardi, such a plan takes a lot of homework.

"You've got to be prepared in case someone falls," he said. "Things never seem to work out like you expect."

The Blue Jays have five selections - including two compensatory picks they received when the New York Yankees signed free-agent pitcher A.J. Burnett during the off-season - within the first three rounds of the draft.

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It's almost impossible to predict how the dominoes will fall today, but the Jays selecting University of Kentucky left-hander James Paxton of Ladner, B.C., with their first pick is one possibility.

"You try to prepare so there's no battlefield decisions," Lalonde said. "You try to talk about all the contingencies, all the different things that could happen. And that way you're not shocked, you're not surprised."

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