Jays scouts think young

BOB ELLIOTT -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:39 AM ET

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- When it comes to scouting talent, the Blue Jays are expanding their horizons.

This weekend, Tony LaCava, the Jays' top talent evaluator, and international scout Marco Paddy were in the Dominican Republic scouting teenagers eligible to sign July 2.

"I don't think it's that much of a departure," Ricciardi said yesterday at the Bobby Mattick Complex. "Tony has been down there a few times. We hired Marco two years ago.

"When we got here (in 2002), we looked at college players who could get here as quickly as possible."

Jays scouts were told not to watch high school games in '02.

In the five years leading up to blue-chipper Travis Snider being selected No. 1, the Jays chose 14 high schoolers in their first 100 selections (top 20 picks each year).

A year ago, the Jays selected high schoolers with five of their first seven selections.

"We could draft high schoolers because we have Aaron Hill at second for the next four years," Ricciardi said. "We have Alex Rios for three years. We have Vernon Wells for seven. The one spot we don't have a replacement is at shortstop."

The Jays appear to have gone from looking for players with established track records at strong college programs to pursuing the most difficult player of all to judge: A 16-year-old Latin, with few game statistics.

The Jays took a giant step by hiring Paddy away from the Atlanta Braves after the 2006 season.

"Marco lives in Jacksonville (Fla.). He's fluent in Spanish, which helps, and he's not afraid to go down there," Ricciardi said. "Where before it was: 'Hey did you guys hear about that guy?' Well, now we know about 'that guy.' "

Paddy has scouted in Venezuela, Aruba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican, where the Jays used to be kings.

"Not to knock anything in the past, but this was the last area we were able to put a lot of money into. We managed to convince ownership how important it is," Ricciardi said. "We want to be like Atlanta and the Jays used to be -- go everywhere looking for talent."

One area Ricciardi said the Jays can't compete with the Boston Red Sox is Japan.

The Bosox gave Daisuke Matsuzaka a six-year, $52-million contract.

"I don't think you'll see us draft a high school pitcher," Ricciardi said. "We'll continue to practise the principle we believe in, drafting according to the needs of our major-league club."

With the Jays, what you see is what you get for the time being. According to Baseball America, the Jays rank 30th when it comes to having major league-ready talent.

Five of the Jays' top seven prospects were in high school or college until selected in June. Snider hit .313 with 16 homers at class-A Lansing, while fifth-ranked Ricky Romero was 3-6 with a 4.89 ERA at double-A New Hampshire.

The players scouting director Jon Lalonde grabbed in the 2006 draft included: Lefty Brett Cecil, a University of Maryland closer, Houston high school-infielder Kevin Ahrens, University of Tennessee catcher J.P. Arencibia, high-school infielders Justin Jackson of Asheville N.C., and John Tolisano of Estero, Fla.

The rest of the top 10 is rounded out by catcher Curtis Thipgen, lefty David Purcey and outfielder Ryan Patterson.

"The thing we have to do is keep our young pitching, like Boston and the Yankees did this winter," Ricciardi said. "Think 10 years ago, the Yanks would not have wound up with Johan Santana?"

YOUNG GUNS

Right-hander Nick Purdy, of Grafton, who plays for the Ontario Prospects, opened eyes when he was clocked at 91 m.p.h., at a Major League Scouting Bureau camp in Mississauga on the weekend. Lefty Nick Fogarty, of the Ontario Blue Jays, was next best on display for scouts.


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