Jays load up on tough-to-sign players

NHL Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky stands in the dugout with children (left to right) Tristan, Trevor...

NHL Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky stands in the dugout with children (left to right) Tristan, Trevor and Paulina prior to a game between the Twins and the Angels last season. Trevor was claimed by the Cubs in the seventh round of the Major League draft Tuesday. (KEVORK DJANSEZIAN/Getty Images)

BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:12 AM ET

TORONTO - The Blue Jays weren’t fooling about having an aggressive approach.

First rounder Tyler Beede, described as a “tough sign” due to his letter of intent to pitch at Vanderbilt University this fall, started the draft for the Jays.

And Day 2 saw Jays scouting director Andrew Tinnish open by choosing high school lefty Daniel Norris from Johnson City, Tenn. He’s set to go to Clemson University.

“How many tough signs do they have? The answer is a bunch,” said an opposing scouting director. “They all can play, but will they sign?”

One expert detailed the challenges the Jays face signing their draft picks this way:

Very tough signs: high schoolers Kevin Comer, a sandwich pick (who also signed a letter of intent to Vanderbilt), Matt Dean a 13th rounder (Texas), Cole Wiper 13th (Oregon) and Aaron Nola, a 22nd rounder (LSU).

Tough signs: Fifth rounder Andrew Chin (Boston College) who had Tommy John surgery this spring, Christian Lopes, seventh (Southern Cal), Mark Biggs, eighth (Louisville), John Norwood, 12th (Vanderbilt), Cody Glenn, 15th (LSU), Luke Weaver, 19th (Florida State), Joel Seddon, 20th (South Carolina), Taylor Cole, 29th (who may return to BYU), second round pick Norris, “signable, but it will cost lots of money.” And then there’s Beede.

If it comes to money, who cares as long as you don’t mind a hike on your Rogers cell bill?

When Beede told reporters during a Tuesday conference call “it really comes down to the money,” it was good news for the Jays. Beede also said his commitment to Vanderbilt is “strong,” but it was not written in stone.

“We factor signability to a certain extent, but if the player on the board is the next best, we’ll take him,” Tinnish said.

The only difficult sign the Jays didn’t touch was Dallas outfielder Josh Bell, drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates Tuesday after writing the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau that he would not sign.

He sent a letter out, but so did Beede.

“It will be a long summer, we’ll follow these guys, they’ll all play summer ball,” Tinnish said. “We anticipated it.

“I hope we sign everyone, but when you look at draft history it’s not realistic if you take all high players.”

General manager Alex Anthopoulos, Tinnish and their cadre of scouts chose high schoolers with 27 of their first 32 picks. During the J.P. Ricciardi era the Jays would take college players with roughly 30 of the first 35 picks.

There is a larger risk with prep players but there is a larger reward. Roy Halladay, Shawn Green, Vernon Wells, Alex Gonzalez — not Cal Ripken, but we’d take him over Russ Adams — were all high school drafts.

“A year ago we had some quick signs and some tough ones like Sam Dyson ($600,000 bonus) and Dickie Joe Thon ($1,5 million). I wouldn’t say this year will be any tougher,” Tinnish said.

Jay scout Jamie Lehman and Tinnish chose right-hander Tom Robson of Ladner, B.C.. as the top Canadian, selecting him in the fourth round. The Jays hope to fare better than two years ago when they selected another Ladner starter, James Paxton, who went unsigned.

In all, 17 Canadians were selected with Trevor Gretzky of Thousand Oaks, Calif., going in the seventh round to the Chicago Cubs. The son of the Great One has committed to play for Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn at San Diego State.

Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken, who used to be the Jays scouting director, also chose catcher Justin Marra, the top Toronto area player selected, in the 15th round and Ethan Elias of Entwistle, Alta., in the 22nd.

Nine of the players were from British Columbia led by Robson and his Langley Blaze teammate Dustin Houle, a native-Canadian from Pentiction.

There were four Ontario players — counting Gretzky one generation removed from his roots. After Marra, Simcoe’s Sean Jamieson went to Oakland A’s in the 19th and Roberto Suppa of Connor went to the San Diego Padres in the 26th.

The 50-round draft concludes Wednesday.

Then, the fun starts:

Signing season.


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