Why the Blue Jays’ success in the international market is key to maintaining a competitive window

TORONTO — The look of Toronto Blue Jays jerseys had long caught the eye of nine-year-old Manuel Beltre when on April 27, 2014, the club caught his eye for a completely different reason.

That day, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Moises Sierra and Juan Francisco were all in the batting order – the first time six Dominican Republic players were in the same starting lineup in the big league – in a 7-1 win over the Boston Red Sox.

A seventh, reliever Esmil Rogers, entered the game later while Jonathan Diaz, born in Miami to a Dominican father, was also on the roster. They all signed the programming card with the intention of sending it to the baseball museum at home.

The memorable moment remained with an impressionable child.

“It really impressed me,” Beltre says. “I started following them a lot because of Jose Reyes and Jose Bautista. It was like a Dominican team in the major leagues.

Seven years later, the shortstop prospect landed his own Blue Jays jersey when he signed for $2.35 million, the club’s biggest commitment of the free agency signing period. international 2020-21. The 17-year-old made a solid debut in the Dominican Summer League last year and Baseball America recently ranked him No. 8 on the club’s preseason prospect list, another sign that he is someone to watch.

Overall, Beltre is also the latest talent to come from an increasingly vital pipeline for the Blue Jays in the years to come, as the strength of their big league club means that for the foreseeable future they are likely to choose down. draft.

Barring dramatic changes in the sport’s next collective bargaining agreement (owners have long sought an international draft, players have resisted), the international market represents a talent pool in which the Blue Jays can constantly compete for the best talent in the game. year by year. out, no matter where they finished the previous season.

In the draft, the high school and college players who have split the most within their cohort are usually taken in the top third of the draft. While they don’t come with any guarantees, they generally represent safer bets than the players available in the bottom third of each round, where the Blue Jays expect to pick over the next few years.

Internationally, however, if the scouts on the field do the job and the team is willing to bid, any team can get the top five eligible talents. Think 2015, for example, when the Blue Jays, en route to winning the American League East, signed Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and the Washington Nationals, defending NL East champions and en route to a second place, recovered Juan In order to.

No way that will happen if these players are in the draft.

Now, it’s not that easy to select a superstar from the pool of eligible 16+ players, of course, and such elite talent isn’t always in any given class. But done right, the international market at least offers a route to impact caliber prospects when the big league club wins consistently.

“Absolutely,” says Andrew Tinnish, vice president of international scouting and baseball operations for the Blue Jays. “It’s really exciting because you’re lucky to have this impact player. At the same time, it’s also very difficult because in many cases we make decisions on these players when they are very young. They’re a lot further from their prime than a high school player in the draft and especially a college player in the draft. There are so many more variables that can go either way.

The Blue Jays began signing their latest generation of players when the 2021-22 signing period opened on Saturday, reaching terms with their primary target, Venezuelan receiver Luis Meza, at just over $2 million. He is described as someone who is blessed with being a good two-way player, already showing good catching and throwing ability while consistently doing damage to home plate with a loose swing and good feel for the ball. strike zone.

On Monday, they are expected to finalize deals for Dominican Republic players Railin Tejada (around $600,000) and potential defender Jean Carlo Joseph (around $450,000) among them.

The heaviest approach to spending their bonus pool of $4.644 million (a pre-determined fixed cap that is allocated to teams based on market size, this year reduced by $500,000 for the Blue Jays as part of penalty for signing George Springer as a free agent) is similar to the strategy Tinnish has employed in recent years.

Biggest in that regard was the 2018 signing of shortstop Orelvis Martinez for $3.5 million, roughly 70% of their bonus pool that year. It’s a high-risk, high-reward game for someone so young, but the Blue Jays scouted him extensively beforehand by making sure “he ticked our three main offensive boxes: ability to knock or contact; controlling the discipline of the strike zone/plate; and potency/damage,” says Tinnish.

Baseball America now ranks Martinez the club’s third-highest prospect — behind catcher Gabriel Moreno and Nate Pearson — after hitting 28 homers in 98 games between low-A and high-A last year.

“You have to be very thorough, obviously, and your scouts have to do a really good job of getting to know the players and getting to know their roster,” Tinnish says more generally of the team’s approach. “But you can’t be afraid to take risks, because if you’re afraid to take risks, it’s not a market where you can play it safe. Obviously you have to have a process, which I suspect we do. As best you can, you should try to stick to your process, but at the same time, you should be aggressive and creative. I think our guys did a good job of that.

Market credibility and recognition also play a role, which helped the Blue Jays land at Beltre last year.

While he was initially interested in them through their history of signing and lining up Dominican players, they were interested in his advanced swing, approach, knowledge of the strike zone and solid fundamentals.

He posted a .741 OPS in 53 Dominican Summer League games in 2021, a stat line skewed by a 6-for-46 opening month. Impressively, he walked 41 times to just 33 strikeouts in 235 plate appearances while utilizing his line drives towards midfield approach.

“It was a year with a lot of learning,” says Beltre. “I had to learn halfway through the season that it’s okay to fail. I can’t panic about a bad week or two. That’s why this year has been so good for learning baseball, because it’s going to help me do better next season.

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