DETROIT – It's the annual rite of the first week of June, baseball's amateur draft, where clubs take part in a three-day, 40-round marathon, selecting more than 1,000 players they hope will improve their fortunes in the years ahead.
The Blue Jays had two picks in Thursday evening's first round – ninth and 11th overall – and used them to take a pitcher and a catcher.
First, the club took right-hander Jeff Hoffman, a 21-year-old from Latham, New York, who attended East Carolina University.
Two selections later, the Blue Jays selected Kennesaw State University product, 21-year-old catcher Max Pentecost from suburban Atlanta.
Major League Baseball uses a slotting system – a recommended signing bonus value based on where a player is taken – and the Blue Jays, if they pay in full, will be on the hook for about $6 million for their two picks.
Hoffman is an interesting case. He has a plus fastball, mid-90s miles per hour which can top out in the high 90s, a strong curveball and a developing changeup. But, just last month, Hoffman underwent Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery. The procedure, now so routine it's rarely flawed, was hardly a concern to Toronto's front office and top scouts.
"We just felt like the talent was too big to walk away from," said Blue Jays director of amateur scouting, Brian Parker. "This guy was going to go top three, top four picks prior to his injury and we just felt like even with the Tommy John, we felt this was a good gamble for us."
Pentecost was a seventh round draft pick of the Texas Rangers in 2011. He was projected to go higher but suffered a stress fracture in his throwing elbow, which dropped his stock. He didn't sign with Texas, choosing to go to school instead.
The first catcher the Blue Jays have taken in the first round since, take a breath, J.P. Arencibia in 2007, Pentecost is a versatile player who projects to be a good hitter, although more gap-to-gap than for power.
A.J. Jimenez is the Jays' top catching prospect, currently toiling at Double-A New Hampshire more than a year removed from Tommy John surgery of his own, and the Blue Jays have shipped out catchers like Arencibia, Travis d'Arnaud (to the New York Mets in the R.A. Dickey trade), Yan Gomes (to Cleveland for Esmil Rogers) and Carlos Perez (to Houston in the J.A. Happ deal) in recent years.
"Taking Max had nothing to do with any of those trades or getting rid of any of those players," said Parker. "When you pick nine and 11, you just have to line up your board and take the best player and that's what we did. We like Max, we scouted him pretty hard from last summer in the (Cape Cod League) and throughout this spring. He's an athletic, two-way position player and we like the bat. I think there's a lot of positives with him. Obviously, a guy at a premium position that can help out offensively and defensively is something that attracted him to us."
In two of the last three drafts, the Jays have failed to sign their first round pick. In 2011, it was Tyler Beede, who instead chose to go to Vanderbilt University and was drafted by the San Francisco Giants 14th overall on Thursday night.
Last year, the Jays failed to land right-hander Phil Bickford, who instead went to California State-Fullerton. The pick that landed Pentecost was compensation for missing out on Bickford.
Going with two college kids, including one coming off an injury, increases the likelihood of the player being willing to sign. Neither has a full school ride to fall back on.
Hoffman, who is pleased with the progress he's making early in his rehabilitation from elbow surgery, sounds eager to put pen to paper.
Chris Kline, the Blue Jays area scout in the Carolinas, did most of the legwork on Hoffman.
Mike Pidick, an area scout whose region includes Georgia, watched Pentecost.