The 2016 Winter Meetings wrap up today with the annual Rule 5 Draft. Once a solid source of talent, in the last decade it's lost its lustre following changes in the 2006 CBA that allowed teams an extra year before their prospects were eligible. But last winter was a great reminder of the ability to find overlooked diamonds in the rough, as the Blue Jays took Joe Biagini, who not only stuck but became one of the more reliable options and now looks like a mainstay for years to come. And he came from a team that had a bad bullpen, so this is was just good old fashioned scouting.
The major league portion gets underway at 9:00 ET followed by the minor league portion, with everything streamed on MLB.com (link) and likely to last under 30 minutes. The Blue Jays have the 18th pick since six teams above them have full 40-man rosters and won't be able to pick. The more interesting thing to me will be to see if the Jays lose a player for the first time since Brad Emaus in 2010 (more on that below)
The new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) has resulted in a few changes to the Rule 5 Draft starting this year. First, the cost to select players has doubled, and it now costs $100,000 to select a player in the Major League portion (less $50,000 if the player is returned). Second, AA phase has been eliminated, leaving just one minor league phase (like getting rid of optional waivers, this was long overdue). The cost to select a player in this phase also doubled to $24,000.
Let's start with some background links:
- Last month I outlined the Rule 5 process and the protection decisions for the Blue Jays. Some more discussion on that below.
- The Rule 5 Eligible list in the BBB Library lays out all eligibles for this year, as well as when prospects in the organization will become eligible. The recently outrighted Andy Burns is also available, as are all minor league free agents since signed (though very unlikely to be picked)
- For more background on the Rule 5 and more Blue Jays history, this post from 2014 is useful. Mark Shapiro's Rule 5 history in Cleveland was detailed in last year's preview.
- After rosters were finalized in last month, Baseball America laid out a guide to most of the better available players, updated in the last couple days with a few more in the past couple days. Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com also has a preview.
Blue Jays players at risk
There has been surprisingly little buzz in general surrounding who might be taken, as usually by this point some names of who will be taken have leaked out, especially at the top. Nonetheless, the Blue Jays have some interesting players, and no team left more players unprotected on their MLB.com Top 30 than the Blue Jays (five).
Angel Perdomo: Perdomo led the Midwest League in strikeouts in 2016, and he's a lefty who can throw in the mid-90s, sitting more in the lower-90s as starter. That alone makes him interesting, and is what could get him selected even though it's a big leap from low-A. His command is erratic, and his secondary pitches lag behind, but he could stick at the backend of a bullpen (where he probably profiles anyway) especially for a rebuilding team.
Francisco Rios: Rios could also be in play, though the profile it's as obvious as Perdomo. He lacks as big a fastball and ultimate projection, but did pitch in high-A and has much better pitchability. Maybe that would allow him to stick in a bullpen in 2017 for a team that really liked him.
Roemon Fields: Role players are classic Rule 5 picks, and Fields could contribute at the end of a bench with 70-80 grade speed, as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. Years ago, the Jays selected DeWayne Wise and he stuck all season in a similar capacity.
Tim Mayza: I`ve seen his name pop up here and there, but I really don't expect it. He's a lefty whose fastball can run up into the mid-90s, so that obviously makes him interesting. But he's purely a reliever, and struggled last season in AA, so I'm skeptical he could contribute in the near term.
Minor League Phase: Typically we don't know which players are also left unprotected in the AAA phase, but thanks to a certain now-defunct website that had minor league transactions and reserve lists, this year we do. The most notable name is Matt Smoral, who was drafted 50th overall in 2012 and signed for $2,000,000. Injuries have derailed as his career, and he was awful for a month last year in Vancouver and clearly the Jays don't see him being viable. But if I were another organization, especially with pitching turnaround gurus, would I gamble $24,000 to see if there's something still there? Absolutely.
A couple of potential notables. Chris Rowley returned from military service and had a surprisingly successful year in Dunedin. He's maybe a candidate to have his stuff tick up in the bullpen, and again for $24,000 I'd take the gamble. Matt Dean missed most of last year, but has some serious power though a lot of swing-and-miss.
What about the Jays?
They have a couple open spots, so they could take someone. With the bullpen wide open, they could certainly roll the dice and someone they like, and give him a real shot in Spring Training as with Biagini last year. Unlike last year, there's been no reports that they're definitely going to take someone.
There's so many names available that it's basically futile to try and guess at names (I had no familiarity with Biagini last year, and he spent a couple years in the Eastern League where the Jays have an affiliate).
One interesting name to me is Kevin Ziomek of the Tigers. He's a lefty drafted 58th overall out of Vanderbilt in 2013, where he had a great junior season as a starter, but he likely profiles best as a reliever. He posted good results as a starter in low-A in 2014, and high-A in 2015, but missed essentially all of last year with thoracic outlet syndrome and was left unprotected.
If he's healthy, I think there's a good chance he could contribute out of the bullpen. The overall profile reminds me a lot of the Casey Janssen / Scott Downs / Brett Cecil triumvariate of good college starters who became great MLB relievers. I'm not saying it'll work out like that, but it's hardly a big gamble.