After paring down the 40-man earlier this month, the Blue Jays went about filling it back up in advance of this evening’s deadline to protect players from next month’s Rule 5 draft.
The five right handed pitchers added — Yennsy Diaz, Patrick Murphy, Hector Perez, Trent Thornton, and Jacob Waguespack — represent an eclectic mix of the patently obvious and some frankly surprising choices. Below is some background and thoughts on each of the selections, followed by some concluding thoughts on some not added.
Diaz, 22, was signed out of the Dominican Republic in July 2014 for $70,000. He’s basically moved level-by-level, reaching high-A in late May last year. He’s a smaller righty with a big fastball, which will sit in the mid-90s when he’s on. He’s got a breaking ball that’s got plenty of swings-and-misses at the lower levels, and the stuff has been plenty to overpower lower level hitters. Control lapses and the ability to throw strikes has been an issue in the past, and we’re yet to see if it’ll work against more experienced hitters.
The choice to add Diaz is interesting, given that he has not yet even reached AA and his command can make him as much a thrower as pitcher (though he was better in the second half, and that improvement may have been the decisive factor). But the Jays have exposed some similar pitchers at this level in recent years (Angel Perdomo and Murphy), and I really question whether he could have stuck on a major league roster even with the myriad ways teams can try to minimize the requirements. Apparently the Jays did not want to risk a team being motivated enough to try.
Murphy, 23, was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft out of Hamilton HS in Arizona, and signed for $500,000 despite missing his senior season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He missed most of the next two years, undergoing further surgeries, but has been mostly healthy over the last three seasons, the blemish being missing the middle third of the 2017 season.
Murphy features two plus pitches, with a heavy fastball that sits in the mid-90s and can touch into the high-90s and generates plenty of ground balls. When he’s at his best, it doesn’t necessarily show as a ton of strikeouts, but a lot of weak ground balls with low pitch counts. The other weapon is a low-80s power curveball which piles up swings-and-misses. His third pitch is a change-up which tends to come in quite firm around 90. He also will sometimes struggle to find the strike zone, but these control lapses were less frequent in 2018 than 2017. If you dream, it’s an Aaron Sanchez profile.
Perez, 22, was signed by Houston out of the Dominican Republic in July 2014 for $45,000 and acquired at the trade deadline in the Osuna deal. He worked his way quickly through the lower levels of the Astros system, reaching the Appy League his first professional season and the full season Midwest League in 2016. He’s since moved a level a seaosn, reaching AA in 2018.
Perez works in the low/mid-90s on his fastball, with a couple of breaking balls and a splitter. That’s the arsenal and stuff of a starter, if he can throw enough strikes. This is quite evident in the statistical profile, as he strikes out plenty, manages contact, but issues a ton of free passes. He’s the classic guy whose control might never be enough to play, but could be a significant contributor if he can at least somewhat refine it. More likely than not, he ends up a reliever.
Thornton, 25, was drafted in the 5th round of the 2015 draft out of UNC and acquired this past weekend for Aledmys Diaz. Given that, it was a virtual guarantee he would be added, and since plenty has been written on him recently, it would be redundant to add more here.
Waguespack, 25, was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2015 out of Ole Miss and acquired at the trade deadline for Aaron Loup. He was mostly in a reliever both in college and until 2017 in the Phillies system, before mostly moving into the starting rotation. That itself distinguishes him as the reverse usually happens.
He’s posted some interesting peripherals, has touched 95-96 with his fastball while sitting lower, and with 90 innings in AAA would be close to big league ready. But nonetheless still it’s quite surprising to me to see him here. He did catch my attention prior to the trade, mostly the unique circumstance of being undrafted out of a major program after being drafted out of HS and the quick ascent through the minors. He doesn’t really fit the profile of a typical Rule 5 draftee, and I’m skeptical of the likelihood of MLB success with the caveat that he was only in the Jays system for a month so I don’t have the level of familiarity as with others. But one could see him ready enough to stick in 2019.
And there is this:
Will 2018 be the year the Jays finally lose a player in the Rule 5? They certainly left some notable prospects unprotected in LHP Travis Bergen, RHP Jackson McClelland, RHP Jordan Romano and CF Forrest Wall, foremost among others that would include catcher Max Pentecost and RHP Jon Harris
I’m not terribly surprised that Bergen was left unprotected. The 2018 numbers are eyepopping for the 2015 7th rounder, and when he was healthy in previous years rung up strikeouts in bunches. But his stuff is not on the same level as the numbers, relying on deception as a lefty who can execute pitches. Perhaps another team will take a chance that its not just smoke-and-mirrors. Otherwise, it’s certainly possible he pitches his way into consideration or even the big leagues by this time next year.
Likewise, leaving off Wall is not terribly surprisingly given the number of outfielders already on the 40-man and ahead of him in the system, and the lack of overwhelming offensive production.
McClelland’s pure stuff alone would make him a real candidate to be taken next month. Perhaps it’s not refined enough to stick in the big league next year, but a rebuilding team could certainly at least take a look in Spring Training and then go from there in terms of managing around the Rule 5 restrictions (only need 90 active days, including September, hello phantom DL and rehab). In the end, is his status in this regard much different than Diaz?
By the one I think at most risk of being lost would be Romano, who has a full season in AA and a decent one at that. In parallels to Joe Biagini, who did the same thing in 2015 (much better ERA, lower strikeout rate). It’s not out the question he could stick in a bullpen with his fastball/slider mix in 2019, or at least for the 90 days necessary to keep him.