Hot stove season is officially underway, with the GM meetings setting the table for the apex with next month’s Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. The last day of which is devoted to the annual Rule 5 Draft, this year December 13th. But before playing offence and looking for the next hidden gem comes the defensive element, preventing one’s farm system from being the one raided. Teams must set their 40-man rosters by Tuesday, November 20, adding any eligible prospects they want to protect from being selected by other teams.
Whether an eligible player is added or not is a combination of expected future value/impact, the availability of roster spots, as well as the likelihood of another team selecting the player and him sticking. The 40-man roster currently stands at 36, including eight whom I’ve identified as “on the bubble” or potential non-tender candidates, so there’s a reasonable amount of room for additions.
This is the eighth year that I have published Rule 5 overviews on this site in some capacity, the first coming in 2011. For the first time, and stretching back at least a couple years before that, the Blue Jays are in the position of playing defense in the Rule 5 draft. That is to say, one way of another, the Jays will be in the position of leaving some interesting players exposed. It’s been almost a decade since the Jays lost a player with Brad Emaus selected in the 2009 Rule 5 draft, but that streak will be at its highest risk of being snapped this year.
Rule 5 Primer
The basic goal of the Rule 5 Draft is to prevent teams from unduly stockpiling talent in the minors without giving the players a shot at the majors. The timelines for Rule 5 eligibility are complex, but as a basic rule of thumb, high school draftees and international free agents (IFA) are first eligible four years after signing, with college players being eligible three years after signing.
For 2018, this generally means high school draftees and IFAs signed in 2014 and college players signed in 2015. In addition, all players who were previously Rule 5 eligible remain eligible, unless they are likewise added. This includes minor league free agents signed prior to the Rule 5 draft and former major leaguers who have been outrighted off the 40-man roster.
In the major league phase, teams can select eligible players from other organizations who are not on a 40-man roster for $100,000. Drafted players have to remain on the 25-man (active) roster for the entire subsequent season, with a minimum of 90 active days, or be put on waivers and offered back to the original team if cleared. If the player fails to reach 90 active days, he has to remain on the 25-man roster in subsequent seasons until he reaches 90 active days. The minor league phases of the draft are much less important and generally used just to fill out rosters.
First Time Eligible Players
Below is a table of first time eligible players, along with some background information and the levels at which they’ve played in the organization the last three years. Names in bold are those that I would consider serious candidates for protection.
The first-time eligibles can be broken into two groups: those drafted or signed as amateurs by the Jays, and those acquired more recently.
Within the first group, there’s no absolute slam dunks in my books. Jon Harris has the most pedigree as the 2015 first rounder. He had some success in 2018, particularly in June, but it’s now two years and 50 starts with a 5.00+ ERA in AA. His fastball velo can touch the mid-90s, and I wonder if there’s a viable reliever if he moved to the pen and pared back his arsenal to focus on finding one offspeed weapon. Maybe that’s a basis for a team to take a flyer (see: Joe Biagini), but I don’t think it’s enough to add him.
Travis Bergen was an interesting second day pick in 2015 as a solid collegiate starter with a reliever delivery, and was lights out in his first couple pro outings in Vancouver before getting hurt. And then simply couldn’t get or stay healthy until 2018 when he was simply dominant. On the stats alone, it would be an easy call to add him to the 40-man. But the question is whether the stuff will play. Early the in the season his fastball was more high-80s scraping some 90s in Dunedin, but later in the season he was more low-90s in New Hampshire, which is more viable. Perhaps shaking off the rust? Given the way he moved seamlessly to AA, it’s a possibility he could stick in a big league pen as a lefty.
Jackson McClelland is to some extent the opposite. It’s such a big arm I’d almost say you can’t expose him to the Rule 5, as his fastball touches 100 with a swing-and-miss breaking ball. His 2018 ERA isn’t anything special, but the near 30% strikeout rate was excellent and very often he was lights out. That was offset by some real meltdowns when he wasn’t on, so there’s some work to do consistency-wise, with a similar pattern in seven AFL outings. With only a handful of innings in AA and the AFL, I think he’d probably get through the Rule 5...but the think is, it only takes one team. Do you want to take that risk with that kind of elite stuff?
I’ve highlighted Yennsy Diaz even though I’m extremely skeptical he’d be taken and don’t see him being protected. He’s got a big fastball in the mid-90s, but is more a thrower than a pitcher at this point and no experience above high-A. Nice 2018 performance-wise.
In addition to acquiring the 40-man players added at the deadline (as many acquired as traded, net), a number of first time Rule 5 players eligibles were acquired that really added to the Rule 5 logjam: Corey Copping, Hector Perez, Forrest Wall, Jacob Waguespack. Starting with the latter, Waguespack has AAA experience and intriguing stuff, but I don’t see him either being taken or protected.
On the flip side, Hector Perez is almost certain to be added with the combination of a big arm as well as some experience and success at the AA level. I see his future as likely in the bullpen with the control issues. But it’s not a particularly close call.
Forrest Wall is another former first rounder, a good defender in CF. He had a torrid offensive streak after the trade and posted a decent line with NH, but overall was below average offensive in his half season in AA. More broadly, adjusting for the good hitting places he’s played, offensively he’s been pretty average. There’s a case to be made for protecting him, but there’s already a glut of upper level outfielders. Does he rank above a Dwight Smith Jr. or Jonathan Davis?
Corey Copping had a really nice 2018, with a 2.39 ERA across AA and AAA. His fastball is mostly 92-94, though he ran it into to 95-96 in at least one outing on the NH gun. In today’s game, that realistically makes him a pretty generic RHP, so unless I’m really missing something, I don’t see him being a Rule 5 factor (teams can sign relievers with similar stuff in minor league free agency).
Edit - Having discussed Copping, I should also mention Conor Fisk, who had a nice year across AA/AAA after converting to relief full-time. His fastball ticked up into the low-90s and touching some 94s and 95s, so it’s sort of a similar case to the above. Similarly, I don’t see him as a Rule 5 guy, but it wouldn’t surprise me if pitched for the Jays at some point so worth mentioned.
Previously Eligible Players
This has rarely been a serious consideration in the recent past, with Thomas Pannone last year the first previously eligible protectee since Ryan Tepera in 2014, and in Pannone’s case he had been recently acquired. Not so this year, with one slam dunk decision, and at least a couple worth seriously considering.
Patrick Murphy was someone I thought was a serious consideration when first eligible last year despite injuries and without big numbers. The combination of mid/upper 90s fastball and wipeout curveball are the kind of building blocks that a rebuilding team might have justified stashing for a year. After another healthy year, and dominant at high-A, it’s an obvious call now with shades of Aaron Sanchez profile-wise. He still doesn’t really have a third viable pitch and I’d lean toward him being a reliever, but potentially a high-leverage shutdown arm in the bullpen.
Jordan Romano had a really strong first couple months in AA, though well ahead of peripherals and ultimately came back to earth from June onward. One wonders to what extent that was more advanced hitters adjusting to him seeing him multiple times, but overall it was still a successful year. I (still) think he likely profiles as a reliever with his mid-90s fastball and slider combo, though it probably makes sense to give him a shot at starting in Buffalo. He was a potential addition last year, but with a full year in AA now under his belt is a more viable Rule 5 candidate since he could stick in a bullpen. I think he’s worth adding to the 40-man, and if not, there’s at least a real risk of losing him.
Finally, Max Pentecost, who finally had a fully healthy season and more than doubled his career professional innings caught despite only catching every other day. Despite that, his season line of .253/.283/.401 were underwhelming and until three months ago I didn’t have him on the radar for a 40-man spot this winter. But from July 26th onwards he mashed, hitting .374/.378/.601. A high BABIP for sure (.430), but also good power. If the Jays plan on moving a catcher this winter, perhaps enough to make one think. A team that liked him from his amateur days (AA in Atlanta?) might take a shot on the pedigree.
There’s two additions I have little doubt about: Perez and Murphy. I lean towards Bergen, McClelland and Romano being added (at least, there’s the ones I’d add) with the others discussed being left off and exposed. That would require opening one additional spot, with Mark Leiter or Yangervis Solarte (having already declined the option) candidates.
That said, beyond those first two, I think a lot of the rest of the decisions are at least partially dependent on the broader context of existing options on the 40-man. Next week, I’ll drill down some especially in the areas where there’s a glut: pitching, outfield, and infield/catcher.