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2018 Rule 5 Draft Background and Open Thread

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MLB: Toronto Blue Jays-Media Day Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 Winter Meetings wrap up today with the annual Rule 5 Draft. Once a solid source of talent, changes in the 2006 CBA that allowed teams an extra year before their prospects were eligible have reduced the chance of finding high impact players. But Joe Biagini is a good reminder of the ability to find diamonds in the rough. And let’s face it — other than arbitration numbers being exchanged in January, this is the last formal thing on the calendar before Spring Training.

With the gathering out west, the major league portion gets underway at 12:00 ET / 9:00 PT followed by the minor league portion, with everything streamed on MLB.com and likely to last under 30 minutes. Based on reverse standings, the Blue Jays are 10th in line, but will have the 9th pick since San Diego has a full 40-man roster and won’t be able to pick.

The most recent collective agreement brought a few changes to the Rule 5 that remain in effect. The cost to select players is now $100,000 in the Major League portion (less $50,000 if the player is returned). There is now only one minor league phase, with the cost to select a player in this phase also doubled to $24,000.

To be perfectly frank and realistic, the Rule 5 fever usually ends up way more hype than substance, probably because of when it occurs on the calendar. Nonetheless, some background:

Blue Jays players at risk

While every team every year will leave interesting players unprotected, and the possibility than an influential scout of executive liking a player means he could get taken, I do think the odds of the Jays losing a player are as high as they’ve been since 2010 when Brad Emaus was lost to the Mets. No single player is an overwhelming Rule 5 candidate and thus more likely than not to be selected by another team, but the sheer number of plausible candidates is what leads me to the conclusion. I’ve covered the names in depth before, but a quick summary:

  • Travis Bergen: Not the biggest stuff, but overwhelming performance last year including a half season in AA from a lefty who could plausibly be MLB ready next year. Highlighted both by MLB Pipeline and Baseball America above
  • Jackson McClelland: If a team wants to gamble on big pure stuff and some upside even if it’s in further need of refinement, this is the guy.
  • Jordan Romano: With a full season at AA starting and a fastball/slider mix that would play up even more in relief, he’d have a shot at sticking. And there’s intriguing upside as either a backend starter long term or interesting reliever.
  • Forrest Wall: The top prospect available from MLB Pipeline’s top 30 list, but doesn’t really fit the profile of a usual Rule 5 pick. Might be able to stick as an extra outfielder, but questionable as to whether the upside would justify doing so
  • Jon Harris and Max Pentecost are former first rounders, if dark horses. The former might be interesting in relief, the latter came on strong at the end of the year and is a catcher.

What about the Jays?

With the release of Troy Tulowitzki, the Jays have two open 40-man spots, and the chatter seems to indicate they’re anticipating making a selection. There’s so many names available that it’s basically futile to try and guess at names (I had no familiarity with Biagini in 2016, or Glenn Sparkman in 2017). The more obvious candidates are covered in the Baseball America and MLB Pipeline links above, and from the perspective of team needs, opportunity and history a pitcher would be the most obvious likelihood.

If the Jays do make a selection or selections, it will be interesting to compare him to the players left unprotected, especially if the Jays have a player or players selected. In general, the Rule 5 favours defence (protecting a team’s own players) over offence since the former can be optioned and offer much more flexibility. The mix of players selected to the 40-man three weeks was already quite eclectic in my view, and there’s a few of the names above I would be unhappy to see lost — particularly if it was to save space for a pick who couldn’t stick.