After adding five players in each of the last two years at the deadline to protect prospects from the Rule 5 draft, it was predictably much quieter this year for the Blue Jays as they added just two to the 40-man roster in infielder Santiago Espinal and right-handed pitcher Thomas Hatch.
That is partly attributable to having already added players in September who would have been eligible in Anthony Kay and T.J. Zeuch. Likewise with Cavan Biggio and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. earlier, the latter representing essentially the entirety of the 2015 international signings class. And then additionally, the 2015 draft hasn’t been very fruitful. Indeed, both players added come from outside the organization.
Espinal, 25, was selected in 10th round of the 2016 draft by Boston and traded to the Jays at the end of June 2018 for future World Series MVP Steve Pearce. A 10th round “senior sign” type underslot pick who signed for $50,000 out of a Miami community college, Espinal emerged as a diamond in a rough in hitting .282 at low-A in 2017 and then .313 at high-A prior to the trade.
In the equivalent of a full season at New Hampshire, he posted a solid .280/.346./.385 before earning a late season promotion to Buffalo where he hit .317 in 112 plate appearances albeit on the back of a lofty .392 BABIP. Perhaps his strongest attribute is making contact, with strikeout rates of 11% to 13% other than that short run in Buffalo. He sprays the ball around, but other than the half season at high-A in 2018 has not shown any power. He’s drawn plaudits for his defensive abilities especially from the front office, so him being added was been widely telegraphed.
Hatch, 25, was selected in the 3rd round of the 2016 draft out of Oklahoma State by the Chicago Cubs and traded to the Jays in July in exchange for David Phelps. After missing all of 2015, he was one of the best pitchers in the Big-12 in his draft year, and he was fast tracked directly to high-A in 2017 and then 2018 in AA. In both years he made 26 starts, with solid in unspectacular results of 4.04 and 2.82 ERAs.
He was back at AA in 2019 with similar results before the trade, before ending the season strong with a 2.80 ERA in 35 innings, with just two walks against 34 strikeouts. He apparently increased the use of his cutter, and it looked pretty good in the looks I saw. His fastball at least touched into the mid-90s, with a slider effective against same handed hitters and a usable change-up. With that mix, he could stick as a starter, and if not, the bullpen would be an option.
With a full 40-man roster, to make room the Jays sent Tim Mayza outright to Buffalo and designated Justin Shafer.
With Mayza out for most or all of 2020 recovering from Tommy John surgery, this frees up the roster spot this winter. As a 2013 draftee, had he been sent outright a month ago he’d have qualified as a six-year minor league free agent, but will now remain under the team’s control for 2020 (since this is first outright and he doesn’t have three years MLB service, he can’t reject the assignment). The Jays will have then have the ability to re-add him to the 40-man next fall if they wish to maintain contractual control over him at that point.
Shafer posted some really impressive numbers in Buffalo, but just struggled to find the zone when called up. Given that, it’s not surprising that he’s once again being removed from the 40-man. His sinker/slider combination and ground ball profile may yet still play, my comp always being a Shawn Camp type if he can put it together. Assuming he goes on and clears outright waivers, he’ll have the right to opt for free agency and reject the assignment as it’s the second time and perhaps a fresh start might be best.
Espinal and Hatch were the two most obvious choices to be added to the 40-man, with a cavalcade of relievers beyond them who all have enough merit to have some sort of case for a major league future. But on balance, I didn’t see the case to devote a 40-man spot at this point, I doubt any get taken or would stick, and if so more power to the team taking them.
There’s one potential exception to that. Jackson McClelland, 25, was selected in the 15th round of the 2015 draft out of Pepperdine. It took him a little while to get going in pro ball, but he really put it all together in 2017. The statistical record isn’t overwhelming, but as I’ve said before the raw stuff is high compelling, an upper 90s fastball (touched triple digits), ability to spin a good slider and even a good change-up too. The consistency isn’t quite there, but when he’s on (and that’s actually far more often than not), it’s lights out.
There’s certainly a case for trying to sneak him through, after all very few Rule 5 picks actually stick. He’s only got a month in AAA, and as outlined may not be polished enough to stick. But if a rebuilding team is looking for a potential impact arm, this is the exact profile I’d be looking for in the Rule 5. For $100,000, why not bring him into Spring Training, at least give him a look, and then maybe stash him at the back of an eight man bullpen for a couple months. Worst case scenario, you’re out $50,000 for the troubles.