In the end, the 2019 Rule 5 Draft ended up far more sizzle than substance. Despite expectations of increased activity with many rebuilding teams and a 26-man roster in 2020, there in fact ended up being just 11 picks, representing a six year low.
For the second straight year, the Blue Jays ended up among the eight teams to lose a player, as also for the second straight year San Francisco grabbed a reliever who finished the year in New Hampshire (their AA affiliate is Richmond in the Eastern League).
That was RHP Dany Jimenez who rightly was identified as having late buzz to be selected. The 6’3” Jimenez was signed in 2015 as an older international free agent at almost 22, a late bloomer who moved through the system with interesting strikeout totals but really took off the last couple years in full season ball before turning in his best results yet over the last couple months of 2019 in AA with a 1.87 ERA.
I had noting him last month as a dark horse Rule 5 candidate, as he pairs a fastball that touches the upper 90s with a breaking with a breaking ball that is generally referred to as a slider but strikes me as more of a power curve, especially when it’s more in the lower-80s with 12-15 MPH separation to his fastball (though he’ll change the velocity of shape, sometimes throwing it a little harder).
So we’ll see if he sticks, unlike Jordan Romano and Travis Bergen last year. He’s had a fast enough rise that it’s not out of the question he could be good enough to stick, with the pure stuff being major league calibre. But dominating AA hitters is quite a different thing to MLB hitters, and we’ll see if he can make enough adjustments to stick. The history of Rule 5 picks is that about half end up returned, so there’s a good chance Jimenez ends up back with the Jays. I can understand why he wasn’t added; we’ll see if they end up regretting it.
For their part, with the fifth pick, the Jays were the first team to pass. That in itself was surprising because even if in the end the opportunity was less than the cost (to borrow Ross Atkins parlance), given the expectations of increased activity driven by expanded rosters in 2020, one would have thought the Jays could have made an arrangement with a team looking to jump the queue. Alas, it quickly became clear why that didn’t come to pass, as after the Royals made a pick right after, there was a rash of passing.
In the end, it’s not that surprising. While there’s a lot of discontent with the current mix, absent acquiring bona fide MLB regulars, the position player 40-man mix is pretty filled out, and in general marginal players who make it this far in the winter tend to hold their spots until Spring Training (unless it’s to add established MLB players). On the pitching side, they would have likely protected another pitcher or two within the system before adding someone subject to Rule 6 restrictions.
In the AAA phase, the Jays made one selection and lost three players who they chose not to protect on Buffalo’s 38-man reserve list despite having a few spots open.
The addition to the system is RHP Hobie Harris, taken from the Yankees system. This was particularly interesting for me, because Harris sort of randomly came to my attention in 2014 as a junior at Pittsburgh (where he was a teammate for two ears of T.J. Zeuch). Maybe it was sharing my brithday, but I’ve kept tabs since then. He was drafted in the 33rd round of 2015, and was moving through the system posting some strong strikeout rates before stagnating the last couple ears in the Florida State League where the Jays saw him plenty at Dunedin.
There’s definitely some potential there, as Harris has a big arm with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and will touch 97-98. Of course, that’s actually not that special in today’s game, but it is MLB calibre. He also had two secondaries, a change-up and breaking ball both in the mid/low-80s. He might well be the type of guy who is a tweak away from putting it together. The odds are he just ends up a middle reliever in Dunedin and New Hampshire for th enext couple years, but he is a little intriguing.
The first loss was RHP Brock Stewart, who was selected by the Cubs in the first round. The only curiosity here is that the Jays liked Stewart enough to claim him off major league waivers from the Dodgers back on July 31st as they traded off large swatches of the pitching staff. Perhaps it was literally nothing more than to have someone who could eat innings as needed — they yoyo’d him up and down in August — but if that’s the case it seems like a dismal use of the ability to evaluate someone at the MLB level.
Out-of-options for 2020 and given his struggles, it wasn’t surprising that was sent outright at the end of October as the Jays trimmed down their 40-man. But it is surprising that having succeeded in clearing waivers, they didn’t prioritize keeping a pitcher who had enough potential to stick on the Dodgers’ 40-man for three years as depth in Buffalo.
The second loss came later in the first round as Cleveland selected LHP Danny Young, whom the Jays drafted in the 8th round of the 2015 draft out of the University of Florida. He was in the middle of the three year run from 2014 to 2016 that saw the Jays draft a Gator reliever on the second day of the draft. A low slot pitcher who profiles as a LOOGY, Young had performed solidly as he moved up, but is more the type who fills out an upper level roster (as is usually the case in the minor league Phase of the Rule 5). It’s not particularly surprising that he was available.
The final player selected was RHP Jose Espada in the second round by Boston, another 2015 draftee. That selection was a classic of the Alex Anthopoulos draft era, an off-the-board pick in the 5th round from a Puerto Rico high school who was obscure enough to stump Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis on the draft broadcast. A classic projection/“pop up” guy, he moved slowly through the system level by level before repeating Vancouver in 2018 where he posted an intriguing increase in strikeouts.
He missed most of 2019 before finally making it to full season ball and joining Lansing for the last couple weeks working out of the bullpen. He was topping out in the low-90s, with a slider that didn’t consistently have good tight shape. His change-up was the more interesting secondary, with some fade and ability to generate swing-and-miss. At 22, he’s still young enough to perhaps be interesting, and Boston has two weeks to see if there’s something there with a fresh start. But it was tough to see him getting much more opportunity with the Jays in a crowded system for pitching.