Like almost everything in 2020, the Winter Meetings have been upended, but the annual Rule 5 Draft which traditionally wraps things up on the last day will go on virtually. Who knows exactly what that will work given the limited ability to observe how players have developed, but in any event teams must set their 40-man rosters by Friday, 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 Blue Jays currently have five open spots on the 40-man roster, so there is already ample room to add players, though one must consider things like future additions this winter. For that reason, over the next couple days I’ll look at each positional grouping in depth and the overall picture.
In the last two years, the Jays have lost three players in the Rule 5 Draft, though all were eventually returned (most fortuitously in the case of Jordan Romano). Last year, Dany Jimenez ended up being a sleeper with surprising helium leading into the draft. With a farm system that is still pretty deep and a much larger pool of eligible players than in recent years, depending on the overall level of activity, it’s very possible and maybe even likely the Jays again have players selected.
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. And as with Elvis Luciano, any player who signs a second contract (for whatever reason) becomes immediately eligible.
For 2020, this generally means HS draftees and IFAs signed in 2016 and college players signed in 2017. 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. Normally, drafted players have to remain on the 26-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. Given a season that ended up well less than that, that was modified to 50 days for 2020 and 2021 is anyone’s guess at this point.
If the player fails to reach 90 active days, he has to remain on the active roster in subsequent seasons until he reaches 90 active days. One other note is that a selected player cannot be removed from the 40-man over the winter. The minor league phases of the draft are much less important and generally used just to fill out rosters, with no similar roster restrictions.
First Time Eligible Players
Below is a table of the 38 first time eligible players, along with some background information and the levels at which they’ve played in the organization the last three years prior to 2020. Names in bold are those that are at least worthy of mentioning, if not necessarily realistic candidates:
There’s nine highlighted, though three stand out as much more likely. Two of those are catchers in Riley Adams and Gabriel Moreno. The former is closer with some buzz from what he did at the training site this summer, the latter is a top-10 organizational prospect but hasn’t played above low-A (though that’s obviously a lot less meaningful and Moreno could plausibly have made it to AA in 2020.
Both are quality prospects whose merits would make them very strong candidates for rebuilding teams (Pittsburgh in particular, given their GM recently ran the farm system). But having promoted Alejandro Kirk a year before they had to, two other young catchers with promise, can they carry five catchers on the 40-man? And even if so, does it really make sense? We’ll dive into that tomorrow, but the answer might be doing that now in the short-term and resolving it in the medium-term this winter.
The other major name that sticks out is Otto Lopez. He’s in a similar position as Moreno, though not quite as highly ranked. His future position is up in the air, and he may end up a utility type who can move around. But he showed a really good feel for squaring up balls for good contact, and if the bat has continued to develop over the last year and the Jays have conviction he’ll hit it’s a pretty easy decision to add him as he’ll probably start 2021 in AA.
Kevin Smith is another name from prospect lists. Given the major questions about his ability to make contact, unless he’s taken steps forward in the last year we don’t have insight into, I don’t think he’s a realistic target. And even if so, given the broader organizational mix, it’s a risk you just have to take.
Josh Winckowski is a s2016 draft sleeper I’ve been keeping tabs on for several years, and put together a nice 2019. It’s a good fastball/slider combination, barring injuries I’d have a high degree of confidence he pitches in the majors though the future role may be a reliever. For that reason, I don’t see him being protected, but he’d have probably made it to AA in 2020 and a step forward could have made him a very legit candidate.
Samad Taylor and Chavez Young are in the similar position of under-the-radar 2016 high school draftees with tools who have shown flashes, but their 2019s were more decent than standout. Accordingly, I don’t expect either to be added, but both are the types who would have had things click and take a leap forward to legitimate prospect status where it wouldn’t be shocking.
A few names in passing: Zach Logue is a polished lefty who was pretty close and could be MLB ready for a team with conviction his stuff will play. Maximo Castillo is only 21 and moved quickly with good performance. He’d probably have a full year in AA, so isn’t completely out of the picture here. Ty Tice could be up in 2021, he’s got a good fastball/breaking ball mix but so do 100 other relievers in today’s MLB. My very deep sleepers (not as plausible Rule 5s) are Rafael Lantigua on the position side who really improved over 2019, and Graham Spraker on the position side.
Previously Eligible Players
This doesn’t tend to be a very deep pool annually, with these players having been already passed over. But sometimes, especially on the high school and IFA side, players put things together or show they can stay healthy and there are some notables.
The most familiar and notable name is Tim Mayza, who not declared a minor league free agent and remains in the fold. Any team that wanted to take a shot on a lefty with demonstrated MLB ability could have him for $100,000 unless the Jays re-added him. Given the asymmetry of information in that only really the Jays have a good idea where is recovery is, I don’t expect either to happen, but neither is completely implausible either.
After that are a number of reliever types with big arms who are close to big league ready and could be MLB ready sooner than later (in fact, I’d expect a number to eventually figure into 2021). Dany Jimenez will be available again, but every team had an opportunity to claim him on waivers a few months ago (subject to the same restrictions). I remain very intrigued with the potential of Jackson McClelland, but absent unknown steps forward it’s the same situation as last year.
That applies to the likes of Bryan Baker and Zach Jackson. About the only exception here might be Curtis Taylor, who missed most of the 2019 season but who should now be fully healthy. On the position side, Josh Palacios is the only even plausible candidate, and I don’t think that happens.
Oh, and don’t sleep on Juan De Paula, the linchpin of the Kevin Pillar deal (/s).
My guess would be Adams, Moreno, Lopez, and probably one pitcher though I don’t have much conviction on exactly whom. That said, a lot of the decisions are at least partially dependent on the broader context of existing options on the 40-man and direction this winter so over the coming days, we’ll drill down into each grouping where decisions abound: catching, pitching, outfield, and infield.