For the third time in four years, the Blue Jays made five additions as they set the major league roster in advance of the deadline to protect players from next month’s Rule 5 draft. Now members of the 40-man are catcher Riley Adams, infielder Otto Lopez, catcher Gabriel Moreno, outfielder Josh Palacios, and RHP Ty Tice as the Jays took full advantage of the five spots they had open.
Adams, 24, was selected in the 3rd round of the 2017 draft out of San Diego, signing at slot for $542,400. Some questions about his ability to stick behind the plate caused him to slip down the draft board, and the consensus was the Jays were quite fortunate to land him. He had a solid debut in Vancouver before an aggressive move directly up to Dunedin in 2018, where he posted a decent line but he hadn’t showed much in-game power which was expected.
That showed up in 2019, spending the summer in New Hampshire after torching the FSL for a month. At all levels, he’s shown the ability to draw walks and make quality contact, but his strikeout rate did blow out above 30% in Double-A which is at least a yellow flag. On the plus side, he’s answered a lot of the questions with strong actions for a big 6’4” guy behind the plate, and has a very strong arm. The bigger question will be where he fits in a deep mix behind the plate.
Lopez, 22, was signed in July 2016 out of the Dominican Republic for $70,000, though he grew up in Montreal before returning to train for baseball. He had a solid debut in the GCL before really taking off in 2019, hitting over .300 while spending most of the season in Vancouver, a fairly advanced placement. He took off even further in 2019, winning the MWL batting title with a .324 average in 492 PA for Lansing.
Lopez’s approach is contact oriented, with a good feel for barreling up and spraying the ball to all fields while limiting the strikeouts. He doesn’t profile for much power, and while he walks at a decent clip his on-base skills are driven by his hitting. That makes Lopez something if an anachronism, with a profile very familiar in decades past than today’s game. Defensively, he hasn’t found a home and his future may be as a utility player who can move around various spots on the diamond competently. With limited experience, he likely doesn’t factor into the picture, but the pure hitting ability was enough to convince the Jays his future is bright enough to be protected.
Moreno, 20 (21 for the 2021 season), was signed in August 2016 out of Venezuela for $25,000. After spending 2017 in the DSL unremarkably, he came stateside in 2018 where his performance took a step forward in the GCL and Bluefield in only 167 PA. It was after this that really bullish reports starting emerging, especially regarding his ability behind the plate. It now appears the Jays found themselves quite the under-the-radar bargain.
He cemented top prospect status moving to Lansing in 2019, posting a .823 OPS in 82 games as the main starter after arriving in May. That placed him 6th on the BBB Top 40 coming into 2020, slightly ahead of Alejandro mostly due to the defensive prowess and higher certainty for sticking behind the plate. He’s have likely split a normal 2020 between Dunedin and New Hampshire, and probably starts 2021 in Double-A with a major league ETA of 2022. Indeed, had he signed just four weeks later, he wouldn’t be eligible or likely added until this time next year.
Palacios, 25, was selected in the 4th round of the 2016 Draft out of Auburn, signing at slot for $438,100. A very strong professional debut in which he hit .330 over 219 PA saw him advance to Lansing, where he returned in 2017. He’s moved level to level since, with solid if not standout offensive performance. He was included in the 60-man player pool for 2020, and was drawing very positive reviews from the training site in Rochester which presaged his addition.
Palacios has shown a well-rounded offensive profile, with a little pop and the ability to draw walks while keeping strikeouts around average. His better lines batting lines have been buoyed from high BABIPs. The question is how that translates at the highest level without a true carrying tool, especially given higher ground ball rates. Defensively, he’s rated well splitting time in both centre and the corners, and while he’s got good speed doesn’t profile asa true CF. His addition is a little surprising if only for the presence of Jonathan Davis on the depth chart, presumably ahead of him.
Tice, 24, was selected in the 16th round of the 2017 draft out of Central Arkansas and signed for $90,000. He ascended rapidly though the system with standout performance at levels, making his way to Buffalo in the second half of 2019 where he posted a 3.27 ERA in 33 innings out of the bullpen, with 41 strikeouts against 21 walks. He was included in the 2020 60-man player pool, and should compete for a spot in the bullpen (may have debuted in 2020 under more normal circumstances.
Tice’s 5’9” frame belies that he’s very much a power pitcher (and can apparently dunk a basketball) whose fastball sits in the mid-90s. He pairs that with a low-80s breaking ball that is a swing-and-miss out pitch when it’s working. He struck out plenty of batters, but did have some control issues in some appearances, perhaps a reflection of more experienced opposition with better plate discipline.
While none of the additions are surprising in-and-off themselves, the volume was somewhat. As mentioned at the outset, these additions filled up the 40-man to its limit, meaning that all further additions this winter — almost universally anticipated and expected — will require opening up spots. The Blue Jays already had fewer fringe types at the roster bubble than in previous years, and their flexibility is further reduced in that these five are now Draft-Excluded players under Major League Rule 6(e) and cannot be removed until 20 days before Opening Day.
Moreover, the addition of two catchers to the three young catchers already in the fold gives them an unprecedented five catchers on the 40-man. This seemingly sets the Jays up to deal this winter from this surplus, since four would already be a high number. Fortunately, they’re in good shape with the infield and outfield situations, but filling up the roster now necessitates that future pitching acquisitions will be at the expense of current pitchers.