With the clocks moved back and the weather turning as fall turns to winter, it can only mean one thing: it’s time to think about the Rule 5 Draft. A week from today—Friday, November 19— is the deadline for adding any eligible prospects teams 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 Toronto Blue Jays currently have seven 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 week I’ll look at each positional grouping in depth and the overall picture.
In the last three years, the Jays have lost players plucked in the Rule 5 Draft, though all were eventually returned (most fortuitously in the case of Jordan Romano) including Dany Jimenez twice. With the farm system thinned out, this is less likely in 2021, but the Blue Jays face a considerable number of tough calls (at least from the outside).
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 2021, this generally means HS draftees and IFAs signed in 2017 and college players signed in 2018. 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. 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.
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 30 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 2021. Names in bold are those that are at least worthy of mentioning, if not necessarily realistic candidates:
There’s six highlighted, and though none are complete slam dunks, a few standout as likelier. That starts with two of the centrepieces of the 2017 international class in infielders Miguel Hiraldo and Leo Jimenez, who both rank as top-15 prospects albeit in a thinned out farm system. That alone usually means a prospect will be protected, and further both have posted solid track records in pro ball.
But at the same time, both have only advanced to low-A and project to start 2022 at high-A Vancouver, putting them on perhaps a 2024 MLB timeline. If they even make it, as neither are anything close to sure things or profile as major impact regulars to offset lower probability. Jimenez was assigned to the AFL, I wonder if to showcase him against more advanced pitching as trade bait this winter (unfortunately he’s struggled).
Sticking with the 2017 IFA class brings us to Eric Pardinho, the Brazilian phenom who was the headliner. He had a good 2018 debut in Bluefield (if not quite as electric as hyped), but then had Tommy John surgery in early 2020 after the raw stuff looked pretty ordinary with Lansing (if there was ever a time to lose a season of development...). He returned in July 2021, but just for a couple games in the complex league so his health status is not even clear. The caveat here is there’s a major information gap, so maybe the Jays and other teams know the stuff’s back and someone could nab him, but even then it’s not clear they should add him (as opposed to forcing another team to carry him).
The likeliest candidate might be Joey Murray, who got to AA in his first full season in 2019, similar to Kendall Graveman’s rapid 2014 ascent and fitting the mould of sneaky later round pitching finds for which Cleveland is notorious. He was part of the 60-man player pool in 2020, was invited to Spring Training, and pitched in a few games before some sort of significant injury cost him the entire 2021 season save a rehab appearance in August. That clouds things, but unless the outlook has been majorly impaired, I think they’ll protect him.
That brings us to 2017 first rounder Hagen Danner, who converted to pitching in 2021 and posted a strong 2.02 ERA in 35.2 innings with 42/12 K/BB. He missed six weeks in the middle of the season with an injury, before that he was being stretched out and I wondered if the plan was to try him as a starter. Even if he’s purely a reliever, the mid-90s fastball and hammer curve were both MLB-calibre pitches, and he should start 2022 in AA and could move quickly. I think there’s a good chance he gets added.
Another reliever in play is 6’9” Fitz Stadler, who converted to relief and moved up a couple levels from 2019. His fastball ticked up to the upper-90s with a decent slider, and flashed dominant relief potential. Inconsistency holds him back. On balance, they probably don’t need to protect him, but he’s close enough there is a chance he’d be taken so if they really like him and want to be sure, he’d be a candidate to be added.
A couple others in passing: Nick Allgeyer was already added and removed this year, any team that really liked him could have claimed him on more favourable terms, so he shouldn’t be in play. Jackson Rees posted eye popping numbers in 2019 and ranked highly on Fangraphs prospect list, but barely pitched in 2021 so I doubt he’d be in play for the Rule 5. Adrian Hernandez (backend of MLB Pipeline’s Top 30) posted gaudy numbers and has a wipeout splitter, but top out below 90 and is a long ways off.
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.
Samad Taylor had the breakout year that I had largely given up on, turning mediocre results on batted balls into superior outcomes. Given that he was highly rated even before that, and will start in Buffalo, that makes him a very strong candidate to be added.
Zach Logue would be the other significant consideration as he’s now on the doorstep to the majors with a successful 2021 mostly in Buffalo. He’s a pitchability lefty, topping out in the low-90s velocity wise, will flash a really good change-up, with a cutter/slider and slower slurvy breaking ball. He’s the type who could have a sneaky good career in the end, but it could go either way.
Kyle Johnston was acquired for Daniel Hudson at the 2019 trade deadline, and was a standout in Buffalo and New Hampshire’s bullpens with quality stuff. Just probably short of meriting a promotion to the 40-man at this point.
There’s a few guys on the backend of MLB.com’s Top 30 prospect list, but mostly due to the system’s depth being depleted (and even then, in some cases I’m surprised to see them there). Bowden Francis was acquired in the Trevor Richards/Rowdy Tellez swap; I don’t see some then a depth starter. Curtis Taylor was acquired from Tampa Bay in 2019, and 10 years ago his raw stuff would merit consideration, but it’s pretty generic by the standard of today’s relievers.
Quick hits on a few names not in play: Maximo Castillo probably needs to move to the bullpen. I continue to like Graham Spraker, whose fastball now gets up to the mid-90s though his breaking ball wasn’t as sharp as I remembered from 2019. Rafael Lantigua continues to take time to adjust at levels, then perform nicely (potential utility type).