At the deadline to add prospects to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft, the Toronto Blue Jays added RHP Hagen Danner, RHP Bowden Francis, IF Leo Jimenez, and LHP Zach Logue. It’s something of an eclectic group, perhaps more notable for decisions about who were instead passed over—Eric Pardinho, Joey Murray and Samad Taylor in particular—and discussed in more detail below.
Danner, 22, was drafted in the second round of the 2017 draft from Huntington Beach HS in California, signing well above slot for $1,500,000. A legitimate two-way talent as a catcher and pitcher, scouts were divided about his future though it seemed the lean was toward pitching and being drafted as such. The Jays took him as a catcher, and that didn’t take despite a solid 2018 in Bluefield and some pop in Lansing (but .170 BA and 30%+ strikeout rate).
Part of the thinking was that it’s easier to come back to pitching so that could always be a fallback, and the conversion happened by 2020. He went directly to high-A Vancouver in 2021, and had immediate success showing two MLB calibre pitches with a mid-90s fastball and hammer curveball. He was building up to 2-3 inning outings, and I wondered if with how well it was taking they were trying to stretch him out as a starter, but a six week injury shelved that. Given the 40-man timeline that’s probably sailed and the priority is getting him to the big leagues, but it would be interesting to see him developed as more than just a pure one inning reliever.
Francis, 25, was drafted in the 7th round of the 2017 draft out of Chipola junior college by Milwaukee, and acquired in July as part of the Rowdy Tellez/Trevor Richard swap. He was decent for Buffalo, posting a 4.19 ERA in 14 outings in their rotation, part of a broader solid minor league track record. MLB Pipeline had him at the backend of the Jays’ Top 30, but from what I saw he doesn’t really have any standout pitch and consequently I’m surprised to me him prioritized. I’d have him more in the rotation depth tier.
Jimenez, 20, was signed out of Panama in 2017 for $825000, the second highest bonus doled out by the Jays in that July 2 class. He’s shown really good feel for hitting, just shy of .300 as an 18-year old in Bluefield, .315 in low-A this year (under 200 AB), and holding his own against older pitching now in the AFL. He’s also shown a good eye with a 51/35 BB/K and absurd .517 OBP for Dunedin, but little power.
The issue is, between the pandemic wiping out 2020 and a six weeks lost in jury in 2021, he hasn’t played that much and is still a long ways off. Was he really a candidate to be picked and could be really have stuck (losing even more development mostly on the bench in the majors)? The Jays clearly preferred to be safe rather than sorry, but unless he’s used as trade bait his timeline is more 2024 and they’ll be tying up a roster spot until then.
Logue, 25, was selected in the 9th round of the 2017 Draft from the University of Kentucky, signing slightly underslot for $125,000 (the amount players selected after round 10 could receive without it counting against the draft pool dollars). He was immediately more successful as a pro, posting a 1.47 ERA in 30.2 innings that summer after a 4.97 ERA as a starter in his junior season. Baseball America liked him as a later round sleeper, ranking him 255th on the BA 500 going into the draft.
He moved quickly through the lower levels, throwing 154 innings in 2018 for Lansing and Dunedin, and moving up to AA New Hampshire where he posted a solid 4.10 ERA in 101 innings. It was surprising he was sent back there in 2021, but moved up to Triple-A where he posted a 3.32 ERA in 89.1 innings. For the first time, he struck out more than a batter an inning.
It’s not huge stuff, but Logue’s fastball velocity has ticked up to sit in the low-90s. It’s a true four pitch mix led by his change-up that will flash plus when it’s on as a swing-and-miss weapon; a cutter/very short slider that comes in about 5-7 MPH slower than his fastball; and high-70s sweeping curve. He’s the type who you wouldn’t be surprised to look back on in 10 years and he’s put together a solid career.
Left unprotected is the headliner of the 2017 international class, Brazilian phenom Eric Pardinho. Whatever his potential after Tommy John surgery 20 months ago, he’s barely pitched in game action in two years, or for that matter, at all (under 100 career IP). Even if he were healthy now, it’s hard to see him sticking. But if a team had 40-man spots to spare over the winter, maybe they take a flyer and for $50,000 see if the premium stuff is back and go from there.
A more notable omission was another RHP, Joey Murray. Two years ago, he seemed on a fast track for the big leagues as early as 2020. But after getting into a couple Spring Training games he essentially missed all of 2021 with an unknown injury. That clearly seems significant, as otherwise I’d clearly prefer Murray over Francis. Either that, or the Jays think it will allow him to sneak through. Again though, a rebuilder with 40-man spots can take him to get a cheap look, and if he’s healthy he’d have a decent shot at sticking with the upside of a starter.
The last notable omission is 2B Samad Taylor, who broke out statistically in Double-A after being a fixture of prospect lists with middling performance on the basis of tools. That plus a logical promotion to Buffalo for 2022 and the cusp of the majors, that seemed to point to protecting him. Ultimately, it would appear to have been a numbers game with Otto Lopez and Kevin Smith as other infield prospects with 40-man spots, and then Jimenez too. Still, I Jimenez over Taylor is a surprise in that the latter has a real chance at sticking and reasonable ceiling. I’d expect he’ll headline lists of Rule 5 candidates.
Finally, consensus top-10 prospect (for now at least) Miguel Hiraldo was not protected, but like Jimenez he’s a long way off with only a decent low-A season. Other top-30 MLB Pipeline prospects left unprotected were RHPs Adrian Hernandez and Curtis Taylor (both of whom seem overranked to me). Notable relievers left exposed who could be targets would include Kyle Johnston, Graham Spraker, and Fitz Stadler.
One interesting note is that in the event of a lockout following the expiry of the CBA on December 1st, there would be no Major League Rule 5 Draft (or any other major league transactions permitted). Even if the were to go that route, they wouldn’t necessarily do it right away, and the Draft could go ahead.
Here is a smol procedural thing that perhaps you were also wondering about: In the event of a post-CBA expiration lockout, teams cannot make international PRO signings (no posting) but CAN sign international amateurs. There would NOT be a major league portion of the Rule 5 draft.— Hannah Keyser (@HannahRKeyser) November 16, 2021