Thursday, December 8, 2016

Blue Jays Add/Subtract Prospects in Rule 5 Draft

  The Blue Jays went outside of the box in today's Rule 5 draft, selecting RHP Glenn Sparkman from the Royals.
   Sparkman, a 20th round pick in 2013, was called the surprise star of the Royals' system after a stellar 2014 in which (aided by a pitcher-friendly home ballpark) he posted the second-lowest ERA in the minors.  In rating him as the Royals' 17th-best prospect after that season, BA noted:
Sparkman's success was based on a combination of his deceptive delivery and his ability to throw to all four quadrants of the strike zone. He leads with his elbow, then brings his hand and the ball forward with a quick over-the-top release. Sparkman gets more swings and misses than one would expect from a 90-93 mph fastball. He mixes in a potentially average changeup with a little late fade and a potentially average hard slider at 83-84 mph. The pitch doesn't have much depth but cuts enough to swerve away from the sweet spot of opponents' bats. His curveball is generally below-average and loopy. Sparkman's four pitches all play up because he has present above-average control and average command
  Sparkman's 2015 was limited to 4 starts before he succumbed to Tommy John surgery.  He returned this summer, accumulating almost 60 innings over 16 starts at 4 levels, striking out 10.19/K.  While it's reasonable to assume that the Blue Jays likely selected Sparkman with an eye toward turning him into a bullpen arm as they did with Joe Biagini last year, there's not a lot in his profile that would suggest that there would be a spike in velocity.  Still, there is the fact that Sparkman is known for his command (his 2.55 BB/9 rate was on the high side for him, but he was coming back from Tommy John), and his ability to generate weak contact, and perhaps there is something to that deceptive delivery:

  Even though he's facing a LHH in this video, it's easy to see how right-handed hitters would have difficulty picking up the ball from Sparkman.

   Under the terms of the new CBA, the cost for drafting Sparkman was $100 000.  He must stay on the 25-man roster for the whole 2017 season, or be offered back to the Royals for half that price. With the Blue Jays rotation likely set for next year, it's hard to see Sparkman auditioning in a starting role. The idea likely will be to see what he can do in long relief.  Its's a longshot, but the combination of his command and delivery, coupled with the Blue Jays defence, could mean that the team has another bullpen revelation on their hands.

   The Padres dominated the Rule 5 draft, making deals with the Twins and Reds, who owned the picks ahead of them, to select the first three players in the Rule 5, making them the first team in the 50 year history of the draft to do so.

   The Blue Jays also lost three players in the AAA phase of the Rule 5.  Unlike the MLB portion, players selected in the AAA phase do not have to be kept on the 25-man roster for the season.
   Toronto lost LHP Matt Smoral to the Rangers, C Jorge Saez to the Yankees, and SS Jorge Flores to the Phillies.
   Saez and Flores, who spent last season at AA, are likely minor league depth guys.  Smoral, a 2012 compensation round pick who could never stay healthy, may one day go on to bigger and better things.  His draft stock fell due to a foot injury during his senior year of high school, delaying his pro debut until late in the 2013 season.  2014 was a bit of a breakout year for Smoral, when he fanned 70 hitters in 53 innings at two short season stops, and BA was bullish on him:
Smoral was viewed as one of the top prep lefthanders in the 2012 draft heading into the spring, when he made only one start because of a stress fracture in his right foot. That allowed the Jays to grab him at pick No. 50 and sign him for $2 million. After not pitching in 2012 and being limited to 26 innings in 2013 because of a cracked fingernail, Smoral had his first healthy season in 2014, striking out nearly onethird of batters at Rookie-level Bluefield. His body, fastball and slider give him a foundation to be at least a mid-rotation starter, but the development of his control and changeup will dictate whether he stays in the rotation. His fastball sits at 90-93 mph, touching 95 with above-average life when down. Smoral's slider is a wipeout offering with plus potential and is a weapon against both lefthanders and righthanders. His mid-80s changeup improved in 2014 and flashed average but will need continued development. Smoral has an extra-large frame and lost weight over the 2014 season, gaining athleticism and flexibility while improving his delivery. He'll likely get his first taste of full-season ball at low Class A Lansing in 2015
 However, injuries and a nasty line drive he took just above his eye last year have limited Smoral to 40 innings over the past two seasons.  A new delivery this year was supposed to help with his command issues and put him in a better position to field balls hit back at him, but the velocity never came back.  For the Rangers, taking a guy who has pitched all of 3 innings since 2012 above short season ball is a risk, but it comes at a much lower price than the MLB phase.  Tall (Smoral is 6'8") southpaws seem to take longer to develop, and at 22, there is still time for him to put things together.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Who (if anyone) Will the Blue Jays Select in the Rule 5 Draft?

   Baseball's Rule 5 draft takes place at the Winter Meetings in Maryland tomorrow, and many teams will try to shore up a specific need like the Blue Jays did with Joe Biagini, and the Cardinals did with Matt Bowman last year.
   The new CBA has upped the price for selecting a player from $50 000 to $100 000.  A player has to be kept on the drafting team's 25-man roster, or has to be offered back to his original team for half the draft price.
   Of the 16 players selected in last year's Rule 5 draft, 10 saw at least some time with the team that drafted them, and 7 were not returned.  The Blue Jays, picking 24th, were able to nab Biagini, the 10th player selected, because 7 teams had full 40-man rosters and could not pick, while 9 others teams passed on the draft.  This year, the Jays again select 24th, and 6 teams picking ahead of them have full rosters.
   Trying to determine who Toronto might be considering, then, becomes a little easier.  If they are interested, they should once again pick anywhere from 10th to 15th in terms of players selected.  Given the success they had with Biagini last year, and the shoring up their bullpen still could use this year, they likely would take a chance on a long relief arm if the right one became available.
   Two pitchers who likely won't be around when it comes the Blue Jays turn to pick are RHP Yimmi Brasoban of the Padres, and RHP Yonny Chirinos of the Rays.  Tyler Webb of the Yankees, a potential lefty specialist, throws 90-92, with a decent slider and change, might be still available..  International League Left-handed hitters managed only a .559 OPS against him last year.
  Other names that Toronto may be considering include:

  -RHP Zack Weiss of the Reds did not pitch in 2016 due to elbow issues, and that's a huge red flag, despite his 11.9K/9 in High A in 2015.  Given the price, however, he might be worth kicking the tires on in spring training.
  -Arizona RHP Joey Krehbiel can hit 97 in a relief role, and even though control problems have plagued him throughout his minor league career (3.72 BB/9 this year), he pitched reasonably well in relief in AA this year, and had a good showing in the Arizona Fall League.  Another Diamondbacks' righty, Joel Payamps, has not pitched above A ball, but sat 92-94 mostly in a starting role this year, and like Biagini should experience a bump in velocity in a bullpen role.  Baseball America says that Payamps has big league stuff, but has hurt his chances by not pitching well in the Dominican winter league.

    Minnesota has the first pick in the draft.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

A Look at Ryan Borucki

Kyle Castle/Lansing Lugnuts/MiLB photo

  Last month, the Blue Jays had some 40-man roster decisions to make in advance of this month's Rule 5 draft.
  Specifically, they had to decide which of three pitchers who have not competed above A ball, but might make attractive bullpen options at the MLB level, to protect.
   This could not have been an easy decision. The trio included:
-Francisco Rios, a 2012 free agent signing from Mexico, began 2016 with Lansing, but after a month of dominating Midwest League hitters, was promoted to Dunedin;
-LHP Angel Perdomo, a 6"6" 2011 late IFA signing from the Dominican, who led the MWL in strikeouts this year, averaging just over 11K/9;
-Southpaw Ryan Borucki, a 2012 15th round pick who has had trouble staying healthy, and just finished his first full season with the organization.

   This could not have been an easy decision.  Rios and Borucki rely on command and secondary pitches, while Perdomo's main weapon is his 95 mph fastball - Fangraphs' Chris Mitchell suggests that some MLB team may try to stash him in their bullpen as a 3rd lefty/longman.  Ultimately, they chose Borucki, whose grit, advanced feel for pitching, and command of his whole repertoire of pitches led the Blue Jays to believe both that he was a better long-term prospect, and that he might be too tempting an arm to pass through the draft.

  Borucki was considered one of the top prep lefties in Illinois in his draft year, until a torn UCL caused his stock to fall.  The Blue Jays were not put off by his medicals, and took him in the 15th round, signing him for 3rd round money (Borucki had committed to Iowa).  Borucki tried to continue to rehabilitate his elbow, but was shut down that year after only four outings with Rookie-Level Bluefield.  He ultimately underwent Tommy John surgery the following spring, wiping out his 2013 season.
  Borucki came back with a vengeance in 2014, pitching at both Bluefield (where he was named the Appalachian League's 12th best prospect, despite only pitching a month there) and Vancouver.  Baseball America was high on him:
He projects for at least average control with a chance to be plus. His delivery has improved significantly, and he throws with significantly less effort from his loose, quick arm, while working over the ball more and not leaking with his hips. Borucki's fastball was 90-94 early in the season and sat 88-92, touching 94 later in the season. He relies on his two-seamer that has at least average sink and arm-side run. Borucki demonstrates advanced feel for a changeup with plus potential. His curveball is a below-average to fringe-average offering, and Borucki could begin throwing a slider this offseason. He has a starter's build at a lanky 6-foot-4 with a high waist and significant projection remaining.
   The brakes were applied to his development again in 2015, however, when shoulder, elbow, and back issues limited his season to 6 innings.  Borucki was ticketed for Lansing this season, but was held back in Dunedin for April while the weather in the Midwest warmed up, and to be close to the Blue Jays medical facilities.  Pitching against the more advanced FSL hitters, Borucki was still shaking off the rust from a year's inactivity off, giving up 40 hits in 20 innings.  His career seemed to be in jeopardy when he finally reached Lansing in mid-May.
   His turnaround could not have been more sudden or dramatic.
   In his MWL debut, Borucki gave up only one earned run in 5 innings.  Two starts later, he threw 6 scoreless frames, and in June, threw a pair of back-to-back games that were easily the best of his career: an 8 inning, 5-hit/1ER, 0BB, 8K effort, followed by 7 innings of 4-hit, shutout ball, with 6 strikeouts and (again) no walks.  Here's his 6th K from that 2nd start:


   Borucki finished 2nd in the league in ERA, 4th in WHIP, and fanned almost a batter an inning while tossing a career-high 115 frames.  His August 8th start gave some insight into why the Blue Jays ultimately decided to protect him on the 40-man.

   Borucki struggled slightly with his fastball command in the 1st inning of this start against West Michigan, but received a nice 5-4-3 double play after issuing a one out walk to finish his 11-pitch inning.  In the 2nd, he began to use his change up, which has excellent depth to it.  That pitch may prove one day to be the most effective in his arsenal, and may already be the best in the organization outside of Marco Estrada.  After falling behind 2-0 to the leadoff hitter, he fanned that man on a full-count change, then got ahead of the next two hitters, allowing him to use his secondaries to get a 6-3 groundout and a called 3rd strike to end an inning in which he threw 15 pitches.
  Borucki gave up his only solid contact on the day, a 1-out single, in the 3rd,  and began to spot his fastball and slider more effectively after giving up a walk following that base hit.  His concentration wavered a bit with runners on 1st and 2nd, giving up a double steal after failing to look back at the runner on 2nd who had taken a big walking lead the previous pitch.  He needed 18 pitches to retire the side in the 3rd.  He did not show a great move to first in this outing, and may have to work more at holding runners closer.
   The 4th inning saw Borcuki really settle into a groove, retiring the side in order on 9 pitches with a pair of Ks, and 4 whiffs.  His fastball sat at 92, and he had improved command of his slider to LHH, and his change to RHH.  He was able to locate the ball seemingly at will, setting up hitters by locating to either side of the plate.
  The only blemish on Borcuki's 5th inning of work was a two-out, four-pitch walk, with CF Lane Thomas making a sliding catch on a sinking liner to finish the inning.  At 67 pitches, Borucki, whose pitch count had been reduced as he blew by his previous career innings high, was finished for the night.  He threw 44 strikes, gave up only one hit, while walking three and fanning five.  He recorded five outs via groundballs, and two by flyouts.  He threw 12 first-pitch strikes to 18 of the hitters he faced, and recorded 9 swings-and-misses on the night.  Working from the first base side of the rubber, Borucki's arm angle makes him extremely tough on left-handed hitters, while his change keeps the righties off balance.

  Borucki is a student of the game, and watches his teammates' bullpen sessions between starts.  His delivery has undergone considerable change over the past year.  When he arrived at Lansing, he worked with Lugnuts' pitching coach Jeff Ware and minor league instructor Sal Fasano at adding more deception to his delivery - the thinking was that hitters in the Florida State League were getting too good a look at his pitches. Borucki learned his change from his father, who pitched in the Phillies organization.  Dad wouldn't allow him to throw a curve until his senior year of high school, so Borucki learned to change speeds and master one of the more difficult pitches to throw.  When his fastball or slider location is off, he always seems to have command of that change.
   At 22, there is little projection remaining for Borucki, but we've seen so little of him that it's hard to get a true handle on his ceiling just yet.  Of the trio, he probably projects the highest in terms on long-term potential as a starter.  He has a solid pitcher's frame, is athletic, and gets a good downward plane on his pitches.  He has a four-pitch mix that can turn a lineup over.  If he can stay healthy, he can begin to move quickly through the system, now that his option clock will start ticking next year.