Wednesday, November 18, 2015

First Sip of the Rule 5 Draft

   Baseball's Rule 5 draft has often been less than the sum of its parts.
Some intriguing names get offered up every year, but teams rarely, if ever, take a chance on them.
For the uninitiated, the Rule 5 draft actually goes back to the 1950s, when it was instituted to prevent teams from signing hot young prospects to huge bonuses, then stockpile those prospects in the minors for years.  It has undergone many revisions, but the main intent is to give a deadline for teams to put their prospects on a 40-man roster, in order to give those players an opportunity.
   The draft can be risky - teams must keep players they draft on their 25-man roster for an entire season, or offer them back to their original organization for half the $50 000 price tag they came with.
   Players are eligible for the December 10th Rule 5 draft if by the deadline (Friday, November 20th):

-they are not on their team's 40-man roster prior to the draft;
-were 18 or younger on the June 5th preceding their signing, and this is the fifth Rule 5 draft since that signing;
-were 19 or older, and this is their fourth Rule 5 draft.

   Prior to 2007, teams had four and three years to protect players.  The extra year has allowed most teams to take their players' development slower - many players in the draft have yet to play past AA.
   The draft has a fairly lengthy history.  Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente was one of the first Rule 5 draftees.  More recently, Johan Santana, Jason Werth, Bobby Bonilla, and some young Dominican prospect named Jose Bautista were selected.  The Blue Jays, for their part, have a lengthy history on Rule 5 day.  In 1977, they grabbed a young 1st Baseman from the Yankees organization by the name of Willie Upshaw, who went on to play an important role as the team broke into contention in the mid-80s.  Kelly Gruber and Manny Lee, who later acquired World Series rings with the team, were Rule 5 pick ups.  And perhaps one of the best hitters in club history, George Bell, was stolen out from under the nose of the Phillies in a great story of cloak-and-dagger work.
   The Rule 5 draft has fallen on some fallen times of late.  With most teams employing two more pitchers than they did twenty years ago, many can't afford to draft a position player who may have to spend the year glued to the bench.  Relief pitchers are somewhat less of a gamble, which is why 69 of the player selected between 2008 and last year were pitchers who wound up in the bullpen - and at that, half of those players were returned to their original team.  The Blue Jays have been mostly quiet during the last few years of the draft.  Pitcher Zech Zinicola was taken from the Nationals in 2009, but returned before spring training the following spring was over.  In 2013, they chose P Brian Moran from the Mariners, but sent him to the Angels for International pool money.
    Last year was called a banner year for Rule 5 draftees.  The Mets picked up Sean Gilmartin, the Phillies Odubel Herrera, the Athletics Mark Canha, and the Rangers acquired Delino DeShields Jr.  
    Because of Alex Anthopoulos' trade deadline frenzy, there is a smaller than usual number of Blue Jays prospects eligible.  Among those who may be exposed to the draft for the first time are:

Dwight Smith Jr OF
   The 2011 Ist Round Supplemental pick has moved steadily through the system, drawing good reviews wherever he's played.  He battled injuries this year, posting a line of .265/.335/.376 at New Hampshire. Smith does have enough pop for a corner outfield position, and the organization experimented with him at 2nd Base in the Arizona Fall League in 2014.  It's hard to see a team risking as 25-man spot on a player who has had one season at AA, so he's not highly likely to be put on the 40-man, although it's not out of the realm of possibility to see him in the Majors one day.

Matt Dean  1B/DH
   Dean's 14 Home Runs in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League is an accomplishment worthy of noting, but he's a long shot to have a big league career at this point.  The 2013 Appy League batting champ also struck out 139 times in 521 PAs this year, so there's plenty of miss to his approach.  It won't be a risk to expose him to the draft.

Tom Robson P
   The BC native made his return from Tommy John surgery mid way through the summer, and reports on his velocity were good.  Command, not so much.  Robson is a potential sleeper arm, and if he refines that command next season, he will definitely be a 40-man candidate.  This year, however, he'll be left unprotected.  He's pitched only 26 innings above Low A so far in his career.

From 2014, the Blue Jays currently have a few players to make decisions upon:

Andy Burns  IF
   Burns hit .293/.351/.372 in 126 games with Buffalo this season, playing primarily 2nd and 3rd.  Drafted as a SS, he can also play 1B and the outfield, which helps boost his value.  In this age of dozen-man pitching staffs, there is a premium on bench players who can play a multiple of positions.   Burns should be added to the 40-man later this week.

Taylor Cole RHP
   Cole was considered one of the minor's top fringe prospects last year, when a 11.66 K/9 rate at Dunedin opened some eyes.  He did not miss bats at the same rate at AA this year.  Cole throws a fastball that tops out at 91, but has a change that can be devastating.  The surprise here is that the Blue Jays have not cut down on his repertoire and treid him in the bullpen as they did with Ryan Tepera.  Cole is a considerable longshot, but it's possible a team that views him as first righty up in the pen kind of guy may take a chance on him.

Blake McFarland  RHP
   A talented artist as well as an emerging  late-blooming (at 27) power arm, McFarland has pitched out of the pen for the last four seasons, and only a log jam of arms at Buffalo kept him at AA for most of the year, where he dominated Eastern League hitters, walking only 6 and striking out 62 in 47 innings.  He's a likely candidate to claim one of those final 40-man spots.

John Stilson RHP
   The Blue Jays gambled and left the hard-throwing, but oft-injured Stilson unprotected last November, and no one took a chance on his surgically repaired (and not for the first time) right shoulder.  Stilson has averaged almost a K per inning in four minor league seasons, but has missed time due to injury in almost every single one of them.  He made only one appearance for Dunedin this year in May, before being shut down for the remainder of the season.  If not for his health issues, Stilson would have been placed on the 40-man and made his MLB debut long ago.  If teams were a bit spooked by him last year, they will be downright scared this year.

Dickie Joe Thon UT
   The son of the former big leaguer of the same name was a 5th round choice in 2010.  He has moved slowly through the system, repeating Lansing last year because of a glut of middle infielders ahead of him.  Promoted to Dunedin, he filled a utility role, but struggled with the bat.  He played for Puerto Rico at the Premier12 tournament in Taiwan.  There is no chance a team will select him.

Danny Barnes RHP
   A 35th round pick out of Princeton won't get a lot of fanfare or move very quickly in an organization, but Barnes was on the fast track after saving 34 games for Lansing in 2012.  Barnes lost 2013 to Tommy John surgery, however, and had mixed results with Dunedin in 2014 as he tried to rediscover his command.  It came back with a flourish in AA this year, striking out 74 in 60 innings.  Barnes does not light up the radar gun, but he gets the job done.  If he is not protected, there's not an overwhelming chance that he will be selected, but some teams might be tempted by his career minor league 12.0K/9, and over 4:1 K:BB ratio.

   As of this writing, there are 7 spots open on the Blue Jays 40-man roster after a number of moves earlier this month.  It's likely some names will be added after Friday deadline - some from within the organization, and some from outside.

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