Saturday, October 29, 2016

First Look at the Rule 5 Draft

Wil Browning
Clutchlings photo

   The Blue Jays have some roster decisions to make in advance of Major League Baseball's Rule 5 draft next month.
   The Rule 5 draft has been around for over half a century, and while it has undergone numerous revisions over the course of its history, its purpose has been to keep teams from stockpiling talent in the minor leagues. Roberto Clemente was one of the first Rule 5 draftees, and the Blue Jays have used it well to upgrade their roster over the years.  Willie Upshaw was the first player they took in the Rule 5 in 1977, and he helped bring the club into contention in the 1980s, along with George Bell, who they took from the Phillies in 1981 in a great tale of deep scouting work.  
      
   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.
   Drafting teams must pay $50 000 to the team they select players from, and must keep them on their 25-man roster for the entire following season, or offer them back to their original team for half that price.

   Five players from last year's Rule 5 draft stuck with the teams that took them, down from a high of 11 in 2014.  Joe Biagini, of course, was a revelation in middle relief for the Blue Jays this year, and along with Matt Bowman, who the Cards selected, have created a new template for the draft - the mediocre minor league starter who experienced an uptick in velocity and/or improved command with a pared-down arsenal of pitches once moved into a relief role.
   I don't want to say that I have a crystal ball, and Biagini's success was one of this season's more pleasant surprises, but I did have some optimism, as I wrote last year:
 Clearly, Biagini pitches to contact, and I would hazard a guess that his fastball is of the two-seamer variety.  MLB.com suggests that he has a shot at a back-of-the-rotation spot, but with that part of the Blue Jays roster more than full at the moment, perhaps the club is thinking of auditioning him in the departed Liam Hendriks' role in long relief, especially with new GM Ross Atkins expressing a preference for durable bullpen arms who can get guys out.  The 6'4", groundball-inducing Biagini fills the first role, but not necessarily the second, with the traditional bullpen arm being of the flame-throwing variety.  Pitching in relief, Hendriks experienced a bump in his fastball velocity this season, and it's likely the same could be projected for Biagini. He already generates plenty of weak contact, so maybe this represents a bit of a paradigm shift for the Jays - K's from relievers are nice, but with the vastly improved Jays' defence, may not be a necessity.
  Rule 5 players are always a gamble, but position players are even more so in this era of 8-man bullpens. In 1984, they rolled the dice, hoping that the Indians wouldn't want Kelly Gruber back after drafting him, and that move paid off, as the Indians gave up on the former 1st rounder and declined to take him back, allowing Toronto to send him to the minors for further seasoning. The Blue Jays could afford to stash OF Lou Thornton on their bench in 1985, because Bell, Lloyd Moseby, and Jesse Barfield were just entering their primes, and all played over 150 games that year.
 
   The other side of the Rule 5 coin is which players an organization should protect.  And which players currently on the 40-man who no longer figure in the team's plans.  R.A. Dickey and Josh Thole would be the first two names to come to mind in the latter category.

   From the National Post, here is a good breakdown of the 40-man as it currently stands:

Under contract for 2017

3B Josh Donaldson
SS Troy Tulowitzki
C Russell Martin
OF Melvin Upton Jr.
1B Justin Smoak

SP Marco Estrada
SP J.A. Happ
SP Francisco Liriano

Team option for 2017

RP Jason Grilli ($3M)

Team control for 2017
Arbitration-eligible

OF Ezequiel Carrera
IF Darwin Barney
C Josh Thole
UT Chris Colabello
RP Aaron Loup

Pre-arbitration

2B Devon Travis
OF Kevin Pillar
IF Ryan Goins
OF Dalton Pompey
OF Darrell Ceciliani

SP Aaron Sanchez
SP Marcus Stroman
SP Mike Bolsinger
RP Roberto Osuna
RP Bo Schultz
RP Ryan Tepera

Free agents

OF Jose Bautista
1B Edwin Encarnacion
OF Michael Saunders
C Dioner Navarro

SP R.A. Dickey
RP Brett Cecil
RP Joaquin Benoit
RP Scott Feldman
RP Gavin Floyd

    Atkins has already indicated that Grilli will be brought back, and is hopeful of re-signing Benoit.
Floyd is still on the 60-day DL, and while he's making progress from his torn lat injury, there's no timetable for his return.  Under just about any scenario, it's hard to see Saunders or Navarro returning, and the futures of Bautista, Encarnacion, and Cecil are cloudy.

   So, barring any acquisitions, there should be several roster spots open in a few weeks.

   Here are the players who are Rule 5 eligible unless they are added to the 40-man by late November:

              Player         Acquired       2016 Level


Anthony Alford
2012 draft (3)
High A
Josh Almonte
2012 draft (22)
High A
Deiferson Barreto
2011 IFA
Short Season
Ryan Borucki
2012 draft (15)
Low A
L.B. Dantzler
2013 draft (14)
High A
DJ Davis
2012 draft (1)
High A
JD Davis
2013 draft (15)
High A
Shane Dawson
2012 (17)
AA
David Harris
2013 (36)
High A
Javier Hernandez
2012 IFA
Short Season
Juan Kelly
2012 IFA
Low A
Dan Lietz
2013 draft (5)
Low A
Tim Mayza
2013 draft (13)
High A
Mitch Nay
2012 draft (1 supp)
Injured
Rodrigo Orozco
2012 IFA
Short Season
Angel Perdomo
2011 IFA
Low A
Mike Reeves
2013 draft (21)
High A
Francisco Rios
2012 IFA
High A
Chris Rowley
2013 NDFA
High A
Matt Smoral
2012 draft (1 supp)
Short Season
Richard Urena
2012 IFA
AA





    There are several names that jump out from that list, including Alford, Perdomo, Rios, and Urena.
Of that group, it's hard to see any team gambling on any of them, however. Urena may be the closest to MLB-ready, and he should be added to the 40-man this year. Of the other three, none have played above A ball. Perdomo may profile as a back of the bullpen power arm one day, which is possibly one of the reasons why the organization opted to keep him in Lansing for the entire season - had he pitched and succeeded in High A, some team may have taken a gamble on him. Alford is currently tearing up the Arizona Fall League at the moment, but he is still likely too raw for a team to pick him. Just the same, the cost would be relatively low for a club to take him to spring training to see what they have.
And then there is a group of players who were previously eligible, but were not selected:



  Player Acquired              Year First Eligible          2016 Level


Jake Anderson
2011 draft (1 supp)
2015
Short Season
Johnny Anderson
2008 draft (28)
2013
AA
Jon Berti
2011 draft (18)
2014
AA
Will Browning
2012 NDFA
2015
AA
Adonys Cardona
2010 IFA
2014
High A
Taylor Cole
2011 draft (29)
2014
AA
Matt Dean
2011 draft (13)
2015
High A
Emilio Guerrero
2011 IFA
2015
AA
Jason Leblebijian
2012 draft (25)
2015
AA
Derrick Loveless
2011 draft (27)
2015
AA
Christian Lopes
2011 draft (7)
2015
AA
Tom Robson
2011 draft (4)
2015
Low A
Dwight Smith Jr
2011 draft (1 supp)
2015
AA
John Stilson
2011 draft (3)
2014
AA
Dickie Joe Thon
2010 draft (5)
2014
High A

  No one on this list leaps out, although had he been healthy this year, Cole might have become a conversion project like Biagini. Submariner Browning limited Eastern League hitters to a .215 average, but while his funky delivery creates some deception, his velocity is not overwhelming.  Cardona was healthy for the first time in several seasons, and used carefully in a bullpen role, established a career high in innings, but he would be too much of a risk at this point, having not made the leap from High to AA yet.  Stilson has been tabbed as a back end of the bullpen arm in waiting for several years, but his health too has been an issue.  He had a decent year at AA, but has been lit up in Arizona this fall.  Smith may have fallen off the prospect radar after repeating AA, but there still could be room for him on some MLB roster one day as a fourth outfielder.  He will likely go unclaimed if he's not put on the 40 man this year once again.

   Since the strength of the Blue Jays farm system at the moment is more at the lower levels, the team does not have many critical decisions to make from a roster standpoint.  There will likely be several openings, but there are few prospects who they will absolutely have to protect.  Atkins told the media this past week that the club will look to shore up the bullpen via a variety of means, including the Rule 5.  Given Biagini's success this year,  that may be a more difficult task, as other teams will likely be in the same marketplace.  
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