The final feature of the annual winter meetings in baseball is the Rule 5 Draft. This is the draft that brought the Blue Jays their charismatic reliever Joe Biagini (who has been tearing up the social media world after his two appearances on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon) in addition to other stars like George Bell. A key moment in the lead up to the Rule 5 Draft is the deadline (which came on Friday) to protect young players from other teams. The Blue Jays added three players to their 40-man roster in advance of the deadline, ensuring that they won’t be nabbed by any of the other 29 clubs in the league.
I’m sure you’ve heard it before: the Rule 5 Draft is pretty complicated. Created to ensure that teams couldn’t sign and horde talent, the draft helps disburse players, forcing teams to make a decision to start their 40-man roster time or not. Basically, any player in a club’s system who is not on the team’s 40-man roster is eligible provided that they haven’t been in the system for four Rule 5 drafts (or five, if the player signs with the club at the age of 18 or younger). This gives teams four or five seasons to decide on whether a player merits inclusion on the roster. In the draft, teams select players and must pay $50,000 per player to select them. The player then must remain on the club’s 25-man roster for the entire season (barring a limited amount of time on the DL) or he must be offered back to the original team for $25,000.
What types of players get protected? Usually players who have played in the high minors or who have shown the ability to be close to contributing at the major league level. Because anyone who is selected has to remain on a major league 25-man roster for a while season, frequently these players have a high upside but can stick in the bigs without creating a big hole in the roster by hurting the team when used. This rules out a lot of players in the lower minors. Teams tend to use the Arizona Fall League as a proving ground for players whose eligibility is coming up and can test their players against highly-ranked prospects from other teams, getting an idea of how they’ll perform against better competition, which gives them one final glimpse into whether they’ll be protected or not.
Bluebird Banter has a great resource to see who’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft.
This year, two players had their “unprotected” time elapse who were considered to be shoe-ins for being added to the 40-man roster. The first, of course, was Anthony Alford, the former college football star who finally chose baseball. Drafted out of high school in 2012, this is Alford’s fifth Rule 5 Draft and thus, he is finally eligible. Alford is an unusual candidate to be protected by his club.
Alford still hasn’t played above the Advanced-A level and has missed large chunks of time over the past few years and is still behind the development curve thanks to his first three seasons spent going back and forth between baseball and football. Finally towards the end of the 2014 season, Alford committed full time to baseball, playing in the Australian Baseball League and then getting two “full” seasons (although the most number of games he’s played in a season has been 107) before heading to the Arizona Fall League this year. With strong numbers in Arizona and impressing scouts across the board with athleticism, work ethic and the capacity to being a full-time big leaguer in a couple of years, Alford was worth placing on the 40-man roster.
20-year-old shortstop Richard Urena, being only 16 when he signed in 2012, is now eligible for the Rule 5. Fortunately, the Blue Jays got a good look at Urena this year after his breakout season in 2015, mostly with Lansing. He came out of the gate this year dominating in Dunedin before moving up to Double-A New Hampshire and holding his own. While he needs to polish his approach at the plate, he has the ability to play shortstop in the majors (unlike other minor league shortstops who eventually move off the position) and appears to have the potential to contribute with the bat. Urena. Destined for either Double-A or Triple-A in 2017, Urena would have certainly attracted Rule 5 attention for his upside and glove alone.
The Blue Jays had several other eligible players who might have attracted interest. These include pitchers Francisco Rios (who topped out in Dunedin this year), Angel Perdomo (reached Lansing) and Tim Mayza (who pitched will in Dunedin but struggled in New Hampshire) but the only other player the Blue Jays added to the roster on Friday was lefty Ryan Borucki.
Borucki is a 6-foot-4 lefty who, at the age of 22, had his first complete full season of intebaseball. After getting shellacked in High-A Dunedin, he was outstanding for the Lansing Lugnuts, finding himself after missing most of 2015 with injuries. Injuries characterize much of Borucki’s pro career throwing just 11 2/3 innings over the 2012 and 2015 seasons (he didn’t pitch at all in 2013). While you wouldn’t think that Borucki might be a target for teams in the Rule 5 draft seeing that he hasn’t had much success above the Class-A level, but his excellent control and ability to pitch in the low-to-mid-90s as a starter who throws three solid pitches make him a bit more interesting.
Who do you think the Blue Jays should have protected?
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