The Winter Meetings have concluded and the Blue Jays were active once again in the new Rule 5 draft. The draft had a couple of tweaks this year with the new CBA. The price for selecting a player has doubled (to $100,000 in the major league phase and $24,000 in the minor league phase) and the Double-A portion was dropped.
The major league phase of 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. There is also a minor league phase where players will generally be kept with no restrictions.
Last year’s Rule 5 selection for the Blue Jays, Joe Biagini, worked out pretty well, so the Jays decided to grab Glenn Sparkman, a former 20th-rounder in the Kansas City Royals’ system. While Biagini had a full season of starting at the Double-A level for San Francisco, Sparkman, 24, has made a grand total of eight starts (with 37 2/3 innings) at that level. Coming back from Tommy John surgery, Sparkman returned to Double-A with a less-than-stellar ERA at 4.58 but his strikeout to walk ratio was excellent (4.00) which is excellent for pitchers coming off UCL replacement surgery. That K/BB ratio was actually in the ballpark (pun intended) of his stellar 2014 mark of 4.68 when he was in Advanced-A Wilmington.
This article at Kings of Kaufmann noted that Sparkman could have a similar profile to Marco Estrada, when it comes to giving up hard contact. While he gave up fewer ground balls than average, he had a higher rate of infield fly balls and lower home run rate. Because he’s not a particularly hard thrower, it’s unclear what he’ll do in the Jays’ bullpen. He could very well be like Joe Biagini and see his velocity tick up in a limited role but he certainly won’t come out with elite velocity seen in today’s brand of late-inning reliever.
In the minor league portion of the Rule 5, the Jays didn’t select anyone but lost three players.
The Philadelphia Phillies selected plucky infielder Jorge Flores. Flores struggled last year in Double-A but had a great season (.276/.360/.347) the year before, entirely with Double-A New Hampshire. Flores is good fielder and is tough to pitch to (at 5-foot-5).
The Yankees selected Jays’ minor league catcher Jorge Saez. Saez was a personal favourite of mine. While he was mostly a backup, Saez reached Double-A last year after tearing up Dunedin with a .313/.361/.612 slash line in 18 games, hitting six home runs (already a single-season career high for him). In New Hampshire, he struggled a bit with the bat, hitting .232/.290/.432 but also saw his home runs remain at a high level (he hit another six in just 40 games). The power spike for Saez could be a big turning point for the 26 year old as his defense is already very good (he threw out 40% of would-be base stealers last year and has never averaged below 34% for a full year).
The Texas Rangers selected 6-foot-8 lefty Matt Smoral. Smoral has been developing slowly and showing a lot of regression over the past few years. With difficulty staying healthy, Smoral has also struggled to find control. The 22 year old has only 13 innings under his belt at full-season ball and has walked at least 18% of batters at every level except for a 33 2/3 inning stint in Bluefield in 2014.
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