Preparing for the Rule 5 Draft: Who Should the Jays Protect?

Travis Bergen

In my last post, I outlined who’s on the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster and who might be moved off to make some room approaching the Rule 5 draft. In this one, I’ll look at who I think the Blue Jays will add to the 40-man roster to protect them from other teams.

 

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Here’s a refresher on the Rule 5 draft. Originally designed as a way to prevent teams from hoarding talented players and keeping them stashed in their minor league system for years on end, the Rule 5 draft allows teams to select players from other teams’ minor league system (for a modest fee) but must keep the player on the active roster (26-man in 2020) or IL for the entire year with, I think, 90 days spent on the active roster. The Blue Jays executed this maneuver perfectly in 2019, selecting Elvis Luciano and hiding him on the IL just long enough to have him stay with the Jays beyond 2019. If a team doesn’t keep the player on the active roster (or IL), he must be offered back to his original team for half of the cost of drafting him.

Players are eligible after four years of minor league service if they are older than 18 when they signed their first contracts or five years of minor league service if they were 18 or younger when they signed. Last year, the Blue Jays “lost” two players, Jordan Romano and Travis Bergen, but both were eventually returned to the Blue Jays’ organization.

Probably the highest profile player who would have been available to be added to the roster was T.J. Zeuch who joined the Jays in September, protecting him from the Rule 5 draft.

 

  

Travis Bergen may be a shoe in for roster protection this year. While he struggled in 2019 pitching some with San Francisco and some in the minors, he was better in the minors and may be a solid lefty in the pen for 2020.

 

Also currently on the Buffalo Roster are pitchers Bryan Baker, Danny Barnes, Matt Dermody, Ryan Dull, Conor Fisk, Zach Jackson, Jackson McClelland, Tayler Saucedo, Kirby Snead and Andrew Sopko.

Of this group, I can see Baker, Jackson, McClelland and Snead being front runners. Will the Jays add all four to the roster? Doubtful. Snead probably gets a leg up because, aside from Tim Mayza and Thomas Pannone, the Jays don’t have a lefty in the bullpen. Baker’s big arm and slightly better track record than McClelland probably gives him an edge and I’m on the fence on Jackson, a curveball specialist who has control issues. I think of this group, it might be just Snead and Baker.

 

Santiago Espinal

I don’t think either of the catchers on the Bisons (Patrick Cantwell and Michael De La Cruz) will be added while infielder Santiago Espinal is definitely a candidate. While I don’t know if he has more upside than say Breyvic Valera, I think he’s the most likely position player to get added to the roster. Forrest Wall is another interesting possibility. He’s had a good year but only played a few games in Triple-A and I think teams might not want another players who would be a fringe outfielder.

So, of the Buffalo Bisons, I think between two and four of the players will be added to the roster, Travis Bergen, Santiago Espinal with the possibility of adding Bryan Baker or Kirby Snead.

 

Dany Jimenez

Of the pitchers for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Corey Copping, Adams Cuevas, Jake Fishman, Jon Harris, Thomas Hatch, Dany Jimenez, Vinny Nittoli, Willy Ortiz, William Ouellette and Danny Young are eligible. Of this group, Copping wasn’t great when he pitched in Buffalo, Cuevas spent most of the year in Bluefield, Harris was injured almost the entire year, Nittoli is 28, Ortiz wasn’t great and Young struggled in Triple-A.

That leaves us with Fishman, Hatch, Jimenez and Ouellette as possibilities. Ouellette was an NDFA who was good but not great in Double-A his first time around; that means the Jays likely don’t have as much of an incentive to protect their investment by protecting him, as the cost to get him in the organization wasn’t as much as it was for other players. Fishman was solid but, as a lefty who spent almost all year in Double-A is behind Bergen and Snead on the depth chart and would be the third lefty on my list to get added. Hatch is definitely a possibility.

Coming to Toronto from the Cubs in the trade for David Phelps, Hatch was really good a starter in a small sample size. He’s now had close to 300 innings in Double-A and will be in Triple-A next year with a chance to move up to the majors possible in 2021. I think he gets protected.

Finally, Dany Jimenez is the wild card. He’s come from almost nowhere in the last two seasons to have established himself as a strong candidate for a back-of-the-bullpen arm. While he’s getting older (he’ll be 26 in December), he can throw above 95 mph and is a real dark horse after striking out 46 in 33 2/3 innings in Double-A.

 

On the offensive side, there aren’t many candidates here. Riley Adams still has another year to go (he was drafted in 2017), Nash Knight profiles more as a high-minors guy than a big leaguer and of the infielders, only Christian Williams is eligible. Of the outfielders, Josh Palacios is eligible but, despite a solid year in Double-A, I don’t think he’s going to be much of a draw to have on a major league team in 2020.

 

If we go down to the Dunedin Blue Jays, I don’t think that Maximo Castillo is eligible (he signed after the season ended in 2015, giving him just four pro seasons, allowing him one more year before he’s eligible). Mike Ellenbest, Emerson Jimenez, and Andy Ravel are eligible. I don’t any of the three have had enough success at a high enough level to get added to the roster. Kevin Vicuna is likely eligible, but again, he hasn’t done much above the A-ball level. Norberto Obeso is eligible but, like Vicuna, he hasn’t separated himself from the pack enough to warrant attention. Demi Orimoloye is also eligible but completed his second year at Advanced-A and, while he had a spectacular month in June, he didn’t really follow that up and has a particular skill set that might not play well at the major league level right away. Finally, Reggie Pruitt is eligible but, again, he hasn’t done enough at a high enough level to be tantalizing to another major league team.

 

So, in total, I can see the Jays adding between three and six players to the 40-man roster. I think Travis Bergen, Santiago Espinal and Thomas Hatch with Kirby Snead, Dany Jimenez and Bryan Baker on the bubble.

What about you? Who do you think the Jays will add to the 40-man roster?

 

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