The Blue Jays have some heavy thinking to do as they prepare to finalize their 40-man roster later this month in advance of next month’s Rule 5 draft.
Senior executives and scouts from the organization converged on Toronto last week for meetings to plot the club’s future, with the deadline for finalizing their 40 man coming on November 18th. Players with qualifying years of minor league service who are not placed on the 40 by that date can be claimed by any other MLB team in the Rule 5 on December 14th.
This coming Monday is the deadline for players on the 60-day DL to be reinstated to the 40 man if the team plans to keep them. Bo Schultz, Cesar Valdez, and Darren Ceciliani had been on the 60-day, but were outrighted on Wednesday. Aaron Sanchez, Dalton Pompey, Troy Tulowitzki, and Devon Travis will likely be added before that deadline, which means that the club will be up to 39 players.
There is a large group of minor leaguers who have hit the magic number in terms of years of minor league service that the club will have to decide on:
C – Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire
C/1B – Max Pentecost
1B – Rowdy Tellez
RHP – Conner Greene, Jordan Romano, Francisco Rios, Andrew Case
LHP – Angel Perdomo, Thomas Pannone
And with almost every name on this list, there are question marks. Jansen had a breakout year offensively, and played at three levels, although some of his defensive deficiencies were exposed the higher he moved. McGuire missed a good chunk of the season with a knee injury, and while he’s a quality receiver, there are concerns about his bat.
Pentecost’s health has always been an issue, and while he made a solid return to Catching on a limited basis this season, there is significant doubt as to his ability to play every day at that position. Easily the best athlete in this group, the Blue Jays may have to consider turning him into a hybrid player in order to keep his bat in the lineup.
Of the above three, Pentecost would be the most coveted Rule 5 pick, but he would come with a high degree of uncertaintly. Both Jansen and McGuire could probably step into MLB back up roles right away, but the Rule 5 market for players of their type has not been brisk over the past several seasons.
Tellez had success at every level of his career prior to this one, but he was overhwhelmed by AAA pitching this season. His bat is his primary tool, and when he struggles at the plate with pitch selection like he did this year, it tends to emphasize the relative inadequacies of his other tools. And the Blue Jays, as a result, have a major decision to make about Tellez. At this time last year, this would have been a no-brainer, but coming off a down season and with spaces on the 40 at a premium, will they consider leaving Tellez, who was being talked about as a potential middle-of-the-order bat before this season unprotected?
Greene topped 100 with his fastball multiple times this season, but had an incredibly hard time finding the plate. His BB rate (13.9%) was far and away the highest in the Eastern League, and while there’s room for optimism with the amount of weak contact he generated, he did not miss a lot of bats (8% swinging strike rate) for someone with his heat. The talk about moving Greene to the bullpen is growing, but as Mark Shapiro said in conversation recently, “Most people don’t realize how hard it is to develop Starting Pitchers.” That likely means that Greene will still be given a chance to start. Despite a bit of a sideways 2017, he would be snapped up quickly as a conversion project if he was exposed to the Rule 5.
Greene’s rotation mate at New Hampshire, Thomas Pannone, turned a lot of heads this year prior to and after his acquisition from Cleveland in the Joe Smith deal. Certainly, his stats look better than Greene’s, but the southpaw’s ceiling is not as high.
New Brunswick native Case pitched at three levels this year, ending the season at AAA. He is not a high strikeout guy, but he was very effective in AA, limited Eastern League hitters to a .209 average. He’s pitched well in the Arizona Fall League, too. The Blue Jays surely would not want to part with him, but there are other priorities ahead of him.
Markham, ON native Jordan Romano had a successful season at High A. He began to wear down as the season progressed, but that wasn’t a surprise given that it was the 2015 Tommy John surgery survivor’s first full season. Reports from Florida suggest that Romano had trouble turning a lineup over as the year went on, and might be better suited to a bullpen role. His fastball, which sits 91-95, would no doubt tick up higher, and he could focus on his curve, and drop his fringy change. Romano would be a reach, but he too could be a bullpen conversion project, and might give a team some decent innings in long relief.
6’8″ lefty Angel Perdomo has long teased with the extension and late life he gets on his fastball, complemented by developing secondaries. Perdomo struggled with his command before having his season end in early July. He has long been called a bullpen arm in waiting, and while he could one day be an effective situational reliever, he would be an enormous risk for a team right now.
RHP Francisco Rios had a breakout half season in Lansing last year, but couldn’t duplicate his success a High A or, this year, at AA. Patrick Murphy showed promise and earned a promotion from Lansing to Dunedin this year, but he has a lengthy injury history that has slowed his development.
Unless there are some dramatic moves, the Blue Jays aren’t going be able to protect all of these players from being exposed to the Rule 5 draft. It becomes a question of how much risk they want to take, and how much risk other teams are willing to take. Each draftee costs $100 000, and it the player fails to stay on the drafting team’s 25-man roster for the entire season, he must be offered back to his original team for half that price. That’s not a huge risk for teams – the trend of late has been to draft a player, then give him a spring training to see if he can fill a role. San Diego manouvered their way into acquiring the top three picks in last year’s draft, and while the trio of players selected stayed on the 25-man, they had minimal impact. The rebuilding Padres could afford to live with those players for a year, and can now send them back to the minors for further seasoning.
The Blue Jays struck pay dirt with Joe Biagini two years ago. The former Giants’ farmhand was a revelation in 2016, but had difficulty when pressed into a Starting role this year. Toronto had high hopes for last year’s pick, Glenn Sparkman, but he broke his thumb early in spring training. He was hit hard in his one and only MLB appearance this year before being returned to the Royals.
Gazing into the Blue Jays 40-man crystal ball, it’s hard to say exactly who they will protect. Much will depend on how much space the Blue Jays want to create over the next two weeks. Pentecost and Greene appear to be safe bets this year, but the rest is open to speculation.