The Blue Jays added 5 prospects among some additions and subtractions on Monday to get their 40-man roster to 39 players in advance of the deadline to freeze rosters in advance of next month’s Rule 5 draft.
Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins admitted that setting a 40-man in advance of the Rule 5 is what he calls a “challenging process.”:
We want to protect and retain all of our talented players, but we need to balance that desire with the need to manage 40-man roster space in the context of other offseason acquisitions and additions
The team elected to promote Catchers Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire, 1B Rowdy Tellez, and Pitchers Conner Greene and Thomas Pannone. “We think very highly of all these players,” he added, “both with respect to their long-term upside, as well as possible near-term ability to impact our major league team.”
On Jansen, who had a breakout offensive season at three levels:
Dan Jansen really impressed us and many around the industry this year, opening the season in A ball and advancing all the way to AAA. Danny had struggled with injuries in past years, but took the initiative to make two key changes following the 2016 season- he addressed some vision issues with an optometrist, and adapted his offensive approach. In a full season this year, he had a .323 average and .884 OPS across 3 levels, and performed particularly well in his late-season promotion to Buffalo. Our field staff and his pitchers have always thought highly of his defensive abilities, and Dan deserves all the credit for accepting the challenge of improving his offensive game and making the strides that he did.
On Greene and Tellez, both of whom had sideways 2017 seasons, but still are held in high regard:
We are highly confident in their abilities on the field, and I know both players well; there is no doubt in my mind that they will use the adversity they faced in 2017 to move forward and improve themselves in 2018.
Pannone was something of a sleeper, acquired in the Joe Smith deadline deal. Even though he had only pitched for the organzation for a month, he made quite an impression:
The reports and information we had on him prior to his acquisition was very exciting, and since he’s joined our club we’ve only been more impressed with him, both on and off the field. We felt that a player with his skills and track record (sub-3.00 ERA in AA) as a left-handed starter would rightly draw a lot of attention in the Rule 5 draft, and we look forward to having him in camp this spring.
McGuire missed much of the season with a knee injury, but his premium receiving skills might have made him an inviting Rule 5 target, even in a back up role:
He had a great offensive year with some strong improvement over his 2016 season, and we feel that his ability to defend behind the plate and interact with our staff gives him a high ceiling. We’re excited to see him build off his 2017 season as he moves into 2018.
The team does risk losing C/1B/DH Max Pentecost, who might be attractive to a team that could use him in a utility role. Just the same, his injury history, in addition to his weak Arizona Fall League showing and the fact that he can’t Catch on back-to-back days led the Blue Jays to roll the dice and leave him off the 40, hoping to sneak him through. Atkins did not refer specifically to Pentecost, but did acknowledge that the club faced some tough decisions when it came time to decide who to protect:
While we may have been able to add another player or two to our roster, doing so would have impacted our ability to make other decisions and moves later in the offseason. Hopefully we don’t lose any of our un-protected players in the upcoming Rule 5 draft, but if we do, it is a testament to the talent level and depth of our organization.
The Rule 5 draft has undergone a signficant metamorphosis over the years. Once an afterthought at the end of the December Winter Meetings, some teams (like the Blue Jays with Joe Biagini) have been able to find value in baseball’s bargain bin. The draft was originally meant to keep teams from stockpiling young players in the minors. Roberto Clemente, Josh Hamilton, and Johan Santana are three of the most successful picks ever, but the trend until recently has been for only a small amount of players to be selected, with most returned to their original clubs. The Blue Jays, for their part, were regular players in the Rule 5 during the Pat Gillick era, mining the Rule 5 for 1987 MVP George Bell.
Atkins did not indicate if the Blue Jays will be active participants this year. Hoping to catch lightning in a bottle again last year, they selected Pitcher Glenn Sparkman from the Royals. Sparkman broke his thumb in spring training, and was shipped back to the Royals after getting hammered in his only Blue Jays appearance.
This year’s Rule 5 draft takes place on December 10th. JJ Cooper of Baseball America wrote an excellent piece about the actual draft day process last year.