Some Final Thoughts on the Rule 5 Draft

In the past few days, we’ve seen a number of blogs posit that the Blue Jays made a mistake by not adding Jordan Romano and Travis Bergen to their 40-man roster, exposing them and ultimately losing them (for now, at least).

Maybe it’s time to take a step back.  No player selected in last week’s Rule 5 is likely to become a first division player.  Even the player the Blue Jays selected, RHP Elvis Luciano, is an extremely long shot to make it past spring training next year, let alone stick and become an above-replacment-level MLBer one day.

In the case of Romano and Bergen, Tommy John surgery early in their pro careers cost them development time.  Romano missed all of 2015, and after being drafted in the 7th round that year, Bergen didn’t advance to full season ball until this year.  If not for the time they missed, it’s reasonable to assume both would have pitched at AAA this year.

Romano has had success as a minor league starter after being drafted as a reliever.  He’s struck out almost a batter per inning in that role over his MiLB career, and was the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year.  As MLB Pipeline noted, however, his success has come more against RHH:

Romano can overpower right-handers with his 92- to 96-mph fastball and hard slider, but he scuffles against left-handers, leading many scouts to project him as a reliever. He posted a 4.11 ERA with a 128/45 K/BB ratio in 142 1/3 innings, mostly in Double-A.

Why, then, did the Blue Jays not convert Romano back to relief?  They had success in converting Ryan Tepera to the bullpen while he was still in the minors.  The main reason was that unlike Tepera, Romano had some success as a starter, and the Blue Jays were likely hoping that his Change-Up would continue to progress this year.  Ultimately, it didn’t – at least to the Blue Jays’ satisfaction – and since roster space was limited, and Romano ranks behind contemporaries Ryan Borucki, Thomas Pannone,  and Sean Reid-Foley, as well as Nate Pearson and Eric Pardinho behind him,  the team decided to expose him to the Rule 5.  They likely knew full well that he would be selected.  And as much as we like to see a GTA boy make it with his hometown team, Romano has a better chance to stick with the Rangers, who have question marks at the back of their rotation and in their bullpen.  I started a dialogue with Romano when he was recovering from Tommy John.  For three years, he’s faithfully answered my questions.  Over the past two seasons, he’s earned a championship ring (he called this year’s New Hampshire club the best team he’s ever played for), and I know he’s disappointed that his career as a Blue Jay may have come to an end.  He also knows he’s going to spring training next year (which means a huge raise in pay), and has a better shot at a big league job than he would have if he was still with the Blue Jays.

I make no secret of the fact that Bergen has been one of my favourite players in the system.  He was lights out in Vancouver in 2017, and was more of the same at two levels last year, closing out games late in the season for two championship teams in as many seasons.  He’s battled injuries and overhauled his delivery since joining the organization – there’s little doubt as to his grit, a quality scouts value.  At the same time, he doesn’t fit the mold of the heat-throwing power arm so in vogue today.  Even with the deception in his delivery and his ability to sequence, the Blue Jays must have felt well-stocked in the Lefty reliever department on the 40, and that unless he added velo (unlikely at the age of 25), Bergen was not going to be able to get MLB hitters out on a regular basis.  Still, they likely rolled the dice a bit with him, gambling that his injury history might scare some teams off.  The Giants were not.

Leaving these two off the 40 was not a mistake.  It was a sign of a system that is starting to develop some quality prospects.  And when you’re in that position, you have some difficult decisions to make come November.  And there’s always the possibility (slim that it may be) that one or both are offered back to the Blue Jays next year.   I’m certainly not trying to defend the Blue Jays’ choices; rather, I’m attempting to demonstrate what I feel was the thinking behind them.  Only time will tell whether it was a mistake to leave them unprotected.

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