After surprisingly filling up all five available roster spaces by adding as many minor leaguers who were eligible for next month’s Rule 5 draft, a few things have become clear.
C Gabriel Moreno and OF Josh Palacios were locks to be added. RH reliever Ty Tice was a reasonable bet. But C Riley Adams and UT Otto Lopez were considered to be longshots.
With these additions, the Blue Jays appear to be happy for the moment with the current makeup of their 40. But few teams use all available slots, so some further moves appear likely. With the non-tender deadline coming shortly, it would appear some space (hello, Travis Shaw and Derek Fisher) might be made. Deals with other clubs seem likely to, given that there are 5 catchers on the 40 at the moment. Rumours are that the Pirates made a heavy push to acquire C Alejandro Kirk at the trade deadline; the Blue Jays are now deep in prospects at that position.
One other thing is obvious now, as well: the Blue Jays most likely won’t be takers in the Rule 5. With a club that is on the cusp of contention, there isn’t room to stash a not ready for prime time player in 2021. Unless there’s a player available who a team just can’t pass up, few teams may be selected this year. No one has had a chance to look at these guys.
But of the players who were not selected, who might the Blue Jays risk losing? Two names come to mind:
RHP Maximo Castillo fared well as one of the youngest starters in the Florida State League in 2019. But he’s prone to the flyball, and doesn’t generate an elite amount of whiffs. Castillo’s fastball sat at 91-92 in 2019, and has probably moved up; his ability to command it is one of his strengths. He also gets high marks for his feel for pitching. His relative lack of an off-speed pitch might limit his ability to start at the upper levels. But with his size and remaining projection, there’s a chance his fastball would play up in a relief role. Maybe a team that can afford to find a way to keep him for a year would take a flyer on Castillo.
RHP Josh Winckowski is an example of the pros and cons of being patient with a prospect’s development. A one-step-at-a-time guy, Wincky is now Rule 5 eligible because the organization has not been aggressive with his timeline. He has made tremendous progress since being drafted, but some of that can be attributed to the reps he received at each level. Many players were robbed of a chance to show what they could do in 2020 by the pandemic, possibly none more so than Winckowski. He’s a ground ball pitcher who has steadily bumped up his velo, and was hoping to top out in the high 90s this year. He combines that with a plus slider. Like Castillo, Winckowski might attract attention from a non-contending team. Wincky has a starter’s build, a developing feel for his pitches, and it was something of a surprise that he wasn’t named to the team’s 60-man pool. His development may have accelerated even more at the alt site. Winckowski has the makings of a sleeper, long shot that he currently is.
If Castillo and Winckowski are low-possibility players to be selected , IF Kevin Smith would be even lower than that. But in conversations with Blue Jays officials, his name has come up as one who impressed at the alt site. But it’s just a thought.
Truth be told, leaving players unprotected has worked reasonably well for the Blue Jays. Over the past several seasons, Jordan Romano, Dany Jimenez, and Travis Bergen were all selected in the Rule 5, but all were returned to the organization. Like Castillo, of course, Romano was a starter in his first tour with the Blue Jays.
The Rule 5 draft will take place on December 10th.