Blue Jays Last Ten Prospect Hot Sheet

This is another in a series of posts about the hottest prospects in the Blue Jays system over the past ten days (or so).  It’s not a re-ranking of the top Blue Jays prospects – that will come out after the minor league season.

1.  Cal Stevenson, OF Bluefield.

The 10th round pick from Arizona has dazzled in his first pro season.  Sent to the Appalachian League, he doesn’t have a lot left to prove after slashing .519/.619/.926 over the last ten days.

Stevenson leads the Appy in Runs, and is second in Average and OBP.  He has a patient approach with has led to 35 walks (leading the league) vs only 12 Ks.  He’s also stolen 9 bases, and hasn’t been caught.

2.  Max Pentecost, C New Hampshire

Pentecost’s last ten days have helped partially salvaged a disappointing season for the 2014 1st round pick.  He slashed .500/.455/.700, and 4 of his 10 hits were doubles, bringing Pentecost’s line for the season up to .228/.263/.345.  His Average had dipped below the Mendoza Line in late July.

The Blue Jays stashed Pentecost on the DL after the Arizona Fall League season in order to help protect him from the Rule 5.  There was thought of the team turning him into a multiple position player, but he’s been New Hampshire’s everyday Catcher for most the season.

3. Josh Winckowski, P Vancouver

At the end of an hour-long conversation with Blue Jays President/CEO Mark Shapiro last fall, I tossed out a line from an old Baseball Prospectus article I read about building a bullpen being a General Manager’s toughest job.  In response, Shapiro said that he thought that developing starting pitching is a more difficult task.

And he’s right.  Starting pitching drives a team’s defensive bus.

A 2016 Florida HS 15th rounder, Winckowski has been brought along slowly, pitching at all three short season levels.  That patience may be starting to pay off, as Winckowski delivered two superb starts for Vancouver over the past 10, as part of a remarkable turnaround for the defending Northwest League champs.

Winckowski pitched a career-hight 7 innings vs Euguene on July 29th, then delivered his best start as a pro, tossing six shutout frames in his following start, allowing 3 hits while fanning 7.

Other Pitching prospects in the Blue Jays system may have posted more dazzling stats over the past 10, but those two starts stood out.

4.  Ryan Noda, 1B Lansing

Last year’s Appy League MVP got off to a slow start with Lansing, but he seemed to find his stride at the plate at about the same time he was moved back to 1B with the promotion of Kacy Clemens to Dunedin.

Noda hit 4 HRs over the past 10, along with 8 walks, in posting a 1.172 OPS.  Noda leads the Midwest League in walks and OBP.  A Toronto media guy suggested Noda would be a LF in the Blue Jays rebuild next year, and while both of those predictions seem highly unlikely, there is no doubt about his ability to grind out ABs.

5.  Patrick Murphy, P Dunedin

Murphy ran into pitch count issues (and some inconsistent Florida State League umpiring) last night, but he became the 2nd pitcher in the system to hit 100 this season (teammate Jackson McClelland is the other).

Murphy’s velo has been ramping up all summer.  Enjoying a second straight season of good health, he’s sat in the mid-90s for much of the season, and has kept that velo deep into games.  Murphy has averaged better than a K per inning over his last ten starts.  No Blue Jays Pitching prospect has done more to improve his stock this year.

With the Rule 5 draft looming if he’s not put on the 40-man this fall, it would seem the team is content to keep him at High A for the duration of the season.  Blue Jays management would not confirm that, of course, but that does appear to be the strategy.

 

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Dunedin Blue Jays Roster Set

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The Dunedin Blue Jays will be rich in starting Pitching this year.

The defending High A Florida State League co-champs will feature a pair of first-round picks in their rotation in T.J. Zeuch (2016), and Nate Pearson (2017).

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With Patrick Murphy, Josh DeGraaf, and Tayler Saucedo joining Zeuch and Pearson in the rotation, Dunedin’s greatest strength will come from that starting core.  Pearson skipped Low A after a lights-out short season stint with Vancouver last year.  Some eyebrows were raised that Zeuch has returned to Dunedin after a strong Arizona Fall League peformance.  His return probably speaks more to the concerns the club may have over his injury-plagued 2017, as well as the depth at New Hampshire.  If Zeuch gets off to a good start, he should be in the Northeast by the time the weather warms up.

Joining Pearson from the 2017 Northwest League champs are SS Logan Warmoth, Pearson’s first round mate from last year, as well as C Riley Adams.  Warmoth’s leap was no surprise, but Adams’ is somewhat.  A fine athlete who was Vancouver’s MVP last year, Adams has some work to do with his receiving.

Justin Dillon, Travis Bergen and William Ouellette from Vancouver’s lights out bullpen last year have made the leap over Low A as well.  Juliandry Higuera is an interesting arm.  The southpaw started out in the organization as a starter, but was moved to the bullpen at Lansing last year, and fanned better than a batter per inning.

Bradley Jones returns from an injury-shortened 2017 to Dunedin.  He started the year at Lansing, but moved up to Dunedin in June.  Jones led the Appy League in Homers, RBI, Total Bases, and Slugging two years ago as a First Baseman, and added 2B and 3B to his portfolio last year.

Josh Palacios, one of the best athletes in the organization, moves up from to Lansing to play the OF.  2012 1st round pick DJ Davis returns to High for a 3rd season.  His .283/.357/.369 second half may be a sign that he’s coming close to finally fulfilling his tremendous promise.

P Justin Maese underwent surgery for a shoulder impingement last month, and is likely out for the season.  His presence would have given Dunedin a truly dominant rotation.

MLB and long time MiLB vet Casey Candaele joins the organization to manage Dunedin.  Donnie Murphy takes over as Hitting Coach, while Mark Riggins returns as Pitching Coach.  Michel Abreu returns as Pitching Coach.

 

Fisher Cats Release Roster

Fans in Manchester, NH, home of the Blue Jays AA Eastern League affiliate, have reasons to be excited.

Not only did the club extend its Player Development Contract with the Blue Jays for another two seasons last month, their roster released today includes two of the top prospects in all of baseball in the form of Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Bo Bichette:

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Much of the Florida State League co-champion Dunedin Blue Jays roster moves up to New Hampshire, giving fans potentially one of their most competitive clubs in several seasons.

The inclusion of Lourdes Gurriel Jr on the roster was something of a surprise, as he seemed ticketed for AAA after spending half a season with New Hampshire last year.  His play this spring had been described as lackluster, but whatever the case is, Gurriel still needs plenty of reps, after missing a good chunk of last year and all of the two season prior to that.

New Hampshire should have decent starting pitching, led by (in no particular order) Jordan Romano, Nick Tepesch, Sean Reid-Foley,  Francisco Rios, and Jon Harris.  The latter three are repeating AA, and there were hopes that SRF might reach AAA, but a disappointing spring has him headed back to New Hampshire.  There likely was no room for him in Buffalo’s rotation anyway, and after reaching AA at 21 last year, there’s still room for development.  Andrew Case, Dusty Isaacs, and Danny Young should form the core of an effective back-end of the bullpen, along with Zach Jackson, who was promoted from Dunedin.  Veteran reliever Craig Breslow signed a minor league deal with the Jays and had an opt out on March 22nd, but decided to stick with the organization.

Max Pentecost slipped through the Rule 5 draft last fall after being shut down late in the Arizona Fall League.  Veteran MiLB Patrick Cantwell joined the organization late last year, and appears to be splitting the Catching duties with Pentecost.  To be honest, it’s surprising there isn’t a 3rd Catcher on the roster, as Pentecost’s duties behind the plate have been limited.

The infield appears to be Guerrero at 3rd, Bichette at SS, Gurriel at 2nd (spelling Bichette on occasion), and Juan Kelly at 1st.  Cavan Biggio has played 2nd since being drafted two years ago, but was working out at 1st this spring.  Gunnar Heidt can play several infield positions.

The New Hampshire OF has returning CF Jonathan Davis, who had strong Arizona Fall League and Spring Training campaigns, anchoring it.  He’ll be joined by returnees Harold Ramirez, who did not hit as well has had been hoped last year, and the multi-talented Andrew Guillotte.  Connor Panas, along with Romano, represents the Canadian content on the roster.  Panas has mostly played 1st or DH’d since joining the Blue Jays in 2015, but he can play the corner OF spots.

Ladner, BC native Tom Robson starts the year on New Hampshire’s Disabled List.  Robson, who was converted to full-time relief last year after returning from Tommy John surgery in 2016, appears to be headed for surgery again.  Another Canadian, Lefty Shane Dawson, was a member of the Fisher Cats’ rotation the past two years, but was released this past week.

John Schneider moves up from Dunedin to helm the Fisher Cats.  Schneider played for 7 years in the system after being drafted by the Blue Jays in 2002, and is entering his 10th season as a Manager.  Huner Mense joins him as Hitting Coach. Mense played in the Padres system for five seasons before returning to school and receiving his Masters in Sports Psychology.  He served as the hitting coach for the Padres Northwest League affiliate before joining the Blue Jays this off-season.  Nova Scotian Vince Horsman returns as Pitching Coach.  Horsman originally signed with the Jays in 1984, and has been a coach in the organization since 2009.  Andy Fermin, who turned to coaching last year after 7 years as a player in the system, returns as Position Coach.

 

Notes From Around the System

It may be hard to believe that we’re less than Russ Martin’s Number away from Opening Day, but it’s coming like a freight train through the dead of winter, which is what those of us in Southern Ontario are in the midst of right now.  However, having spent a week in the frozen historical and gastronomical wonderland that is Quebec City, I’m not one to complain.

The Blue Jays have yet to confirm when their minor league players are to report to camp at the Bobby Mattick Complex, but it’s safe to say the dates will be somewhat similar to Oakland’s.  The Athletics’ Pitchers and Catchers report on March 3rd, Position Players on the 9th, and their first games will be on the 13th.  If you are heading to Florida to watch the Blue Jays in action in March, a little research on your part could land you at the Mattick (or any of the other complexes in the area) for some minor league action.  There are usually a pair of games going on at once, and you can sometimes catch a rehabbing MLBer in action.  Admission is free.

The Blue Jays have invited 13 non-roster players to Spring Training with the big club.  These players will not necessarily be auditioning for a major league job – the purpose of inviting them is to give them a taste of big league life, and to shorten the workdays for the regulars.  When asked who made the biggest impression on him two years ago during his first tour of a big league camp, Anthony Alford without hesitation answered Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson.  Alford was impressed with their work ethic, and how they went about their daily routine in preparing for the season.

Among the invitees this year are:

P Andrew Case – there was thought that the New Brunswick native would be added to the 40 man roster last fall after a solid showing in the Arizona Fall League, but he was left off, and was not selected in the Rule 5 draft.  Case is not a big strikeout guy, but the reliever finished the season at AAA, and it would not be a surprise to see him make his MLB debut this year.  He just seems to get guys out wherever he plays.

P Jose Fernandez – the lefty reliever has always had command issues, and struggled at AA last year, but has LOOGY potential.

P Chad Girodo – sidewinding southpaw battled injuries in 2017, and spent the bulk of the year at AAA.  Girodo appeared in 14 games for Toronto in 2016.

P Jon Harris – the 2015 1st rounder found too much of the strike zone at AA last year, and Eastern League hitters hit .292 against him.  This is a huge year for Harris, as he will be Rule 5 eligible next fall.

P Sean Reid-Foley – Last season was a learning year for the 2014 2nd rounder, who was one of the youngest players in AA.  His numbers for 2017 don’t look great at first glance, but he was a very effective Pitcher from mid-May to the end of the season.  There are some who suggest his control issues might mean an eventual move to the bullpen, but indications are the Blue Jays have every intention of continuing to use SRF in a starter’s role in Buffalo this year.

P Jordan Romano – the Markham native has long been one of our favourite Blue Jays prospects.  He was a regular correspondent during his recovery from Tommy John surgery in 2015, giving insight into the process.  He’s been a K/inning guy over the last two seasons as a starter, and while some suggest that with his over-the-top delivery and still-in-development secondaries, he too might profile as a bullpen arm,  he’ll continue as a starter in AA this year.  You don’t give up on a guy that’s missed that many bats.

P Chris Rowley – was one of the most effective Pitchers in the system last year, and completed his remarkable rise from non-drafted/missed two years due to military service guy to the big leagues last year.  Rowley was DFA’d in the fall to make room for the new arrivals on the 40, but he’ll be very much in competition for a big league job this year, with AAA his likely destination.  Rowley can start or relieve, and his versatility may come in handy.

P Justin Shafer – the 2014 8th rounder has risen slowly through the system, steadily getting ground ball outs along the way.  Converted to relief at AA last year, Shafer has long relief potential.

C Max Pentecost – eyebrows were raised when the 2014 1st rounder was left off the 40-man last fall.  The Blue Jays were crossing their fingers that Pentecost’s injury history would allow him to slip through the Rule 5, and their gamble paid off.  Many have recommended that the Blue Jays turn Pentecost into an Evan Gattis-like hybrid player, but when you read between the lines of the email responses from Jays execs, the plan is continue to have him Catch on a regular (perhaps not daily) basis.

IF Jason Lebelebijian – the versatile Leb can play all four IF positions, and has spent time in the OF, although he played mostly 2nd and 3rd in Buffalo last year.

IF Tim Lopes – the 5 year MiLB vet came over from the Mariners’ organization last year, and filled a valuable utility role for New Hampshire, appearing in 128 games.

OF J.D. Davis – I have to admit:  there was a moment of excitement when a publication confused Davis with underachieving 2012 1st rounder D.J. Davis, who repeated Dunedin last year.  This was not the first time someone had made this error, however.  DJ had a remarkable 2nd half, putting balls in play in the second half at the best rate of his career, posting a .333/381/.449 August.  JD Davis, on the other hand, has risen steadily through the system, and is a get-on-base speedster who can play all three OF positions.

OF Roemon Fields – the speed merchant posted career-best numbers at Buffalo last year (.291/.351/.352), and added 43 steals.  Fields’ profile is more of a bottom-of-the-order, 2nd leadoff hitter, but he has clearly established himself as a fringe MLBer.

Add in Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire, Rowdy Tellez, and Thomas Pannone, who were added to the 40-man in November, and there will be a lot of first-timers at Spring Training this year.

RHP Nate Pearson may have been in the shadows this year due to his short season after being selected in the 1st round of June’s draft, and with the seasons Vladdy Jr and Bo had, but his rise from high school non-prospect to Baseball America‘s Top 100 is a phenomenal story.  The Blue Jays did not roll the dice on Pearson so much as they had done their homework on him, and knew what they were getting. Sam Dykstra of milb.com wrote about it here:  https://www.milb.com/milb/news/toolshed-blue-jays-nate-pearson-prepped-for-takeoff/c-265720346

 

The Blue Jays Australian Baseball League affiliate, the Canberra Cavalry, are off to the ABL final after a come-from-behind victory over Perth in their best of three semi-final.

To be honest, there hasn’t been a lot to watch from a Blue Jays perspective down under.  1B Connor Panas, fresh off a monster second half in the Florida State League, was shut down for the year at Christmas.  Relievers Tayler Saucedo and Dan Lietz have been used in a limited role on a veteran-laden Cavalry staff.  Saucedo did get a huge 8th inning double play as the Cavs battled for a playoff spot in their final series of the season.

Canberra hosts Game 1 of the best of three affair against Brisbane on Friday night, with the series switching to Brisbane for the remainder.

 

Who Do The Blue Jays Risk Losing in the Rule 5 Draft?

MiLB: SEP 23 Florida Instructional League -  Blue Jays Work Out
Max Pentecost Sportsnet.ca photo

Baseball’s Rule 5 draft takes place this Thursday, as the annual winter meetings draw to a close.

The Blue Jays have been participants in the past two Rule 5s, striking paydirt with Joe Biagini two years ago, but whiffing on Glenn Sparkman last year.

It’s impossible to predict who the Blue Jays might be considering, but given their depth at several everyday positions and starting pitching, it’s safe to say they may look at adding another arm – and there are many availabe.  With the 12th pick, some of the better candidates may be off the board, however.  One off-the-radar pick might be Tampa C Nick Ciuffo, who like Stu Turner with the Reds last year, might stick as a back up.  One of Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire are the favourites at the moment to back Russ Martin up, but Ciuffo might help buy both a little more development time.   Another name which might intrigue the Jays is Twins RHP Kohl Stewart.  Stewart, the 4th overall pick in 2013, has a blazing fastball, but troubles repeating his delivery have led to high walk totals throughout his pro career.  If the Jays are serious about contending in 2018, they likely won’t take a chance on this talented but enigmatic pitcher.

What is possible to forecast is who might be taken among the players the Blue Jays chose to leave off their 40-man roster last month.  There are several players who might be selected:

  1.  C/1B Max Pentecost  was something of a surprise omission from the 40, but the Blue Jays are obviously gambling that his history of shoulder issues will dissuade teams from taking him.  There have been some reports that some teams might consider selecting him and stashing him on the 60 day DL, but it’s hard to see how that will be beneficial to his development.  Pentecost is a premium athlete, but he needs more time in the minors.
  2. OF Roemon Fields has elite speed, but has struggled to get on base throughout his minor league career.  This year, he managed a .344 OBP between Buffalo and New Hampshire – maybe not enough for the top of an order, but certainly a good fit for the singles hitters that tend to populate the bottom of most batting orders.  Fields can play all three OF positions, and his 50 steals this season underscore his speed.
  3. OF Jonathan Davis  has quietly gotten on base at every level he’s played at.  Like Fields, he can play all three OF spots, and unlike Fields has some pop in his bat.  Davis has speed, but is not in Fields’ category.  Both could profile as fourth outfielder types. Davis opened some eyes in the Arizona Fall League.
  4. Jordan Romano RHP the Markham, ON native has pitched in a starter’s role well since returning from Tommy John surgery in May, 2016.  But his command may concern some, and for those considering converting him to a relief role, he’s never pitched above High A.  There is probably too much pitching depth in this draft for Romano to be selected.
  5. Emerson Jimenez RHP  if you’ve never heard of Jimenez before, don’t be alarmed – few Blue Jays fans have.  Originally signed as an OF by the Rockies in 2012, he advanced as far as AA before being released in May.  Toronto signed him, and sent Jimenez to the Gulf Coast League to begin his conversion to the mound.  Pitching exclusively in relief, he fanned 23 in 15 innings.  Jimenez is raw in Pitching terms, but his fastball sits 94-99, and his change up has been described as surprisingly advanced.
  6. Francisco Rios RHP Rios had success as a starter in the lower levels, but struggled in AA this year.  Rios sits 90-92, but has some deception with his delivery, and has a slider that would play role in a relief role with that fastball, which would likely tick up.  Again, with the depth of this draft crop, it’s hard to see a team selecting Rios.

I really enjoyed this piece by J.J. Cooper of Baseball America on the Rule 5.  Coming at the end of the winter meetings, it comes at a time when many baseball executives are anxious to get out of Dodge and catch their flights back home.

Blue Jays Trying to Sneak Pentecost Through Rule 5

Pentecost
John Lott/VICE sports photo

A few eyebrows were raised last week when Toronto left Max Pentecost, one of their two 2014 first round picks, off of their 40-man roster in advance of next month’s Rule 5 draft.

Shi Davidi of Sportsnet reported on Friday that the club ordered Pentecost shut down with a week left in the Arizona Fall League season.  Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins told Davidi:

“Ultimately we have to decide what we feel is the best chance for us to keep the most talent in our organization. We’ll have plenty of time for (Pentecost) to become that person for us.”

Pentecost’s injury history could reasonably be termed lengthy.  In his draft year, assorted ailments limited him to 10 games behind the plate in short season ball.  The most serious of those maladies was a torn labrum in his right (throwing) shoulder.  A pair of surgeries cost him all of 2015, and when he returned to action with Low A Lansing in May of last year, he was limited to DH duties.  Pentecost returned to Catching with High A Dunedin this year, but not on back-to-back days.

Sent to the Arizona Fall League for some added reps (and perhaps for the team to see how he fared against the advanced competition there prior to making their final 40 decisions), Pentecost was behind the plate 8 times from the AFL season opener on October 11th til the end of the month, the most sustained stretch of Catching since he turned pro.

The Blue Jays are gambling that given his injury history, teams will shy away from selecting him in the Rule 5 in light of this announcement.  Pentecost’s future probably lies as something of a hybrid player, splitting time between C/1B/DH.  A rebuilding team could easily use a healthy Pentecost in that kind of role on a reserve basis, which is why the Blue Jays made it known that he had been shut down.  Our man Jason Woodell, who follows Florida State League prospects for prospects1500.com, saw a fit with the Braves prior to the shoulder news:

It is interesting that during Pentecost’s previous absences, there was little communication about his status from the club.  At the same time, his throws to 2nd during the AFL’s Future Stars game looked weak, and it’s not a huge surprise that he was shut down with shoulder pain.  He would not be the first prospect to be exposed to the 40-man whose team is crossing their fingers his injury history will allow him to sneak through.

Pentecost is a premium athlete, but it’s becoming obvious that he’s no longer the Blue Jays’ Catcher of the Future.  Playing him in a multiple of roles would keep his bat in the lineup, and help give the team some roster flexibility.  There was talk at one time of the Blue Jays giving him some time as a corner Outfielder to help add to his versatility.  A cynic would say that the team shut him down to help them avoid a 40-man squeeze.  What’s more likely is that the Blue Jays were protecting their investment.  Whether or not he recovers in time is unknown, of course, but the team is hopeful that he’ll be ready for spring training.  As far as his destination for 2018 is concerned, if past history is any indication, he may stay close to the team’s rehab and medical people in Dunedin, and then move north to AA New Hampshire once the Northeastern weather warms up.

Blue Jays GM Atkins on the 40-man Roster Additions

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.  

Blue Jays Add Prospects at 40-Man Deadline

The Blue Jays added 5 prospects to their 40 man roster today to prevent the possibility of losing them at next month’s Rule 5 draft.

Catchers Reese McGuire and Danny Jansen, 1B Rowdy Tellez, and Pitchers Thomas Pannone and Conner Greene were added.  Left unprotect included C/1B/DH Max Pentecost, OF Jonathan Davis, and Ps Andrew Case, Jordan Romano, Francisco Rios, and Angel Perdomo.

The team began clearing space earlier this month by outrighting Bo Schultz, Cesar Valdez, and Darren Ceciliani from the 40.  Last week, Leonel Campos, Taylor Cole, Luis Santos, and Raffy Lopez met the same fate.  Letting Rob Refsnyder go on waivers today and designating Harold Ramirez and Chris Rowley cleared additional space.  In between, Deck McGuire was signed as an MiLB free agent, and Taylor Guerreri was claimed on waivers from the Rays.  Acquiring SS Gift Ngoepe from the Pirates for futures brought the roster to 34 as the day progressed.

The 5 who were protected were not much of a surprise.  Jansen had a breakout year at three levels, and while McGuire missed a good chunk of the season due to knee surgery, could likely fit into any MLB roster as at least a back up, and showed promise with the bat upon his return.  Neither may be quite ready for an MLB job, but both would have likely been claimed.

Greene had his struggles at AA this year, but topped 100 with his fastball on multiple occasions.  It will be interesting if the team continues to let him develop as a starter, or if he moves to the bullpen.  Pannone, acquired in the Joe Smith deadline deal, was among the league leaders in many Eastern League pitching categories.

Tellez struggled mightily at the plate in AAA this year, and given his bat-first profile, he may have gone through the Rule 5 draft unclaimed.  The Blue Jays, obviously, did not want to take that risk, and the promotion of the 40-man has to be seen as a reward to Tellez, as well as a vote of confidence.

If there was a player who may have been protected, it might have been New Brunswick native Case.  After capping off as strong season by providing excellent set-up relief for Peoria en route to their Arizona Fall League title, there was talk that he might be protected.  Case does not profile as a big strikeout guy, which probably is why he was left off the 40.  Similarly, Davis had a strong fall for Peoria, and boosted his stock as a speedy, versatile fourth outfielder.  He might be a good fit for a team in need of that commodity.  Pentecost did not do much to show that he would be worth stashing on a 25-man for a year.  At this point, he has yet to prove he can Catch every day, and he struggled against AFL pitching.  It would be a surprise to see him selected.

With the roster now at 39, the Blue Jays have a chance to add a player at the Rule 5.

 

 

 

 

 

Blue Jays Make Moves in Advance of the 40-man Deadline

The Blue Jays made some roster moves ahead of next Saturday’s deadline to set 40-man rosters before December’s Rule 5 draft.

Pitchers Leonel Campos, Luis Santos, and Taylor Cole, along with C Raffy Lopez, were outrighted, taking the roster down to 35.  RHP Taylor Guerrieri was claimed after being left off of Tampa’s roster, bringing the number up to 36 for the moment.

The acquisition of Guerreri was an interesting one.  The former 1st round pick had been a perennial top prospect, but Tommy John surgery and a 50 game suspension for a drug of abuse derailed his career.  His 2016 report from Baseball America:

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Guerrieri was limited to only two AAA starts in April before being shut down with elbow soreness, but indications are that he’s healthy and will be ready for spring training.  With his velo drop, he doesn’t seem to fit the profile for a conversion to the bullpen, so he likely will serve as AAA starting depth if he’s unable to crack the back of the Blue Jays rotation.

Cole has always been one of our favourite MiLBers.  Cole led the minors in strikeouts while pitching for AA New Hampshire in 2014, and was labelled one of baseball’s top fringe prospects by Fangraphs.  Injuries and inconsistency have slowed his progress since then, and the 28 year old BYU grad (who did his mission work in Toronto) became an odd man out after making his MLB debut in September.

A Blue Jays source today indicated that pending further roster moves, the team will be adding between 3 to 6 minor league players to the 40 in order to protect them from the rule 5 draft.  The cutting of three pitchers would seem to bode well for Conner Greene, Thomas Pannone, Jordan Romano, Andrew Case, and Angel Perdomo.  Likewise,  outrighting Lopez would appear to be opening up a spot for one (or more) of Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire, and Max Pentecost.

Expect more deals to be announced by the Blue Jays over the next week and a half before the roster is finalized.

Blue Jays Face Decisions Ahead of Rule 5 Draft

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.