All Quiet on the Blue Jays 40 Man Front

In a little bit less than 24 hours from now, MLB 40 man rosters must be finalized and frozen in advance of the Rule 5 draft next month.

The Blue Jays currently sit at 36 players on their 40, with the possibility of a couple of spots being opened tomorrow.

Among the players the team is likely considering promoting to the 40 are Pitchers Hector Perez, Patrick Murphy, Yennsy Diaz, and Travis Bergen.  Jordan Romano, Max Pentecost, and Jackson McClelland are players on the bubble.   The decisions the Blue Jays have to make are not easy.   McClelland smashed the 100 mph barrier regularly this year, and averaged 97 with his fastball.  With a similar build, it’s easy to see Romano experience a big uptick in velo in a relief role.  Maybe they’re marginal MLBers, or maybe one or both could be one who got away.

For the players, promotion to the 40 isn’t just a step closer to the big time.  For the guys who did not break the slot bank, the pay raise is a huge bonus – AAA players start at $2150/month (for a six month season), while AA players start at $1700.  Once promoted to the 40, players receive a $41400 salary (plus membership in the MLB Health and Welfare and MLB Insurance plans), which doubles in their second year on the 40.  Those numbers may not seem like a lot in the face of MLB salaries (the minimum is $545K) and high bonuses paid to top draftees and international players, but the Blue Jays spent almost 75% of their close to $10 million draft bonus pool this year on three players.  In addition, players on the 40 get an invite to spring training (which can trigger a bonus).

This will be one of the most interesting final pre-roster freeze 24 hours for the Blue Jays in recent memory.

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Blue Jays Make Roster Moves Ahead of Rule 5

The Blue Jays made a number of roster moves yesterday ahead of next month’s Rule 5 draft.

A bunch of bullpen arms were moved in order to free up some space on the 40-man roster.  Jose Fernandez was picked up by the Tigers on a waiver claim,  Justin Shafer was outrighted to Buffalo, while Rhiner Cruz, Taylor Guerreri, and Jake Petricka cleared waivers, and are now free agents.  Troy Tulowitzki and Brandon Drury were reinstated from the 60-day DL, bringing the current 40 man to a total of 36 players.

There may be more space created before rosters are frozen on November 20th.  Dalton Pompey may be headed elsewhere after another season of injuries and inconsistency.  Getting into an argument with Buffalo Manager Bobby Meacham this summer probably means that the Mississauga native will get a much-needed fresh start with another organization.  Yangervis Solarte’s option was not picked up by the club, and with the surplus of infielders in the system, it seems likely that he will be traded or non-tendered.

 

So at the moment, there are four spaces available to protect minor league players who could be exposed to the Rule 5.  RHP Patrick Murphy would seem to have the best chance to be added, but there is a sliver of a chance that his injury history might scare off other teams.  Murphy was the Florida State League’s Pitcher of the Year, and led the league in strikeouts.  He hit 100 with his fastball late this summer, and kept his mid-90s velo deep into games.

As for position players, Harold Ramirez and Max Pentecost are the two most likely under consideration for the 40.  Ramirez had a fine bounce-back year at AA, winning the Eastern League batting crown, and can play all three OF positions.  Pentecost was healthy for the whole season, but struggled at the plate until making a mechanical adjustment in August.  He looked very worn down in the playoffs.  The Blue Jays faced a similar situation with the 2014 1st rounder last November, but placed him on the DL at the end of the Arizona Fall League.

Other Pitchers who have a chance to grab one of those 40-man openings include:

-southpaw bullpen arm Travis Bergen, who fanned 74 in 57 innings split between A+ and AA this year;

-reliever Jackson McClelland, whose command appears to be catching up to his 100+ FB in AFL play;

-Markham native Jordan Romano, who had a fine season in AA, and might be converted to a relief role;

-reliever Corey Copping, who came over in the John Axford deal;

-starter Hector Perez, acquired in the Roberto Osuna trade;

-Aaron Loup-heir apparent reliever Danny Young, a sidewinding lefty.

 

With as many as a half-dozen or more of those names (there are others in the system, but the above appear to be the most likely) under consideration for the 40, it makes sense that the Blue Jays are likely considering other roster moves before the 20th.

Fisher Cats Hitting Coach Reflects on Championship Season

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Gosportscards.com photo 

Many people who knew Hunter Mense warned him about taking the hitting coach job at AA New Hampshire.

After a season in the Padres’ organization, Mense had been recommended for the position last off-season by the Blue Jays newly hired minor league hitting co-ordinator, Guillermo Martinez.  Mense interviewed for the position, and two days later was offered the spot Player Development Director Gil Kim.  In preparing for his interview, Mense had done his homework, and saw that top prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Bo Bichette, among others, would likely be his charges.  But some in Mense’s circle suggested he would be getting into a no-win situation if he took the job:

I talked a bunch of people and they’re like – Hunter, that’s not a good opportunity because you’ll have all the pressure in the world because the expectations that come along with coaching these guys is so high.

Nonetheless, when Kim called, Mense jumped at the opportunity.  And in the end, he took a great deal away from the experience, which included coaching the best prospect in all of minor league baseball for half a season, and an Eastern League championship:

I got so much more out of those guys than they got out of me. Everyone of them. I learned so much more about hitting and about baseball and about coaching and professional baseball and everything that goes along with it from them. Way more than they learned from me so it was such a great opportunity and there’s no way I couldn’t take it.

 

 

Born in Liberty, MO, Mense was undrafted out of high school, so he went the collegiate route, attending the University of Missouri.  Mense had a tremendous sophomore season, played for Team USA that summer, and after being named a pre-season 3rd team All American by Baseball America, he appeared to be a solid bet to be taken in the first 3-4 rounds of the 2007 MLB draft.  Such was not to be the case for the Outfielder, however, and after getting off to a slow start, he found himself in a downward spiral, and in his own words, “I was hurting myself and the people around me.”   Mense finished his junior season with a .258/.328/.390 line, and his draft stock dropped as a result.  He lasted until the Marlins selected him in the 17th round.

Despite that disappointment, there were a couple of silver linings to that disappointing season.  At this parent’s request, Mense came under the mentorship of Rick McGuire, who was Missouri’s track coach, and more importantly, was the well-regarded head of the school’s sports psychology department.  Mense initially balked at the prospect of meeting with McGuire, but after spending several hours in conversation with him, he felt a great burden had been eased as a result:

I don’t necessarily remember exactly what we talked about or things that we did, or anything like that, but I just remember walking out of his office that day and feeling like I had at a weight lifted off my shoulders.

In his next game, a more relaxed and focussed Mense had four hits, and turned his season around.  And through his exposure to McGuire, a post playing career had been laid out in front of him.  When Mense was released in his fourth season by the Marlins, he eventually returned to Missouri, and began to study for his Masters in Sports Psychology.  If there was a benefit, when all was said and done, to his draft stock dropping, it was that in his first year in the Marlins organization in the New York-Penn League in 2006, one of his teammates was a utility infielder by the name of Guillermo Martinez, who became a life-long friend.

 

After his release from the Marlins, Mense went home and played Indy ball in Kansas City for a couple of seasons, but he could see the writing on the wall, and began to prepare himself for his next career.  He decided he wanted to return to Missouri to finish his undergraduate degree, and he reached out to baseball coach Tim Jamieson, who took Mense on as an undergrad assistant coach, working with the team’s hitters.  Over the course of four years, as he moved into post-grad work, Mense served a variety of roles for the team:  undergrad and graduate volunteer assistant coach, and colour commentator on the team’s radio broadcasts.  When an opening on Jamieson’s staff became available following the 2015 season, Mense was a natural fit, and was offered the job.  Unfortunately, Jamieson had not taken the Tigers to an NCAA regional since 2012, and after he failed to do so again in 2016, he tendered his resignation.  A new head coach came in, and Mense was encouraged to explore coaching opportunities elsewhere, and after a summer off, he connected with the Padres, and was named the hitting coach at Tri-City, their Northwest League affiliate.  When the Blue Jays came calling following his first summer with the Padres last year, the organization was understandably unwilling to let him go at first.  The connection with his former teammate Martinez was integral in Mense’s getting the opportunity with Toronto:

… any time you play with somebody, or you know somebody that continues to stay in baseball like he has, you just automatically stay in touch with those people and you know you always have something to talk about  –  especially when it’s a hitting guy. So we always stayed in contact throughout the years.

 

With top prospects Guerrero and Bichette supported by the likes of Cavan Biggio and Lourdes Gurriel Jr, New Hampshire Manager John Schneider jokingly referred to travelling with the Fisher Cats to being with a boy band.  Everywhere the team went, they were the centre of a great deal of media attention.  Underneath it all, however, everyone involved was pretty much having a blast, including newcomer Mense.

It was so much fun being around that group as a whole and then being around that group as an offence. It was it was so much fun just because I was a new one to the group. They were all a bunch of guys that had known each other, and had played with each other and that had played with Schneids last year. So I was the one that had the privilege of getting to know all of them especially through the first half. So they welcomed me with open arms and listened, and tried new things, and tried new drills, and tried new ideas and listened to new ideas from somebody that hadn’t been in the organization. So I felt really good about that just in a sense that they took me in and treated me like one of their own. I think it was like that with everybody that came up – if there was a guy that came up for a day a week a month two months whatever it was or came down it was the same sort of deal so I think when you have that and you put all those pieces together and you have some veteran pieces and better parts that are consistent, and know what they want out of a unit, then I think you’re going to have a lot of success.

With a stellar offence to work with –  the Fisher Cats led all of minor league baseball in OPS by 15 points – Mense was careful not to come in and make wholesale changes right away.  Players like Bichette and Guerrero know their swings so well that there’s little a hitting coach can do in terms of their mechanics.

If you’re a professional baseball and especially at the AA level you’ve got a bunch of guys who – one, they’re older, and they’re more established  – they’ve had success. They wouldn’t be at that level if they didn’t have success, too……  They’re going to be their best teacher, and at that point you think about all the hitting coaches and all the hitting people they’ve had around them up to that point in their lives. And if you’re a hitting guy and you come in and you start trying to tell them they need to do this you need to do this and this isn’t going to work….. You’re going to lose them really fast.

For the first half of the season, Mense was careful to respect those boundaries with his hitters.  He focussed on being available as a resource if he was needed, and spent time with his players in the batting cage and in the dugout, where the conversations were often more about life itself than about hitting.  The rapport that he built with them helped to lend his ideas and presence added credibility as the season progressed:

You start to build up this massive amount of trust, and through that then they start asking questions, and they start wondering different things that they have never thought about. As long as you come with an open and creative mind as a hitting coach, I think you’re going to get a lot more buy-in than a guy who’s just going to come in and just try and tell these guys what they should and shouldn’t be doing because these guys have all got to this point because they’ve had success.

With this approach, Mense feels the best job he did as a coach all year was his work with Guerrero:

(I just took) a step back and just let him do his thing,because I think I truly believe that there are a lot of a lot of coaches…… they just want to get in there and just don’t feel like they’re coaching unless they’re actually doing something mechanical with the player and to me by far the biggest wrong that you can make as a coach is doing that, because if something’s working and it’s really working for them, and you try changing it, you’re not going to get any buy-in from anything that you’re going to do with them.  

 

 

When asked to summarize his philosophy of hitting, Mense puts it down to a basic tenet:  “get a pitch early in the count that you can hit over an outfielder’s head.”  While that seems like a simple statement, it incorporates a number of elements, including being aggressive early in the count, before a pitcher with effective secondary pitches can gain an advantage.  But if you want to hit a ball over an outfielder’s head, Mense feels hitters need to be selective in their aggressiveness:

You’ve got to get the right pitch to do it with. So it’s zoning in on an area that you want to hit in and being steadfast on just dominating that area.

And when a hitter gets his pitch, he needs to get his best swing off:

You can’t hold anything back and you have to really get your A swing off, and then the last part of that is getting it over somebody’s head is not just getting your best swing off and your best swing is a line drive up the middle. Your best swing should  be able to get some air underneath the ball that’s going to make an outfielder turn and run and run back……

In today’s rapidly changing game, hitters need to put loft on the ball, because:

…..if you aren’t hitting balls out of the yard or you aren’t driving balls in gaps and you’re just a singles guy, you’re going to get left behind.

New Hampshire had a board in their locker room that listed all hitters who had hit balls over 100 mph, which really helped them buy into the best-swing/in-the-air mentality.  Perhaps the hitter who bought in the most and benefitted from it significantly as a result was Harold Ramirez.  Back in AA for a third season, Ramirez hit the ball as hard as any Fisher Cat, but in 2017 the result was primarily into the ground, leading to a disappointing season for Ramirez.  Some adjustments to his swing this year led to a batting title:

….we worked the whole year on putting his body into a different position to where he’s still hitting balls hard, but they’re just coming off the bat at an angle where it’s going up instead of going down, and then instead of hitting .267, he’s hitting .320 and leading the league in hitting, and he’s got 40+ doubles.

 

 When he does get to Toronto, likely by mid-April, Vladdy Jr will be subjected to a Mount Logan-sized amount of pressure, carrying the expectations of a country  – most of which has only heard or read about him, or maybe has seen him on grainy internet video. Mense thinks he’ll be more than up to the challenge:

The really cool thing about Vladdy is whenever the situation is challenging , whenever the situation is hard,  whenever we’re facing a guy that was really good, he would always like just rise up to a different level….I’ve never been around a guy who has wanted to be challenged and steps up and rises to a challenge more than him.

 Mense tells a story that demonstrates Guerrero’s ability to tackle challenges.  The Fisher Cats took a pitching machine on the road with them, which Mense operated.  During Guerrero’s last series with New Hampshire before his planned promotion, Mense set the machine to throw fastballs.  A few hitters took him up on it, but Vlad was content to watch curiously from the sidelines. The hitters would take turns moving closer to the machine, trying to square up balls, until they were about 15 feet away, at which point they could no longer get around on the pitches:

… there isn’t any one of the three guys who could really do it – they’re struggling, anything they hit was going straight into the ground and they were late on it. And I catch Vladdy out of the corner of my eye – he’s over in the other cage. He’s watching what’s going on and he’s seeing that this is really challenging. I can see the wheels spinning in his head and saying to himself, “OK, this is challenging.”

At that point, Guerrero decided to take a turn:

He goes up there – boom! – Takes a step up -boom! – Takes a step up -boom! – Takes a step up barreling up things and gets to about 15 feet where (the other hitters) were. Takes a couple swings doesn’t barrel it up, kind of goes straight to the ground, and he takes a step out. Two more to the back of the net. Take a step out leaves the cage. Kinda like this look on his face like yeah OK what’s next. That was it. It was like he was so intrigued and so interested in what these guys were doing because it was a challenge. He saw that it was hard for what they were doing. And that’s and that’s how he is he will take on challenges that nobody else will take on.

 Like all great players, Mense says Vladdy Jr makes everyone else around him a better player:

He’s one of those kids he makes everybody around him better when he comes in these are all such clichés that you hear about all the time, but it’s so true with him. When he comes into the clubhouse, he brings an energy to him, and when he comes in the dugout he’s got an energy to him. He’s got this aura around him, and he just makes everybody else better.

 

 Of all the players he worked with in New Hampshire, Mense is the proudest of what he and Bichette accomplished.  But it wasn’t easy.  After leading all of MiLB with a .384 average in his first year of full season ball in 2017, Bichette had his struggles against the advanced competition in AA.  Bichette’s troubles stemmed largely from being over-aggressive and expanding his strike zone, and word quickly got around the Eastern League, with Bichette seeing fewer and fewer pitches in the strike zone, and his average bottoming out at .237 in late May.  For some hitters, that might necessitate major tinkering with their swing mechanics, but Mense was prepared to stay the course with Bichette, and pointed out to him at mid-season the source of his troubles:

We were in Portland – this was right before he went to the Futures Game, and we sat down and I showed him some numbers and it was all just numbers based on his chase percentage and the percentage of pitches he was swinging that were outside of Zone, and how compared to guys in the big leagues when they were at the AA level. It was really good for him to see that, because he saw even guys chasing a lot in the big leagues when they were in AA, they weren’t chasing that much.

 To reinforce this mindset, Manager Schneider would deliberately throw pitches out of the strike zone to Bichette during batting practice, forcing him to corral his aggressiveness and improve his selectivity skills.  Once Bichette decided to focus on pitches he could barrel, his average climbed:

And that was the thing – he kind of came to the conclusion of instead of trying to cover the entire strike zone, he just had to shrink what he was trying to swing at, and get it earlier in the count. He just had to shrink that down a little bit and once he did it – once he realized that’s what he needed to do, man it was……… I mean he took off,  because the path that he has as a hitter that he takes to the baseball is an elite path.

 Bichette takes great pride in his hitting, and when he wasn’t putting the barrel on the pitches he was chasing, he knew he had to make a change in his approach:

His (struggles) had nothing to do with (lack of pitch recognition). He has bat speed, and an ability to not have to guess, and not have to start his swing early, which gives him an opportunity to be better and cover more pitches in the zone if he wants. It was just a change in mindset and in the end, he takes such pride in being aggressive….. But he also takes pride in getting a lot of hits too. And I think he realized that he had to adjust. Once he started to get exposed a little bit by pitchers – they felt like they didn’t even have to throw strikes to get him out. Once he realized that he wasn’t getting the hits, he was like, “Okay I gotta make a change because I like getting hits”

In the end, the struggles Bichette faced for the first time in his pro career will likely serve him very well in the future.  Mense thinks in many ways his 2018 season was better than 2017, because of the lessons he learned:

… in 2018 I can tell you and I can assure you was a way better year for him because he had to work through some things that are going to be going to be more sustainable for him for the rest of his career.

Cavan Biggio’s 2017 numbers didn’t stand out, but there were some inklings that big things were likely to come as a result of changes he had made in his mechanics following his rookie 2016 campaign.  In an attempt to swing harder and put more loft on the ball, Biggio’s flyball percentage jumped in 2017, as did his K% rate.  In the large Florida State League ballparks in the humid southern summer air, however, only 11 of those flyballs left the park.  This season, Biggio continued that approach, and made another mechanical adjustment.  Mense says Biggio’s experience coupled with that change allowed him to become one of the most dangerous hitters in the Eastern League, leading the loop in Home Runs, Walks, Slugging, and OPS:

(He’s a) guy that’s a year or more advanced in his career, and  advanced with what it is that he knows he can do damage with. And you couple that with he lowered his hands in the offseason, and felt like he was getting into a better spot where he could consistently get balls in the air. You put all those things together,  I think it is a recipe for doing that and hitting a bunch of home runs. I mean you look at his average exit velo from this year to last year and it went up a couple of miles per hour. So he was consistently hitting balls harder in the air. And I do think that probably has a little bit to do with him lowering his hands, and more so than anything I think it was it was just a conscious effort from him to try to do more damage and not just be a Singles hitter.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr was not with the Fisher Cats for long before his promotion to Buffalo, but he left a lasting impact on his teammates, and was a completely different player from 2017, which could be attributed to injuries, and as Mense points out, some rust:

 I think in talking to everybody and hearing him talk about it, it was just swinging at better pitches. And I think that probably had a little bit to do with the lay off that he had and not playing really competitively (for almost two years)……… So he was very meticulous with how he worked, and he was probably the best worker in the cage with what he wanted to do, and how he went about doing it, and how dead set he was on getting these things in. And that was really cool to see. I mean it was really cool for our guys to see, especially a guy like Vladdy watching him do these things every day, and then seeing the success he was having, then going up to the big leagues. He was putting in the work, and he was working his rear end off every single day that he came into the game, and he had an idea and a plan as to what he wanted to do.

Not every hitter Mense worked with was a success story from start to finish.  Max Pentecost caught a career-high 77 games, but the 2014 1st rounder struggled at the plate for the first four months of the season before making some changes and catching fire in August:

So he made a change, and I think there are a couple of parts to it. He got to a point when we were entering August, he was hitting about .195, and it got to a point where it was like, hey dude, we have to change something, because we can continue on this path, or we can change and hopefully something goes better. But if at the very worst you continue do what you’re doing. I mean what are going we to lose? So he was at a point where he was ready to make some changes, so we kind of let him mess around with it and kind of come up with his own ideas to what he wanted to do slowly, starting start having started incorporating like a little gather a little toe tap gather.

The difference in Pentecost’s hitting as a result of making those adjustments were swift and dramatic.  He started driving balls with regularity, and hit .375 for the month of August, leading the Eastern League in Slugging and OPS, garnering Player of the Month honours.  A small warning light that was flashing on Pentecost’s dashboard, however, was his .381 OBP.  As a result of being aggressive and attacking early in counts, he wasn’t drawing walks (all of 1 for the month).  In the playoffs, when he was probably feeling a bit tired at the end of a long season, Pentecost appeared to be just going up to the plate and hacking at the first pitch near the strike zone that he saw:

Towards the end of the year he kind of started getting worn down a little bit. I think that gather that he started having was a little bit quicker and so he wasn’t seeing pictures out of the guy’s hand as well as he was in that month of August. And so then he’s trying to make up for it by swinging and trying to get his best swing off and he was just trying to swing at everything and trying to do his damage with everything instead of just going back to slowing it down and just getting something in the zone.

Mense thinks that it’s still reasonable to be optimistic about Pentecost’s future due to his makeup and athleticism:

I like when he started doing that little gather – the old toe tap – it literally took him one day and then the next day he implemented it and it was like Home Run here, and Double here, and it was like it changed that fast. So he has the ability to make adjustments and change really fast. He did it from the Catching side of it too……. He’s he’s such a good athlete and has such good feel that he was able to make those changes.

 

Mense’s season started in Florida in Spring Training.  After five-plus months with New Hampshire, it was back to Florida for Instructs, and then off to the Dominican to work with hitters at the team’s complex there.  Among the hitters at this last two stops who impressed him were:

-2018 1st round pick Jordan Groshans:

I watched a couple of inter squad games, watched him hit a double off the wall in right field, it’s just like he’s got some Bo-ish type of athleticism to him in the box. He’s  a free and easy mover in the box and he’s always had success. And so it’s one of those things to work just let the guy go, and let him have that big leg kick, let him have this big hand pump. And if it continues to work don’t change it and just keep letting him do his thing and refine some things.

-2018 10th rounder Cal Stevenson, who led the Appalachian League in Runs, Walks, and OBP, and always seem to make things happen on the basepaths for Bluefield:

 I really liked watching him here. I really liked being around Cal Stevenson. The kid that was in Bluefield, just talking to him and his approach to his ABs. I mean they were so advanced with what he was trying to do. I mean gosh you look at his numbers with the amount of walks compared to strikeouts, and just the year that he had was unbelievable. 

OF Steward Berroa’s name may only be known to the most hardcore of Blue Jays prospect watchers, but he had a decent year in his first stateside season with the GCL Jas in 2018.

He’s the kind of kid that just epitomizes everything that the organization wants that a player just plays really hard, does everything that you ask, and he’s going to do it 110 percent and run. And he’s starting to learn how to hit a little bit. He’s got a little bit of juice, and he’s a plus Centrefielder, and when you throw all those things together and I think he’s a kid that. I think he’s going to win. I thought this when I first saw him when I  was down here last year, but he’s just like an explosive kid. When you have that quick twitch if you can figure out how to use that quick twitch in the right way you have a chance to be pretty good.

 

Mense’s profile was raised this summer along that of his hitters, and it’s understandable that people ask him what his future goals are.  Although having listened to him for almost an hour, it’s obvious that he’s a player development guy through and through.  He enjoys the process, and doesn’t necessarily have a burning ambition to be an MLB hitting coach as soon as possible:

   I just know that what I see myself doing in five years or whatever it may be,I just know that I really enjoy helping. I really enjoy working with players, and I really enjoy being with players and around players and watching them develop and watching them grow. I just know that I’ll be doing that in some sort of capacity or if I feel like I can do it at a big league level great, if I do like I’m doing at AAA or AA or whatever. If they create a role for me that’s different….. I get the most satisfaction out of that and I feel like  watching guys develop and helping guys make it accomplish and their life long goal.

 

After his time in the Dominican, Mense was off to Madison, NJ.  His fiance is a dietitian with the NFL’s New York Jets, and a guy used to the cold (but not the snow) of a Missouri off-season is now in search of a winter sport to keep him occupied until spring training.  Wherever he lands in the Blue Jays organization next year, their minor league prospects will have a patient and insightful mentor to guide them.

Blue Jays Face Many Decisions Ahead of Rule 5

The Blue Jays face more 40-man roster decisions than they have in some time ahead of the roster freeze that comes in late November prior to December’s Rule 5 draft.

The Rule 5 has been in the spotlight for the past several years, and truth be told, probably gets more attention than it deserves; few teams are adding crucial pieces to World Series-contending puzzles at the draft, but it does force teams to make some hard decisions about players they’ve been developing.

The Blue Jays’ potential dilemma this year comes from several angles.  At the moment, there are only two pending openings on the 40, depending on what happens with free-agents-to-be Marco Estrada and Tyler Clippard, but those two vacancies may be quickly swallowed up by the addition of P Julian Mayweather, slated to come to Toronto from Cleveland in the Josh Donaldson deal, and (if and when) SS Troy Tulowitzki comes off the 60-Day DL.  In addition, several players who have been added to the 40 this fall (Dwight Smith Jr, Jose Fernandez, Justin Shafer, and Jonathan Davis) were given auditions in September in an attempt to determine their long-term futures with the club.  On top of that, there is a wealth of talent bubbling up from the minors that the club will have to factor in when determining their final 40-man.

Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins admitted this week that the club may lose a player or two to the Rule 5.  He may have to be creative in opening up roster space – the club has only two options they could decline, one being Justin Smoak (not going to happen) and Yangervis Solarte (could very well happen).  Another route is non-tendering arbitration-eligible players – we’re looking at you, Kevin Pillar.  Atkins may have to consider packaging several players currently on the 40 to teams with roster space to help alleviate the crunch the Blue Jays are facing.

 A very quick primer for those new to the Rule 5

Baseball has had rules in place for over 70 years to keep teams from hoarding minor league talent.  The Rule 5 draft forces teams to make decisions about players who have been in their system for several seasons.  Player signed at 19 or older (typically college players) and who have played four or more seasons are eligible for the Rule 5 if not placed on the team’s 40 by the November deadline, and players signed at 18 or younger (high schoolers, international free agents) who have played five years are eligible as well.

Teams that draft a player must pay $100K for his rights; if they fail to keep him on their 25-man roster for the entire following season, they must offer him back to his original team for half that price.  Many teams use spring training as a tire-kicking exercise on these players.  The Blue Jays have a lengthy history in the Rule 5, drafting players like George Bell, Kelly Gruber, Jim Acker, and Manny Lee.  With the change in roster composition over the past several decades, teams rarely can afford to stash a young player at the end of their bench, and the Blue Jays have not often been Rule 5 players as a result.  One of the exceptions, of course, was Joe Biagini, who was a revelation in the Toronto bullpen two years ago.

Prospects On the Bubble

Again, for the newbies – don’t worry about Vlad and Bo.  Neither has to be placed on the 40 until a year from now, by which time both will have long since likely been added.  The tough decisions the Blue Jays face are on players who are not necessarily top prospects, but have potential value just the same.

 2017 Eligibles

These are players who actually were eligible a year ago, but were deemed too risky either due to injuries or the fact that they were too far away.  That may not be the case this year with:

RHP Patrick Murphy –  Murphy has a lengthy injury history, but has been healthy for the past two seasons.  He led the Florida State League in strikeouts, and hit 100 on the radar gun this year.  Scouts suggests he needs to refine his change-up to go with his fastball and hammer curve, but he’s unlikely to make it through the Rule 5 if he’s not added to the 40.

C Max Pentecost – the Blue Jays faced a huge decision with Pentecost last fall, but placed him on the DL after the Arizona Fall League ended, and that was enough to scare teams off.  Pentecost had a strong second half, but more importantly, he was healthy enough to be behind the plate for 90 games this year.  He hasn’t necessarily proved he can be an everyday MLB player, but he has shown enough to tantalize. His future may be one of the Blue Jays’ toughest decisions.

P Jordan Romano – the GTA native started the Eastern League All Star Game, and got the ball in the final game of New Hampshire’s title-winning game.  Romano’s change-up grew by leaps and bounds this year, but still has some room to grow.  If left off the 40 this year, some teams may be tempted to do a Biagini-like conversion with him.

2018 Eligibles

P Travis Bergen – the lefty reliever was lights out for Vancouver in their run to a league title in 2017, and filled the same role for New Hampshire this season.  Bergen has an injury history himself, but he will be quickly scooped up if he’s exposed to the Rule 5.

P Hector Perez – acquired in the Roberto Osuna deal, Perez has an electric arm, but inconsistent arm.  His stuff would likely play up in a bullpen role.

P Jon Harris – the 2015 1st rounder had a remarkable second-half turnaround, adding some velo and deception to his delivery.  The jury is still out on his ability to turn an MLB lineup over one day, but scouts no doubt took notice of the velo uptick. He’s a longshot at this point.

P Yennsy Diaz – armed with a mid 90s fastball, Diaz has one of the most exciting arms in the system.  He’s also only pitched one full season, splitting this year between Lansing and Dunedin, so teams may give him a pass if he’s left off the 40.

P Corey Copping – Copping came over in the deal with the Dodgers for John Axford, and fanned 20 hitters in 14 innings for New Hampshire, then another 6 in the 3 playoff IP. Copping fills the strike zone, and probably won’t make it through the Rule 5.

OF Harold Ramirez – the Eastern League batting champ can play all three OF positions.  He could add some offence and versatility to a team, but he’s also played three years at AA.  He’s a low risk of being selected in the Rule 5, but he’s worked his way into the discussion this year.

P Danny Young – Young could become next year’s Aaron Loup.  A side-winding southpaw, Young doesn’t light up the radar gun, but he held Eastern League left-handed hitters to a .217 average.

P Jackson McClelland – after helping to lead Dunedin to a FSL co-championship last year, McClelland could well have expected to head north with the core of that club to New Hampshire.  He didn’t, and spent some time on the DL early in the season.  By June, McClelland was hitting his stride, and by the summer was routinely hitting 100.  His fastball can be a little straight, and his command off at times, but it looked more and more like the Blue Jays were stashing him in High A with the Rule 5 in mind until a late-season promotion to New Hampshire.  He may be a longshot to make the Blue Jays’ 40 at the moment, but a strong Arizona showing might change the team’s mind, or with teams always looking for bullpen help, make him a potential Rule 5 sleeper.  This tweet by scout.com’s Jeff Ellis, one of our favourite evaluators, sums up McClelland perfectly:

 

And no discussion about the Blue Jays 40 man roster can be complete without a few words about Dalton Pompey.  The Mississauga had another sideways season in 2018, and was not added to the active roster in September, which probably gives broad hints about his future.  Pompey will be out of options next spring, and given the roster crunch the team currently faces, he likely won’t be a Blue Jay for much longer.

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.

 

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.