LAS VEGAS — When you’re a legitimate contender, finding a player of value in the Rule 5 draft can be tough.
There just isn’t a lot of roster space or time to wait out the usual adjustment period.
When you’re the Toronto Blue Jays, however, and you’re in the throes of a rebuild, you have both.
We’ve already gone over who the Jays protected and who they could potentially lose when 40-man rosters were set last month, but there’s a chance GM Ross Atkins and his front office team of number crunchers could be eyeing a name or two when the annual scavenger hunt of minor-league dart throws begins Thursday at 9 a.m. PT at Mandalay Bay to wrap up the winter meetings for another year.
After releasing Troy Tulowitzki this week, the Jays’ 40-man roster is down to 38, allowing them to choose a player Thursday morning if there’s someone they believe is ready enough to stick on the roster in 2019.
Since there’s no chance of contention, it’s a good time to roll the dice.
In all likelihood, the Jays would be eyeing an arm that could compete for a job at the back end of the rotation next spring — the Kansas City Royals nabbed Brad Keller in last year’s process and then watched him put up 2.5 fWAR — or a power arm that could shift to a bullpen role and potentially flourish, similar to the Joe Biagini selection in 2015.
But don’t completely rule out an athletic outfielder that could serve as depth in a limited role, or a glove-first shortstop who could join the mix alongside Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Richard Urena.
The Jays are slated to pick 10th.
Here are six names to watch:
RHP Sam McWilliams, Tampa Bay Rays
The 6-foot-7 right-hander has already been traded twice in his career, going from the Philadelphia Phillies to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and then over to the Rays in the Steven Souza trade. It’s a back end starter profile — the Jays have been hoarding those recently — and maybe manager Charlie Montoyo has some intel.
SS Richie Martin, Oakland Athletics
The A’s not protecting their 2015 first rounder was a surprise to some, so he’s sure to show up on just about every list of Rule 5 predictions. In Double-A this past year, the 23-year-old stole 25 bases and posted a .300/.368/.439 slash line. The fact he’s considered an excellent defender may interest Atkins, who has repeatedly talked about improving the defence as a priority.
RHP Riley Ferrell, Houston Astros
Ranked No. 17 overall in the Astros’ system by MLB Pipeline, Ferrell’s 1.90 ERA in 23.2 innings at Double-A this year was exposed as a bit of a fluke when he was promoted to the Pacific Coast League, a notoriously tough spot for pitchers. Despite a 6.75 mark in Triple-A, 67 strikeouts in 51.2 innings shows his plus slider can be a weapon.
INF Danny Mendick, Chicago White Sox
A 22nd round pick back in 2015, Mendick is already 25 but is coming off a season that saw him hit 14 homers and steal 20 bases in 132 games at Double-A. He has dabbled at short, second and third, showing his versatility in addition to an interesting hit tool.
LHP Tyler Jay, Minnesota Twins
This lefty has struggled with injuries since the Twins took him with the sixth pick in the 2015 draft. Now 24, Jay compiled a 4.22 ERA in 59.2 Double-A innings last year — only two starts — which almost matched his season high of 83.2, set in 2016.
RHP Junior Fernandez, St. Louis Cardinals
Fernandez can throw gas, but the secondaries and command are the reasons the 21-year-old righty has struggled to get results. In 21 innings last year at Double-A, Fernandez walked 16 in 21 innings. The fastball is the allure here for the bullpen candidate.