Tip Withers gives his top 3 moves the Jays should make
Adding players to the 40-man roster is a calculated process.
In the end, the best talent usually gets protected, but various situations make it easy to protect some and not so easy to protect others.
The one notable omission from the Toronto Blue Jays’ flurry of roster moves Monday evening at the deadline to protect players from the Dec. 14 Rule 5 Draft is a perfect example.
Max Pentecost was the 11th-overall pick in the 2014 draft, but since then injuries have limited him to just 171 minor-league games over three years, including just 19 games behind the plate this past year in High-A.
Turning 25 in March, Jays general manager Ross Atkins gambled that no one would be able to select Pentecost and keep him on a major-league roster for the entirety of the 2018 season, which is what has to be done with a Rule 5 draft pick or you have to offer the player back to his original team for half of the $100,000 selection fee.
Typically, pitchers who can be stashed in a bullpen like Joe Biagini and position players who are able to at least hold their own defensively are amongst the small handful of names selected in the major league phase.
Last winter, 18 players were selected in the Rule 5 Draft.
Every team around baseball did some roster shuffling Monday in preparation for the annual yard sale.
After shuttling 27-year-old right-handed pitcher Chris Rowley and disappointing outfield prospect Harold Ramirez off the roster, as well as losing utility man Rob Refsnyder on waivers to the Cleveland Indians, the Blue Jays added five prospects to their 40-man roster and acquired another player in a minor trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates, leaving them at 39 players.
Here’s how all of them could fit into the Blue Jays’ roster plans in 2018:
2B/SS Gift Ngoepe
The Jays will give up either cash or a player to be named later in order to add Ngoepe, who became the first African-born player to reach the majors last season, to their utility-man mix.
Offensively, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot to get excited about when it comes to the soon-to-be 28-year-old, as he put up a .671 OPS in nine minor-league seasons, before striking out in 41.3 per cent of his 63 MLB plate appearances last year.
On the positive side, Ngoepe does walk a bit and scouting reports peg the 5-foot-8, 200-pounder as an above average option with the glove in the middle of the infield.
He should battle for a utility role behind the oft-injured Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis in the spring.
C Reese McGuire
Acquired along with Ramirez and Francisco Liriano in exchange for Drew Hutchison at the 2016 trade deadline, McGuire is now the last man standing on either side of that deal.
A knee injury set him back this past season, but he returned to slash .278/.366/.496 with six home runs in 136 plate appearances at Double-A, by far the best run the lefty has had with the bat since being selected 14th overall in 2013 by the Pirates.
The reason McGuire was added to the 40-man roster, however, has nothing to do with his bat.
The glove has long been seen as MLB-calibre and he profiles as backup catcher in the mould of, gulp, Josh Thole.
The Jays are clinging to hope there’s more offensive upside than that.
Depending who the Jays add in free agency, McGuire will be in the backup catcher mix during spring training, allowing the next guy on this list to head back to Triple-A to get more at-bats.
C Danny Jansen
After a breakout 2017 season that saw him slash .323/.400/.484 with 10 home runs and more walks than strikeouts across three levels to end up at Triple-A Buffalo, Jansen is now considered the Jays’ catcher of the future.
With Russell Martin signed for two more seasons, the Jays can continue to take it slow with Jansen and would much rather send him back to Triple-A to start 2018 than have his development stunted by riding the pine in a backup role in Toronto.
But if Martin were to get hurt again – he had two DL stints last season – Jansen could be in line for an extended look in his age-23 season.
1B Rowdy Tellez
The 6-foot-4 first baseman was thought to be close to major-league ready after breaking out in Double-A with 23 home runs in 2016.
Instead, Tellez cratered last season in Triple-A, slashing just .222/.295/.333 and seeing his power completely disappear with just six homers. He also hit .148 against lefties.
The Blue Jays, however, know that Tellez was still just 22 last season and have no problem giving him at least another year to adjust and develop, the only difference being he’s now taking up a 40-man roster spot.
LHP Tom Pannone
This one should come as no shock.
Not only was this 23-year-old southpaw drafted in the ninth round in 2013 when Atkins was director of player development with the Indians, Pannone also posted a 2.36 ERA over 25 starts split between the Indians and Jays organizations last year.
After acquiring him at the deadline for reliever Joe Smith, Atkins brought Pannone’s name up multiple times when talking about 2018 rotation depth, despite not having a start above Double-A yet.
As a command and control lefty, Pannone isn’t going to wow many, but there’s a sneaky amount of upside as a backend starter and the bet is he’ll be needed at some point next summer in Toronto if he’s pitching well at Triple-A.
A big difference between 2017 and 2018 will be the Jays reaching for prospects like Pannone and fellow lefty Ryan Borucki when inevitable attrition hits the major league rotation this time around, which is a much better scenario than handing the Mat Latos’s and Mike Bolsinger’s of the world the ball.
RHP Conner Greene
After walking 83 batters in 132.2 innings last year in Double-A, it’s hard to envision Greene being a legitimate option as a starter unless something miraculous happens with his command.
But when you can dial it up to 100 mph, a future as a late-inning reliever is always seen as a possible fallback and that’s the case with Greene, who may start the transition sooner rather than later if the Jays need help in the bullpen.
It also wouldn’t be surprising to see the Jays give it one more try with Greene in the rotation back at Double-A for a third go-round since he’s only turning 23 in April, but that could be something they wait until March in Dunedin to figure out.