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Daily Duce: Baseball America’s new Top 10 list and the Rule 5 Roster Shuffle

Roster transactions galore! With the Rule 5 draft around the corner, the Blue Jays had to add some guys to the roster and they also had to remove some guys as well. If you like minor transactions, well, today is your day.

First, we have the pre-Rule 5 draft roster shuffle. The deadline to add players to the 40-man roster to not be exposed to the Rule 5 draft was tonight, and the Jays have opted to protect Santiago Espinal and Thomas Hatch. Getting removed from the 40-man in place of those two are Justin Shafer and Tim Mayza.

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Nothing here is all too surprising. Shafer is a pretty solid arm, but, at 27 years old, he hasn’t yet established himself at the Major League level. There’s a pretty good chance he can slip through waivers, as he already has once before. Mayza was inevitably going to be outrighted, as he’s going to miss the next two seasons after suffering a gruesome arm injury.

I thought we might see Breyvic Valera removed from the 40-man over Mayza, especially with Espinal, an infielder, being added, but that didn’t happen. I don’t really know why, but I would assume it has something to do with the Jays figuring they can slide Shafer through waivers right now while they might not be able to later on.

Regardless, here we are. Thomas Hatch was the guy the Jays acquired in the David Phelps trade prior to the deadline this season. Given how good he was since being acquired (thanks largely to major spin on his pitches) it’s no surprise to see him protected from the Rule 5 draft. Hatch had a 2.80 ERA in 35 1/3 innings for Double-A New Hampshire after being acquired.

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Then there’s Espinal, who I thought could go either way. Espinal was acquired from the Red Sox back in 2018 in the Steve Pearce trade that sent the eventual World Series MVP to Boston. I have a feeling that Espinal was an under-the-radar gem in the Red Sox system that Ben Cherington believed in, but that’s just a hunch. Espinal had a nice season between Double- and Triple-A last year, slashing a .287/.347/.393 line.

I wouldn’t be shocked to see either Espinal or Hatch with the Blue Jays at some point next year. Espinal, who’s 24 years old now, is probably ready to be a utility infielder at the Major League level while Hatch, who’s 25 years old, will likely start next season in Triple-A, pushing for a call-up to the Jays mid-season.

The 40-man fun isn’t finished yet, either! The Jays are sitting at the limit on the roster, so if they want to add anybody in free agency, there’ll be a corresponding roster move to come along with it. Next in line, I figure we’ll see names like Valera, Luke Maile, and Jason Adam removed from the 40-man to make space.

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Looking ahead to the Rule 5 draft in December, the Jays could lose a decent prospect like Zach Jackson or Kirby Snead, but that’s the reality of having a deep farm system. You can’t just load up your 40-man roster with a bunch of prospects because you’re worried you’re going to lose them in the Rule 5. You’re probably more likely to keep them after losing them in the Rule 5 than you are keeping them after DFAing them mid-season when you need to make room for an actual roster player, anyway.

Think back to last year. The Jays lost Travis Bergen and Jordan Romano in the draft and got both of them back before the end of the season. If both players had been on the 40-man and the Jays had to cut one loose in order to add a guy like Bo Bichette or Vlad Jr. to the 40-man at some point, those players were much more likely to be snatched on waivers than they were to spend an entire season on somebody’s 25-man roster.

Anyways, speaking of Toronto’s farm system, Baseball America released their annual organization Top 10 prospect lists…

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This is a particularly interesting Top 10 list because it shows where the organization is at without Bo and Vlad as prospects anymore. Nate Pearson predictably becomes Toronto’s No. 1 prospect while Jordan Groshans, also predictably, becomes No. 2. But after that, it’s really anybody’s guess as to how Toronto’s farmhands are viewed.

According to Baseball America, Simeon Woods Richardson, the key part of the Marcus Stroman trade, is Toronto’s third-best prospect. Right behind him is Alejandro Kirk, who might be Toronto’s catcher of the future. Two more 2019 additions, first-round pick Alek Manoah and international free agent Orelvis Martinez, come in at No. 5 and No. 6.

At the back end of Top 10 are Anthony Kay, who also came back in the Stroman trade, and Adam Kloffenstein, who was drafted in 2018 along with Groshans. One name I’m surprised to not see on there is Eric Pardinho, but that could be more a testament to Toronto’s prospect quality than a slight against the 18-year-old who just posted a 2.41 ERA in Low-A.

It’s great to see the depth being stockpiled in the system. A major criticism of Toronto’s farm is that it was carried by the presence of Bo and Vlad, but Baseball America still considers it a strong system even without them there. Also, these are all players acquired since 2017, and four of which were acquired in 2019. It’s impressive how quickly the turnaround has been at adding quality depth to the system.