I have to admit something. I am a sucker for the Rule 5 Draft. I love the idea of adding players to your Major League team so essentially free. The Blue Jays have been wildly successful at selecting players in the Rule 5 Draft and then keeping them on the big league roster for a full season. Typically teams have the most success with pitchers, as they are easier to stash and you can get them lower leverage innings. The Blue Jays have used this strategy very effectively over the past couple of seasons plucking Joe Biagini and Elvis Luciano from the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals, respectively.
The Blue Jays by virtue of finishing fifth last in the MLB this past season, will select fifth overall in the Rule 5 draft. Given their past success and overall need for pitchers it is likely the Blue Jays are looking at an arm for their pick. In part one of this preview we will look at seven pitchers who like Joe Biagini could step in and have success right away in a Major League bullpen. In part two we will look at more of the Luciano types, and also starting pitchers.
The Spin Rate Specialists
These are pitchers who might really entice the Blue Jays, should they be available to them. The Blue Jays have shown to value spin rate and their addition of Thomas Hatch to the 40-man roster reinforces that point.
Brandon Bailey – RHP Astros (Age 25)
Bailey came to Houston as the return for Ramon Laureano. Fangraphs rates him as the 26th prospect in the Houston system. The Blue Jays having made a couple trades with Houston recently should know their system pretty well and have an idea about Bailey. He doesn’t throw hard, sitting just 89-93, but he gets 2550 RPM’s on that fastball, the same as the aforementioned Hatch. Bailey also gets 2600 RPM on his breaking stuff. That helped him to pitch to a 3.30 ERA at AA last year with a 4.34 FIP and 3.87 xFIP, in 22 games (17 starts) and 92.2 innings. Bailey has elite swing and miss stuff. He had a 15.3% swinging strike rate at AA, which ranked third among all pitchers who threw at least 80 innings. That allowed him to strikeout 26.7% of batters he faced and 10 per nine innings. As is going to be a common theme throughout this list, walks were an issue for Bailey. His walk rate was 10.6% and BB/9 was 3.98. If he could get that under control he could be a back-end starter for a team next season.
Jordan Sheffield – RHP Dodgers (24)
Of course this section would feature an Astro and a Dodger. Sheffield features a fastball that touches 97 with 2600 RPM’s. It’s an impressive fastball, but his curve might be even better. Fangraphs rates it a 60 (on the 20-80 scale) right now and it gets 3200 RPM’s of break, which is by far the most among the 434 pitchers they have on the The Board. In the Majors only Ryan Pressly and Seth Lugo get that much spin on their curveballs. Sheffield gets plenty of K’s striking 28.1% of batters with an 11.8% swinging strike rate, in 37.2 innings at AA. He recorded a 3.58 ERA at AA but a 4.65 FIP and 5.11 xFIP, as he walked the yard. He walked close to a batter an inning, issuing 32 free passes. He also allows a ton of fly balls, a 46.0% fly ball rate, but had just a 7.5% home run to fly ball rate, signalling he was pretty lucky.
The Power Relievers
These are your prototypical Rule 5 picks. The hard throwers who get strikeouts but have control problems. The Blue Jays don’t have many flamethrowers in their pen but could potentially add one with a couple of these players.
Joe Barlow – RHP TEX (24)
Barlow split time this season across three minor league levels, reaching as high as Triple-A. He has a big arm that can touch 98. He has always been able to get strikeouts but the control has been a major problem. Barlow struck out 22 batters in 17.1 innings in Triple-A, however he walked almost just as many, walking 21. However he was dominate in AA and A+. In 39.2 innings he had a 0.68 ERA with 71 strikeouts. Overall his 38.1% strikeout ranked 5th among all minor league pitchers who threw at least 50 innings. Among that same group of pitchers Barlow’s 17.2% walk rate ranked 10th. His swinging strike rate of 16.1% supports his strikeout numbers. If he could harness his control he could be a dominate late inning arm.
Thomas Burrows – LHP ATL (25)
The first lefty on this list, had Burrows been eligible last year he would have been a shoe-in selection. Lefty relievers were easy to stash as they could just be loogy’s. Now with the new rule that pitchers must face a minimum of three batters, that complicates things just a bit. Burrows was great against lefties, holding them to a .173/.287/.213 line, while righties his .246/.325/.428. Burrows gets a fair amount of strikeouts, 24.5% K rate in Triple-A. His best skill though is inducing infield flies, which are basically strikeouts. Burrows had a 36.1% infield fly rate in Triple-A which ranked 7th in the International League among pitchers who threw at least 30 innings. This is something he has done throughout his minor league career and looks like a skill. It would be worth taking a shot to see if that skill would translate to the majors, and if he could figure himself out against righties.
Alec Hansen – RHP CWS (25)
By now you have heard the story. Big fastball, Hansen runs it up to 97, plenty of strikeouts, 10.21 per nine in 39.2 innings at Double-A, and poor control, 8.39 walks per nine. What makes Hansen different is his pedigree. He was once one of the top prospects in baseball. Prior to the 2018 season Baseball America ranked him as their 57th prospect. That was in-line with other lists, MLB had him at 54, Baseball Prospectus had him at 40 and Fangraphs was the lowest on him but still had him at 72. A bad 2018 season erased him from all prospects list. Still Hansen has the big frame teams like, standing 6’7, 235lbs and he has upside if you could get him back to where he was pre-2018.
Andre Scrubb – RHP HOU (24)
Scrubb was a part of both the Astros and Dodgers systems this season, coming to Houston as the return for Tyler White. Scrubb had a 2.78 ERA, a 3.33 FIP and a 3.75 xFIP in 64.2 innings in Double-A. Scrubb isn’t the hardest thrower, but he still throws in the mid-90s. Scrubb like everyone on this list has bad control. What separates Scrubb from the pack and why he had success were his ground ball tendencies. He had a 49.7% ground ball rate which helps limit the damage done by those walks. He doesn’t miss many bats, just an 8.5% swinging strike rate, but keeping the ball on the ground and in the yard will make some team give him a look.
Darius Valdez – RHP Padres (24)
Having recently drafted big arms like TJ Zeuch, Alek Manoah and Nate Pearson, it appears the Blue Jays put an emphasis on size in their pitchers. Darius Valdez has plenty of that standing at 6’8. He brings the hard fastball you would expect with that frame throwing anywhere from 98-101. He complements that with a slider. As a two pitch pitcher Valdez is purely a reliever. He doesn’t get ground balls which is partly why he had a very high 16.9% homer to fly ball rate. He has an elite 15.9% swinging strike rate, fueling a 27.5% strikeout rate. He walks too many, a 11.3% BB% and 4.55/9. Free passes and home runs are a poor combination leading to a 4.23 ERA 5.15 FIP and 4.22 xFIP.