LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The 2017 winter meetings wrap up Thursday morning with the Rule 5 draft, the annual event that makes dreams come true – which makes it kind of appropriate that it’s being held at Disney World.
Minor-league players who have been left off their parent club’s 40-man roster may be pilfered by other teams, and the drafting team gets to keep them so long as the player stays on their major-league roster for the entire 2018 season.
The Blue Jays have had great historical success in the Rule 5, nabbing players like George Bell, Willie Upshaw, Kelly Gruber and Manny Lee. There have also been players like Willie Canate, Aquilino Lopez and Corey Thurman, who at least stuck in the big leagues, which most Rule 5ers don’t.
Under Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins, the Blue Jays have batted .500 in the Rule 5 draft, selecting Joe Biagini in 2015 and Glenn Sparkman last year. Biagini has established himself as a premier late-inning reliever, and the Blue Jays are currently trying to find out if he can have similar success as a starting pitcher.
Sparkman, on the other hand, broke his thumb in spring training, was called up after a rehab assignment, got his ears pinned back in his second major-league appearance and was immediately returned to the Kansas City Royals, from whence he was drafted, with a career ERA of 63.00 and a WHIP of 10.00.
With two spots open on their 40-man roster, expect the Blue Jays to take a shot at someone for a third straight year. “We will definitely be active in Rule 5,” said Atkins. “We’ll see what’s there when we pick.”
The most intriguing player available in the draft is Mark Appel, who was the first-overall pick in the June draft back in 2013. The 26-year old has reached as high as triple-A with both the Astros (who originally drafted him) and Phillies and was once a top-20 prospect in all of baseball. He was traded to the Phils in the Ken Giles deal, and cleared waivers just last month.
Kohl Stewart, chosen fourth overall by the Twins that same year, is available as well. He made his one and only career start in triple-A this past season.
Rays righty Burch Smith, drafted twice by the Shapiro/Atkins Cleveland Indians, will likely be chosen, but may well not fall to the Blue Jays. He was impressive in the Arizona Fall League after missing 2015 and ’16 recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Big Cale Coshow is out there, too. The hard-throwing Yankees righty, who checks in at 6-5, 270 lb., and has hit triple digits on the radar gun, struck out 76 in 60 innings mostly at double-A last season.
There are a few players with significant major-league experience who will be available as well, having signed minor-league contracts earlier this off-season. That group includes Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma, long a Blue Jays target, lefty reliever Josh Edgin, a former Met, and infielder Pedro Florimon, late of the Twins and Phillies.
The Blue Jays have the 12th pick in the Rule 5 draft, though teams that pick ahead of them may pass.
SCOUT OF THE YEAR
One of the Blue Jays’ own is being feted at the Scout of the Year Awards dinner. Russ Bove (pronounced bo-VAY), a Blue Jays special assignment scout since 2010, was named East Coast Scout of the Year.
A former scouting director of the New York Mets, he signed Ian Desmond – the lone remaining major-leaguer to be drafted by the Montreal Expos – has been involved with the scouting, drafting and signing of all the Blue Jays’ current young studs, from Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez to Anthony Alford, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
A major-league scout since 1984, Bove says he “still love(s) the thrill of the hunt, and fortunately Ross (Atkins) lets me do a bit of everything.”
Bove is especially proud of Bichette, because “high school position players don’t tend to show well in analytics. We had to convince (Blue Jays assistant general manager) Joe Sheehan,” recalls Bove. “We kept moving (Bichette) up the board and fortunately we were able to get him.”
GOOD NEWS ON SANCHEZ
During his daily briefing with the media, Atkins declared that the blister problems that plagued Sanchez this past season, limiting the 2016 American League ERA champion to just eight starts in 2017, are “completely gone.”
Sanchez threw on Tuesday, for the first time since August, and reported no issues.
Super agent Scott Boras, who began representing Sanchez last off-season, appeared on Sportsnet with Hazel Mae, Shi Davidi and Jeff Blair, and expressed no concern at all about Sanchez’s long-term prognosis.
“When you’re looking at someone with elite ability and you trace historically players who have elite ability at a young age (Sanchez is 25),” said Boras, “you find that the impediments that derail them are usually the classic shoulder issues. Aaron has not, knock on wood, had any problem with that.
“So these temporary interruptions that relate to blisters, fingers … you have never seen historically, where that’s had any form of permanency that’s prevented that type of talent from executing a great career path.”