NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Toronto Blue Jays closed out the 2015 Winter Meetings by taking pitcher Joe Biagini in the Rule 5 draft, and they’re hoping that the righty not only becomes the first Rule 5 selection to go north with the ballclub in nearly a decade, but becomes the first to actually stick in 13 years.
General Manager Ross Atkins, looking to add talent any way he can, was excited about adding Biagini to the Blue Jays’ bullpen mix.
“[He’s a] powerful right-handed pitcher who potentially we’ll shorten up, put him in shorter stints and see if there’s a little bit of upside to his stuff,” Atkins said. “A three-pitch mix, a guy who jumps a little bit more subjectively than objectively, but still has a lot of interesting elements. …
“When you go through the process and a guy remains high on your board and you’re picking 21st, we feel really good about that. The fact that our scouts had identified him far earlier than this week was something we were excited about.”
The 25 year-old product of UC-Davis, who stands six-foot-four and weighs 215 pounds, was taken by the San Francisco Giants in the 26th round of the 2011 draft and has worked his way through the system level by level, winding up with a breakthrough year at double-A Richmond this past season.
Biagini, who mixes in a curveball and change-up with his average-to-slightly-above-average fastball, posted a 2.42 ERA in 130.1 innings in 2015, making 23 appearances, 22 of which were starts. He allowed only five home runs while walking just 34, posting the best walk rate of his career at just 2.3 per nine innings.
However, Biagini also posted the worst strikeout rate of his brief career, whiffing only 5.8 per nine innings.
Atkins thinks that Biagini’s stuff might play up in a reduced role, like Liam Hendriks’ did this past season.
“I think there’s the potential for that,” said the rookie GM. “A lot to learn about the guy, that’s one of the beauties of the Rule 5 draft. We’ll have some time to evaluate and make the decision on if [he] fits.”
The Blue Jays paid $50,000 to select Biagini, who must not only make the team out of spring training but remain on the 25-man roster all season long in order to remain in Toronto. If the Jays want to send him down (he has all three option years remaining), they’d need to first offer Biagini back to the Giants for $25,000 or make a trade with San Francisco for his full rights.
The last player selected by the Blue Jays in the Rule 5 draft who actually made the team was pitcher Randy Wells in 2008. He stuck with the big club all the way until April 18 of that season before being offered back to (and taken back by) the Chicago Cubs. Infielder Jason Smith was a Blue Jays’ Rule 5 pick the year before, and he made it to mid-May before being put on waivers and claimed by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
You have to go all the way back to 2003 to find a player selected by the Blue Jays in the Rule 5 draft who actually made an impact. That was the inestimable Aquilino Lopez, who actually led the team with 14 saves that season.
Of course, past great Blue Jays Rule 5 finds include George Bell, Kelly Gruber, Manny Lee and Willie Upshaw.
The Blue Jays passed on selecting anyone in the minor-league phases of the draft, which was surprising given the huge chunk taken out of the system at the trade deadline this past July.
“It really comes down to the level of interest,” said Atkins. “How much upside and then what our alternatives are internally. One of the things we feel strongly about is giving the opportunity and being committed to the players that we’ve drafted, that we’ve developed, so you’re always weighing that. So what gives when you take that player from another organization who comes into yours, so who did you take that opportunity away from, potentially?”
With the addition of Biagini and the return of Darwin Barney (as reported by colleague Shi Davidi), the Blue Jays leave this year’s winter meetings having actually been busier than at last year’s, when they added just one player – taking a flyer on Chris Colabello on waivers.
That worked out beautifully, and the Jays are hoping they might strike gold again.