Blue Jays’ unusual Rule 5 experiment will make Luciano theirs long-term

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Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Elvis Luciano works against the Colorado Rockies. (David Zalubowski/AP)

TORONTO – Shortly before 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Elvis Luciano took the field at Rogers Centre and started throwing. By the time he stopped roughly 20 minutes later, the Blue Jays had seen enough to declare him game ready.

As simulated games go, this one looked rather unremarkable–simply a chance for Luciano to test his stuff against advanced hitters under the supervision of trainers and coaches. But considering the timing of the throwing session, it was more significant than it may first have seemed.

Afterward, manager Charlie Montoyo suggested the 19-year-old could be activated by Wednesday or Thursday. Assuming that happens, he’ll be active for the 18 additional days he needs to reach 90 on the season and meet the minimum requirement for Rule 5 picks. In other words, he’s about to become Blue Jays’ property long-term.

"He should be fine," Montoyo said. "He could get activated the next couple days."

If all goes well, Luciano would rejoin the Blue Jays’ pitching staff for the first time since a right elbow sprain sidelined him June 13. And while elbow injuries are never ideal for pitchers, the timing of this one worked out rather conveniently.

In June, July and August, when roster space was at a premium, Luciano and his 6.51 ERA were nowhere to be found. Now that rosters have expanded and the coaching staff has more than enough arms available, the Rule 5 pick returns.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

"We’ll find spots for him," Montoyo said. "We’ll see wherever that is. Of course we’ve got a lot more pitchers now than we did before, but he’ll pitch.

"Now I can pick my spots."

Chances are, those spot will come in low-leverage situations. Luciano walked 23 hitters in 27.2 big-league innings before the injury–about what you’d expect for someone who had never pitched above rookie ball and was only available in the Rule 5 draft due to a loophole.

With above-average fastball velocity and spin to go along with a developing change-up, he has promise. But expecting Luciano to be anything close to a finished product was never realistic. In a rebuilding season, the Blue Jays were willing to sacrifice stability in their 2019 bullpen for a player who could contribute at some point in the future.

Ahead of a potential 100-loss season, the Blue Jays could afford to take that kind of chance. But the Blue Jays have stated their intention of being more competitive in 2020, so if they take a player in this December’s Rule 5 draft he’ll have to be someone with a legitimate chance to help immediately. With that in mind, the Luciano experiment won’t likely be repeated any time soon.

But now that they’ve weathered the challenge of rostering a Rule 5 pick all season, the Blue Jays will soon get to see if their gamble will pay off. When the 2020 season begins, Luciano will be in the minors, likely at double-A New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. jogged on the field Tuesday but still has to test his injured left quadriceps on the bases before the Blue Jays activate him. He could be back within the week, as could Luke Maile, who’s progressing from the oblique strain that has kept him out since July.

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