NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. – Toronto Blue Jays decision makers set the bar high with their 2016 Rule 5 pick, obtaining an impact reliever out of nowhere. If they come close to replicating the success of the Joe Biagini selection, they’ll be thrilled.
Realistically it’s unfair to expect that much from Glenn Sparkman, their latest Rule 5 pick, but the Blue Jays are intrigued by the 24-year-old right-hander nonetheless. Sparkman stood out to the Blue Jays in both scouting reports and analytical looks at the available players around baseball.
“The arrows were pointing right at him,” GM Ross Atkins said. “His name just kept popping to the top.”
Sparkman’s repertoire includes a good breaking ball, a good change-up and a fastball that can reach 95 mph. Atkins considers the former Royals prospect a strike thrower with an athletic delivery, a combination that will give him the chance to make the Blue Jays’ bullpen out of spring training.
“It was clear that he was the guy that we’d like to select if he was still available,” Atkins said. “We feel like there might be some upside to the stuff as well.”
Sparkman, a 20th round pick in the 2013 draft, underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015, but he returned to action in June of 2016. In 16 starts across four minor league levels this past season, he posted a 5.22 ERA but struck out 65 batters in 60.1 innings while walking just 10.
The Blue Jays paid $100,000 for the right to select Sparkman, who must remain on the big league roster all season or be offered back to the Royals.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays lost three players in the minor league phase of the draft, including a former top prospect. The Phillies selected shortstop Jorge Flores, the Yankees selected catcher Jorge Saez and the Rangers selected left-hander Matt Smoral, who obtained a $2 million bonus as a first round pick in the 2012 draft.
Now 22, Smoral has an ERA of 5.91 in four seasons with the Blue Jays to go along with 95 walks in 106.2 career innings.
“I’m happy for him to get an opportunity. He’s been working hard. He’s a great person,” Atkins said. “It wasn’t about us not liking him, it was more about the flexibility at the upper levels to have room to make adds. I want the best for him and hope he does well.”
Saez, 26, hit 12 home runs with a .260/.314/.495 batting line for the Blue Jays’ Dunedin and New Hampshire affiliates in 2016, while the 25-year-old Flores hit .211/.280/.286 playing for the same two teams.
The Blue Jays also made an addition in the minor league phase of the draft, selecting Philip Walby, another right-hander with enough upside to justify the $24,000 cost. Walby, who finished the 2016 season in the Yankees’ system, has an ERA of 3.67 in four minor league seasons with 183 strikeouts and 123 walks in 174.1 career innings.
“He’s a guy we’re excited to take,” Atkins said.
History suggests that finding another Biagini looks unlikely — not that there’s any harm in trying.