After striking gold with Joe Biagini in 2015, the Rule 5 Draft could be an opportunity for the Blue Jays to roll the dice on a left-handed reliever
The Toronto Blue Jays will leave no stone unturned as they look to retool their bullpen this off-season, and December’s Rule 5 Draft could represent another opportunity for the club to add a left-handed option to a thin depth chart.
Brett Cecil’s ‘official’ departure to St. Louis has left the Blue Jays with just Aaron Loup, Chad Girodo, and Matt Dermody as MLB-ready left-handers. With free agent prices expected to be high and the trade market sure to follow as teams realize the value of these assets, the bargain bin will be a popular stop.
Drafting a Rule 5 player is essentially that: a bargain. The financial commitment is minimal, and if the team is unable to hold on to the pick and has to offer them back to their original team, little is lost.
Here are three left-handed options that Baseball America’s Ben Badler recently highlighted in his preview of the Rule 5 Draft.
Ismael Guillon, Cincinnati Reds
The 24-year-old Venezuelan missed 2015 with a lat injury but bounced back with a very strong season at advanced-A in 2016. Over 32 appearances (13 starts), Guillon pitched 93.1 innings with a 2.41 ERA and 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings.
Guillon’s changeup, which was twice named the best in Cincinnati’s system (’10, ’12) gives him some balance, and in 2016 he held left-handed hitters to a .133 average with a .233 on-base percentage. Here is a look at Guillon’s general delivery and pitching style (from late 2014).
Badler highlights Guillon’s ability to hold runners on first base as a standout tool. He picked off six runners last season and only seven of 16 attempted base-stealers were successful. Guillon’s biggest struggle in the minors has been his control, as he’s walked 4.9 batters per nine innings over his career.
Wei-Chung Wang, Milwaukee Brewers
Wang is a unique case in that has already been a Rule 5 pick, moving from Pittsburgh to Milwaukee back in 2013. The Taiwanese lefty made the unimaginable jump from rookie-ball to the MLB level that season and understandably struggled before re-establishing himself in the minors.
His second test at the triple-A level in 2016 didn’t go as smoothly as he would have liked with a 3.85 ERA over 26.0 innings, but he did hold lefties to a .228 batting average at double-A over 107.1 innings.
Baseball America ranked Wang as the No. 6 Brewers prospect after the 2014 season and some of that prospect shine still remains. If his arm can max out in a relief role and Wang can maintain his control, there’s a chance the 24-year-old could stick in the back end of an MLB bullpen with the ability to throw multiple innings.
Tyler Webb, New York Yankees
New York’s six-foot-six lefty is 26 and has spent at least parts of the past three seasons at the triple-A level, but he offers some nice left-on-left appeal.
Badler writes that his fastball sits around 90-92 MPH and is complemented by a slider and changeup. He’s managed to limit his walks and has struck out 11.1 batters per nine innings over his minor league career.
Last season with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Webb held left-handed hitters to a .215 average and .559 OPS. Given his experience at triple-A Webb may be a safer bet to stick at the MLB level than Guillon or Wang.
Beyond the Rule 5 Draft, free agency, and the trade market, December 2nd could provide another opportunity for the Blue Jays to find new targets for their variety of free agent needs. That is the deadline for teams to non-tender players, which should stock the market with a small wave of veterans deemed not worthy of their arbitration numbers by their teams.