Blue Jays roster shuffle: Who's in, who's out, why it matters

Gift Ngoepe is a nice little pickup for the Toronto Blue Jays, but it wouldn’t be fair to expect a big impact. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

On Monday, the Toronto Blue Jays made a flurry of minor transactions to shape their roster prior to the Rule 5 draft. In order to protect some of their prized prospects from being selected, the team needed to clear some room on the 40-man roster, which made for an eventful day.

Here’s a rundown of the moves Toronto made.

Added to the 40-man roster

RHP Conner Greene: Greene is a perplexing pitcher whose results don’t seem to match his stuff. The 22-year-old right-hander lives in the upper 90s as a starter but had a below-average strikeout rate on his second run through Double-A. While he still needs to improve his command and secondary offerings, it’s easy to imagine a team swiping him in the Rule 5 draft and putting his elite velocity to use in their bullpen, so the Blue Jays were wise to protect him.

C Dan Jansen: Jansen, 22, is coming off a breakout year where he slugged a tidy .323/.400/.484 across three levels and played solid defence behind the dish. He’s the club’s most likely “catcher of the future” — a title which is especially relevant when your catcher of the present will be 35 on Opening Day. There was no way the Blue Jays were going to risk losing a prospect of Jansen’s calibre.

C Reese McGuire: Prior to Jansen’s strong 2017, McGuire was the club’s top catching prospect. His defence is extremely well regarded and he hit a surprising .278/.366/.496 at Double-A before tearing a meniscus in high right knee in May. He’s never hit like that before, it came in a small sample, and he hasn’t reached Triple-A yet, so it’s hard to know how real that offensive outbreak was. He’s arguably ready to be an MLB backup today, though, so he was certainly worth protecting.

LHP Tom Pannone: Pannone, who came over in the Joe Smith deal, doesn’t have big-time stuff but he has strong results in the upper minors. Classic example of a guy with a pulse who throws left-handed, which made him a risk to plucked in the Rule 5 by a team with a southpaw-needy bullpen. Pannone has potential to break through as a pitchability lefty innings-eater in the next couple of years.

1B Rowdy Tellez: Tellez was touted as the best power bat in the Blue Jays system prior to 2017, but failed to live up to the hype slashing an ugly .222/.295/.333 at Triple-A. He’s still just 22, so he could easily bounce back on his second run at the highest level of the minors. 

Traded for

SS/2B Gift Ngoepe: Ngoepe is a fantastic story as the first African-born player to appear in the major leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates last season. His best assets are his positional versatility, an athleticism that helps him in the field and on the bases, plus the ability to draw a walk.

The biggest drawback with Ngoepe is that he has serious contact issues. He’s struck out more than 30 percent of the time his last two seasons at Triple-A and went down on strikes 41.3 percent of the time in 68 MLB plate appearances in 2017. Unless he can put the bat on the ball much more consistently he’s unlikely to be a significant contributor for the Blue Jays. Considering he’s already 27, it’s difficult to see him making huge strides there.

Even so, considering the Blue Jays traded just “cash considerations or a player to be named later” for him, it’s hard to complain about the pickup.

 Outrighted off the roster

RHP Chris Rowley: Rowley got a couple of starts with Toronto last year, but did little to show he could get hitters out at the highest level. Working primarily with a sub-90 mph sinker and a slider that doesn’t miss many bats, it will be an uphill battle for the 27-year-old to make it back. Unsurprisingly, the first West Point graduate to reach the majors has an excellent makeup, so if anyone is going to buck the odds it’s him.

OF Harold Ramirez: One of pieces the Blue Jays got in the Francisco Liriano trade, Ramirez has an odd skill set. He can undoubtedly put the bat on the ball, but he doesn’t have the power or speed to turn that ability into top-end production. Defensively, he’s confined to a corner and doesn’t particularly excel there. The 23-year-old doesn’t really have the right profile to be a bench player and he’s probably not quite good enough to be a regular.

Lost on waivers 

2B Rob Refsynder: Refsynder was once a prized prospect in the New York Yankees system, but he’s fallen from grace in recent years. With limited power and questionable defence he has to get on base to be valuable. He didn’t do that enough with the Blue Jays last year hitting .196/.281/.216 in 32 games.

Despite his poor 2017, the Cleveland Indians will take a shot at reviving his career in 2018.

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