Elvis Luciano Offers Rare Rule 5 Upside
The pitching-hungry Blue Jays will attempt to carry a teenage righthander who hasn’t pitched above Rookie ball through an entire big league season in 2019, after selecting righthander Elvis Luciano from the Royals in the Rule 5 draft.
General manager Ross Atkins raised eyebrows around the industry with the pick, arguably the most intriguing gamble of any made in Las Vegas during the Rule 5 draft.
Typically, an 18-year-old like Luciano wouldn’t be available in the draft, but because the Diamondbacks voided his first contract in 2016 over a health issue and then re-signed him, the Dominican Republic native became Rule 5 eligible every year he wasn’t on a 40-man roster.
Atkins described Luciano as a legitimate starting pitcher prospect, and the chance to acquire him for only the Rule 5 fee of $100,000 "was a unique opportunity,” he said. "To acquire a young potential starting pitcher . . . who has all the attributes to pitch in the major leagues is not easy to do. (The opportunity) presented itself and we have the roster flexibility to do it.”
Atkins said that Luciano features a low-90s fastball, good feel for a breaking ball, a good changeup and "an incredible delivery." He passed the eye test, according to the GM.
"Then our objective tests—if you take the age and the performance off of it—those benchmarks and measurements predict a major league pitcher," Atkins said. "The lack of track record is why there’s so much risk. We feel the risk is worth it because of the upside.”
The trick for the Blue Jays will be in carrying Luciano while not stunting his development, and to that end they plan to use him out of the bullpen in 2019, carefully trying to pitch him in him situations where he’s most likely to succeed.
Luciano's risk factor is magnified by his inexperience. He spent most of 2018 at Rookie-level Burlington in the Appalachian League, where he recorded a 4.66 ERA in 11 starts while striking out 56 and walking 20 in 56 inning.
The D-backs traded Luciano to the Royals in June as part of the return for Jon Jay.
"His stuff projects very well objectively and subjectively, so it will be a very good opportunity for him, and our hope is that he’s facing Aaron Judge and some of the best hitters in the game,” Atkins said. "What an incredible challenge that would be, and we would love to see that happen.”
Ranking The 2018 Rule 5 Draft's Top Unpicked Players
The 2018 Rule 5 draft has largely proved to be a dud, but there were some very productive players who went unpicked.
— The Blue Jays lost two pitchers in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft, Canadian righthander Jordan Romano and lefthander Travis Bergen.
— Righthanders Patrick Murphy, Hector Perez, Yennsy Diaz and Jacob Waguespack were added to the 40-man roster before the Nov. 20 reserve list deadline.