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In surprise move, Blue Jays take teen in Rule 5

Blue Jays confident in 18-year-old, who has never pitched above Rookie level
MLB.com @gregorMLB

LAS VEGAS -- The Blue Jays gained one prospect, but they lost two others as the annual Winter Meetings came to a close Thursday morning with an eventful Rule 5 Draft.

Toronto picked right-hander Elvis Luciano from the Royals with the 10th overall pick, despite the fact that he is 18 years old and has never pitched above Rookie ball. The Blue Jays also lost a pair of promising pitchers, as Jordan Romano went to the White Sox and Travis Bergen went to the Giants.

LAS VEGAS -- The Blue Jays gained one prospect, but they lost two others as the annual Winter Meetings came to a close Thursday morning with an eventful Rule 5 Draft.

Toronto picked right-hander Elvis Luciano from the Royals with the 10th overall pick, despite the fact that he is 18 years old and has never pitched above Rookie ball. The Blue Jays also lost a pair of promising pitchers, as Jordan Romano went to the White Sox and Travis Bergen went to the Giants.

The Blue Jays will pay the Royals $100,000 for Luciano, and he must remain on Toronto's 25-man roster for the entire 2019 season, or else he'll be offered back to Kansas City for $50,000. That might seem like a stretch for a guy who has never pitched a full professional season, but the Blue Jays have gone with a high-risk, high-reward approach.

"Elvis is an exciting young arm that we've done a lot of work on and feel that any time you can acquire someone who has the chance to be a Major League starting pitcher, or a significant chance to be that, based on our projections, based on our scout looks," Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said.

"The work that we did on him, these types of attributes are hard to acquire. The age, there are pluses and minuses to that. The pluses are the upside, the very high ceiling. The minuses are the risk and the unknown in how little he has pitched."

Luciano was available in this year's draft because of an odd loophole. Atkins didn't get into many specifics, but he said that Luciano's contract was voided earlier in his career because of a health issue. The Blue Jays did not disclose what the issue was, but it made Luciano available a lot sooner than other Rule 5 candidates.

The issue here is that Luciano doesn't even turn 19 until after the start of Spring Training. If he cracks the Opening Day roster, he would become the youngest pitcher in franchise history. In most cases, there would be concern that rushing this type of pitcher to the big leagues would cause serious damage to his overall development, but the Blue Jays seem to think that he is up for the challenge.

When the Blue Jays announced the pick, there was some initial speculation that a side deal might be in the works to keep Luciano in Toronto's system without having to place him on the 25-man roster. That does not appear to be the case.

"We wouldn't have taken him if we didn't think he had the stuff to [pitch in the Majors right away]," Atkins said.

"The stuff projects very well objectively and subjectively, so it will be a good opportunity for him. Our hope is that he is facing Aaron Judge and facing some of the better hitters in the game, and what an incredible challenge that will be. And we'd love to see that happen."

Romano was ranked Toronto's No. 28 prospect by MLB Pipeline. He spent most of last season with Double-A New Hampshire, where the 25-year-old went 11-8 with a 4.13 ERA over 137 1/3 innings. Romano projects as a starter long term, but the White Sox will likely slot him into the bullpen as a possible long reliever, similar to what the Blue Jays did with Joe Biagini in 2016.

Bergen wasn't ranked on Toronto's list of top prospects, but he was certainly trending in that direction. The 25-year-old lefty split last season with Class A Advanced Dunedin and New Hampshire, and he allowed just 12 runs (six earned) over 56 2/3 innings. The product of Kennesaw State likely will compete for a job out of the Giants' bullpen as a lefty reliever, which is something the Blue Jays severely lack.

"Not surprised," Atkins said. "Jordan cleared last year through the Draft. I think with Travis Bergen, the year that he had, from a performance standpoint, both guys are exceptional teammates, exceptionally hardworking, and teams did a great job in scouting them.

"We do a lot of second-, third- and fourth-guessing before we get to today. We were aware of the risks not protecting and ultimately prepared for that."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

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