Rule 5 buzz nothing new for Wimberly
Speedy prospect could be plucked from A's organization
He's been through the anxious few weeks in November, waiting to see if he'd be added to his team's 40-man roster.
He's been through the disappointment of finding out he hadn't been, through hearing his name mentioned in pre-Rule 5 Draft buzz, through sitting at his computer on the final morning of the Winter Meetings, waiting to hear if his name would be called.
And he's been through not hearing his name called.
The Rule 5 Draft will take place at 9 a.m. ET on Thursday. During the Major League phase, eligible players left unprotected from their clubs' 40-man rosters may be selected for $50,000. A player selected must remain on his drafting team's active Major League roster during the following season or be back to the original club for $25,000. MLB.com will carry the audio live from Indianapolis with Jonathan Mayo and Mike Siano as co-hosts.
A year ago, Wimberly was coming off of his fourth pro season in the Colorado Rockies organization and hoped to be added to the club's 40-man roster in his first year of Rule 5 eligibility.
He certainly had the resume that spoke on his behalf. The 5-foot-8 switch-hitter, who had led the NCAA in hitting with a .462 average at Alcorn State before being drafted in the sixth round in 2005, won the Pioneer League batting crown that same summer, hitting .381 in his pro debut at short-season Casper, stealing 36 bases in 67 games.
Skipping to Advanced A Modesto the next summer, he hit .325 with 50 steals. He batted .268 at Double-A Tulsa with 36 steals in 2007, and went on to win the Arizona Fall League batting title that fall, hitting .407.
In a return to Tulsa in '08, Wimberly hit .291 with 59 steals, leading the Texas League in stolen bases while seeing time at second base, shortstop, third base and center field.
"Last year, I really, really had my hopes high to make the 40-man roster," said Wimberly, who sports a career .307 average over five Minor League seasons. "I was heartbroken when I didn't. Then I thought maybe I'd get [picked in the] Rule 5 [Draft], and I saw all these write-ups that said I'd be a good fit, and I got my hopes high again. I was patiently waiting by my computer that morning. I admit when it was over, I was teary-eyed."
This year, Wimberly entered the week of the Rule 5 Draft in a similar situation, but with a different organization -- the Oakland Athletics, who added just four top prospects to their 40-man roster in November.
It's been an eventful year for the 26-year-old Wimberly, who spent the 2008-09 offseason rehabbing from postseason hamate bone surgery to get back into shape and head down to Tucson for Spring Training ready to go at 100 percent.
After one of those workouts in early February, he picked up his cell phone to find seven missed calls from unfamiliar phone numbers, a hint that something was up. He found out that the Rockies had traded him to Oakland for outfielder Matt Murton.
The Athletics informed him that they were bringing him to camp as a non-roster invitee, Wimberly's first Major League camp.
"I was told that there would be a lot of opportunities there," said Wimberly, who has played every position except catcher, first base and right field. "They were going to start me in the infield, and towards the end they'd move me to the outfield a little more."
After getting over being a little star-struck in his first big league clubhouse, Wimberly fit in quickly as he got better acquainted with players he'd played against in the Minors. And each time the list of players being reassigned to Minor League camp was posted, he was surprised that his name was not on it.
In fact, Wimberly lasted until the final week. In 27 games for Oakland last spring, he scored 13 runs, tied for most on the team, and stole five bases, which ranked second. By the time he was reassigned to Minor League camp a week before the team broke, he'd made quite an impression.
Sent back to Double-A for what would be a third time because the Athletics' Triple-A Sacramento roster was loaded with older veterans, he was assured that if he played hard he'd be in the mix for an early move up to make his Triple-A debut.
In the first three weeks of the Texas League season, Wimberly hit .348 with nine steals in 17 games for the Midland RockHounds.
On April 28, Oakland player development director Keith Lieppman was in the stands at Midland for a home game against Corpus Christi. It was the second inning and Wimberly had already drawn a pair of walks, stolen a base and scored a run when he rounded third and headed home on a two-out extra-base hit by teammate Danny Putnam.
"I didn't think I would have to slide until I saw their catcher set up," Wimberly said. "I went into a feet-first slide and had to brace myself. I put my hand down and my right thumb got caught in the ground."
Wimberly had torn the ligament in his thumb.
So, instead of delivering the postgame news, as planned, that Wimberly had been promoted to Sacramento, Lieppman had to accompany his player to the doctor with the knowledge that he was likely going to miss the next few months.
Between surgery to reattach the ligament and the ensuing rehabilitation, Wimberly missed 10 weeks, and even when he returned to action in mid-July, it still took time for him to fully regain his strength and what he calls his "baseball IQ."
His final stats at Midland, rust notwithstanding, were still impressive, as he hit .296 in 70 games in the leadoff spot with 21 steals, as his post-injury time was spent at the three infield positions. He also spent a week in the Mexican League playing center field before heading home with a slight hamstring pull that he didn't want to take a chance of aggravating by continuing to play.
Instead, he is home in Jacksonville, Fla., healthy, working out with a vengeance, and counting the days until Spring Training.
Wimberly knows that his injury history might make clubs leery. Last year, when he underwent the postseason surgery to remove his broken hamate bone, there had been rumor that he had a wrist injury, which would have been of more concern than a hamate bone.
"I had a couple of scouts call me last year to see if I was healthy because they were thinking about taking me in the Rule 5," he said. "I don't know if the rumor I had wrist surgery played a part in my not being taken."
With speed, a live bat and versatility in the infield and outfield, it's no surprise that, once again, Wimberly's name is being mentioned in the Rule 5 buzz. And those who have played with and against him think he'd be a good addition to any big league club.
"Corey is a hard worker who can only make a team better," said his former teammate and good friend, current Rockies prospect Eric Young Jr., who made his big league debut with the Rockies in 2009 and still stays in touch with his old teammate. "He can play everywhere and he ignites a lineup with his speed."
For Wimberly, the past year has made a difference in the way he looks at his chosen career.
"I've gotten a year older and more mature, and I understand the business part of baseball better now," he said. "But being able to play baseball for a living is the opportunity of a lifetime."
Will Wimberly be sitting by his computer again on Thursday morning?
"I'll have my eyes open," he said, "but I won't hold my breath this time. "
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.