Rule 5 Draft has history of uncovering gems
Reigning AL MVP Hamilton among top 10 selections since 1990
Since the inception of the Rule 5 Draft, scores of players have been selected. A few have gone on to be stars, like Roberto Clemente. There have been some who have become good Major League contributors, like George Bell. The vast majority in this "needle in a haystack" exercise never made a Major League impact.
That's all part of the risk involved in the Rule 5 Draft, which will take place at 9 a.m. ET on Thursday. MLB.com/Live will carry live audio coverage of the event from Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
During the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, eligible players left unprotected from their club's 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 offered back to the original club for $25,000.
Despite the Rule 5 Draft's risk factor, there have been more than enough success stories to encourage teams to continue taking shots on Minor Leaguers left unprotected by their organizations -- especially considering the price tag.
Today's Major League rosters are dotted with Rule 5ers who made it. Here's a look at the top players selected in the Rule 5 Draft since 1990:
1. Johan Santana
Rule 5 selection: By Marlins from Astros, 1999. Traded to Twins with cash for Rule 5 selection Jared Camp on Draft day
He's been No. 1 on this list since MLB.com started running it, and for good reason. He has two Cy Young Awards on his shelf and finished third in 2005 and 2008. For his career, the four-time All-Star is 133-69 with a 3.10 ERA and 1,877 strikeouts in 1,908 2/3 innings. Opponents have hit .226 against the southpaw. His strikeouts per nine innings rate has dropped a bit, but it's still 8.85, good for 10th all-time. His slight dropoff with the Mets along with the play of the guy now at No. 2 has made this choice far from obvious.
2. Josh Hamilton
Rule 5 selection: By Cubs from Rays, 2006. Traded to Reds on Draft day
Hamilton had been dropped to No. 3 on this list after an injury-riddled 2009 season, but what a bounce-back 2010 turned out to be. His MVP season saw him named to the All-Star team for the third straight season while winning a batting title (.359) and leading the American League in slugging percentagge (.633) and OPS (1.044). He now has two Silver Slugger awards to his name and has a very impressive .311/.371/.544 big-league line in his four-year career. It's aleady been an unbelievable comeback story and he keeps adding to it. You could make the argument that he and Santana should be 1A and 1B now. Another MVP-caliber season could very well vault Hamilton into the top spot.
3. Dan Uggla
Rule 5 selection: By Marlins from Diamondbacks, 2005
Now an Atlanta Brave, Uggla moved down a spot more because of Hamilton's excellence than any shortcoming of his own. The two-time All-Star topped the 30-homer mark for the fourth straight season and drove in over 100 runs for teh first time. He won his first Silver Slugger Award in 2010 and now has 154 home runs over five seasons. He's also been extremely durable, with a low of 146 game in 2008. Sure, he strikes out a lot -- 149 times in 2010 -- but he continues to draw walks (78) and his .369 OBP in 2010 was his career high.
4. Joakim Soria
Rule 5 selection: By Royals from Padres, 2006
It keeps getting better and better for the 26-year-old who is certainly now the best reliever taken in the Rule 5 pick during the aforementioned timeframe. He was named to his second All-Star team in 2010 and even got some Cy Young and MVP mention after a 43-save, 1.78 ERA campaign for the Royals. In four seasons, Soria now has 132 career saves in 145 opportunities. He's got a career 2.01 ERA with 281 strikeouts in 255 innings, allowing just 70 walks (for a career 0.99 WHIP) while holding hitters to a .197 batting average against. He's already 15th on the career active saves list and he's seventh among all closers with his save total over the past four years.
5. Shane Victorino
Rule 5 selection: By Padres from Dodgers, 2002. Returned to Dodgers, May 2003; By Phillies from Dodgers, 2004
While it was a relative down year for the Phillies outfielder (.259/.327/.429 a drop below his previous two seasons), the two-time Rule 5 selection still had double-digits in doubles, triples and homers (he set a career high with 18 home runs) while stealing 34 bases in 40 attempts. He also set a career high in RBIs with 69 in 2010 while picking up his third straight Gold Glove. He and his Phillies made it to the postseason yet again, this time getting stopped in the NLCS. Still, Victorino has a career line of .279/.342/.428 with 143 steals to boot. Not bad for a guy twice passed over.
6. Fernando Vina
Rule 5 selection: By Mariners from Mets, 1992. Returned to Mets, June 1993
Vina holds steady in this spot after sliding down in recent years, largely because of inactivity and the success of the active players above him. Clearly Seattle had the right idea when it drafted Vina from the Mets. But after 45 at-bats with the Mariners in 1993, Vina was given back to New York. He made the Majors for good in 1994 and went on to make an All-Star team and win a pair of Gold Gloves. Even though he was hurt for much of 2003 and 2004 before retiring, a .282 career average and more than 4,200 big league at-bats say he deserves to be on this list.
7. Miguel Batista
Rule 5 selection: By Pirates from Expos, 1991. Returned to Expos, April 1992
The Pirates didn't keep the right-hander, sending him back to the Expos after pitching him in just one game, but clearly they saw something in him. And say what you will about his inconsistencies over the years, there aren't too many Rule 5 picks who have gone on to spend parts of 15 seasons (not counting '92) in the Majors. He's also shown the ability to fill a number of roles, closing in 2005 and saving 31 games and topping 200 innings as a starter for the first time in 2006. He moved on to Seattle for the 2007 season and proceeded to win 16 games, his career high. He forgot about a rough 2008 season with a solid relief campaigns in 2009 and 2010, allowing him to move up one spot on the list from last year, and now has 1,843 2/3 career Major League innings on his resume.
8. Scott Podsednik
Rule 5 selection: By Rangers from Marlins in Minor League phase, 1997
Every time it appears that Podsednik's career is fading, he finds new life. After seeing greatly reduced roles in 2007 and 2008, he became an integral part of the 2009 White Sox, hitting .304 with 30 steals as their primary leadoff hitter. He moved on to Kansas City and the Dodgers last year, finishing with a .297 average and 35 more stolen bases. Even without the resurgence, he was a good choice to be Exhibit A for why everyone should also pay attention to the Minor League phases of the Rule 5 Draft. You never know when one of those guys is going to develop. It took Podsednik a while to get going, in 2003, when he finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting. He was an All-Star two years later on the White Sox World Series-winning team. His 35 steals in 2010 marked the sixth time he'd hit that plateau (four others were 40 or more) and he now has 301 career steals to go along with a .279/.340/.381 line.
9. Willy Taveras
Rule 5 selection: By Astros from Indians, 2003
When the Astros selected Taveras, they realized they wanted to keep him, but in the Minors. So they made a trade so they could keep him and let him continue to develop. In two seasons with the Astros, he hit .284 with a .340 on-base percentage and 68 steals. He was then dealt to the Rockies and he proved to be a catalyst in their run to the 2007 World Series, hitting .320 with 33 steals over 97 games. He took off, literally, in 2008 with his 68 steals, leading the Major Leagues. He swiped just 25 in 2009, the first in the past five in which he didn't top the 30-steal plateau. Still, he was among baseball's leaders with 194 steals from 2005-2009, but with just 37 plate appearances in the big leagues in 2010, he moves down a couple of spots to No. 9.
10. Frank Catalanotto
Rule 5 selection: By A's from Tigers, 1996. Returned to Tigers, March 1997
Even though the Tigers left Catalanotto unprotected in 1996, they knew they had a good player on their hands. He moved from Double-A to Triple-A after the A's returned him to the Tigers, then made his Major League debut in the 1997 season. It took him a while to establish himself, but he went from being a super-sub with the Rangers to an everyday outfielder for the Blue Jays in 2003, when he hit .299 and set career highs in homers and RBIs. Even though he missed much of the 2004 season due to injury, he still hit .293, then improved that to .301 and tied a career high in RBIs in 2005. He hit .300 in 2006 to bring his career average to a nifty .297. He parlayed that into a three-year deal back with the Rangers in 2007, settling into a utility role in Texas and continuing that with the Brewers in 2009, though it looked like 2010 might have been the end after just 25 big-league ABs with the Mets. From the humble beginnings of being a Rule 5 pick, Catalanotto has played in more than 1,200 big league games and collected more than 1,100 hits in 3,824 career at-bats.
Honorable mention: Antonio Alfonseca, Luis Ayala, Jared Burton, Jesus Flores, Jay Gibbons, Graeme Lloyd, Javier Lopez, Matt Mantei, Evan Meek, Guillermo Mota, Jorge Sosa, Derrick Turnbow.