LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- In a perfect world, teams would take the relatively low risk of making a selection in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft and uncover a Johan Santana, Josh Hamilton, Joakim Soria or Dan Uggla.
But while the Rule 5 Draft, set to begin at 9 a.m. ET with live coverage on MLB.com, has always been a bit of a needle in the haystack exercise, in recent years, it's seemed the odds of finding a future All-Star have dwindled considerably. Though there have been some picks who have stuck in the big leagues following their selection -- Everth Cabrera and Evan Meek stand out in the past three years -- the pool of eligible players has generated considerably less buzz of late.
The main culprit, it has become clear, was the change in the rules regarding protecting players that came with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2006. Major League teams now have an extra year to evaluate their Minor Leaguers -- five years for those who were signed at age 18 or younger, four for those 19 or older -- meaning it's less likely for a diamond in the rough to sneak through and make a real impact immediately like the aforementioned All-Stars have.
"The extra time has not only afforded teams more evaluation time, but it also has allowed the natural attrition process to be part of the decision," Indians vice president of scouting operations John Mirabelli said. "Consequently, teams are making much better, more precise roster decisions. Scouting the opposition is important, but knowing your inventory is critical and teams are capitalizing on the extra year."
Despite all of that, all 30 teams will come together on Thursday morning and give it a shot. Many players will be taken and, in all likelihood, some will stick.
During the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, 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 sent back to the original club for $25,000.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, by virtue of having the worst record in baseball during the 2010 season, have the No. 1 pick in the Draft and they are expected to use it. The Pirates have been active over the past years and held onto two of their last three selections in Meek and lefty Donnie Veal. It wasn't wholly clear what direction Pittsburgh would go in this time around, but there was some talk from outside the organization that the Pirates were leaning toward a position player, perhaps a middle infielder.
"We're kicking around some names," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "Teams have called to see if we would trade -- either trade the pick completely or trade down. It's a lot of fun talking about trading down. There are guys out there that we are interested in. It's not something that we're over the top excited about this year. But there are guys that we feel like can help us and have a legitimate chance to make the team."
What strength there is in this year's pool does lie on the mound, with most of the names being mentioned being pitchers who perhaps could help a bullpen out should they stick.
Here's a sampling of names that could get the chance by being taken in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday:
Nathan Adcock, RHP, Pirates: A Florida State League All-Star in 2010, it's unlikely he'd stick with a Major League club all year.
Ryan Adams, 2B, Orioles: The 2006 second-rounder can play second and third and is coming off a solid Double-A season. Could he be the infielder the Pirates are after?
Pedro Beato, RHP, Orioles: A supplemental first-rounder in 2006 and Futures Gamer in 2007, Beato made a nice transition to the bullpen in Double-A this season.
Steve Clevenger, C, Cubs: Catchers typically don't have success Rule 5-wise, but Clevenger can hit, can throw a bit and is athletic enough to possibly handle other positions in a utility role.
Nick Carr, RHP, Mets: The right-hander and pride of Idaho has struck out nearly a batter per inning in his career, a rate that's been double digits the past two years with his move to the bullpen.
Scott Diamond, LHP, Braves: A starter for his career, the southpaw had a 3.46 ERA and 123 K's in 158 2/3 IP. He's been better against lefties for the most part, so a specialist role could be in the offing.
Jacob Diekman, LHP, Phillies: He hasn't pitched above Class A, but at two levels in 2010, he struck out more than a batter per inning and kept all hitters to a .187 batting average against.
Brad Emaus, INF, Blue Jays: He can play second and third and is coming off a solid .290/.397/.476 season at Double-A and Triple-A in 2010. He's currently getting more looks in the Dominican.
Jeremy Haynes, RHP, Angels: Command issues might make it hard for him to stick, but the right-hander throws hard and arm strength is often valued in the Rule 5.
Taylor Green, 3B/C, Brewers: The Canadian product bounced back from an injury-plagued 2009 with a solid 2010. He added catching to his resume at instructs this fall.
Craig Heyer, RHP, Yankees: The UNLV product has been a reliever for nearly all of his career, but has yet to pitch above Class A. That being said, he did perform well against better competition in the Arizona Fall League.
Kenshin Kawakami, RHP, Braves: It's highly unlikely someone will take Kawakami because then they'd be on the hook for the remainder of his large contract. Still, it's interesting that the Braves even left him exposed for the Triple-A phase of the Draft.
Kasey Kiker, LHP, Rangers: Another strong arm with command issues, it's hard to see a way Kiker would stick. At the same time, he's a lefty power arm with strikeout ability who's very tough to hit.
Adam Miller, RHP, Indians: If someone takes a flier on him, it'd be for his once-enormous potential and his name. Miller's finger issues may keep him from pitching regularly again and he hasn't thrown a competitive pitch since 2008.
Paolo Orlando, OF, Royals: There was talk Kansas City could lose this Brazilian product who hit .305/.366/.480 with 13 homers and 25 steals in Double-A in 2010. It's been a very slow climb for Orlando, but he set career highs in just about every offensive category and was a Texas League All-Star.
Joe Ortiz, LHP, Rangers: The diminutive lefty has a great arm and finished the 2010 season with 63 K's and just six walks in 42 relief innings in the Class A South Atlantic League. He's been pitching well at age 20 as a lefty specialist in his home Venezuela this winter.
Adam Ottavino, RHP, Cardinals: The Cardinals passed Ottavino through waivers and there were no takers, so this one has long odds, but sometimes a team can take a second look -- especially at a pitcher with injury issues -- and decide differently.
Wynn Pelzer, RHP, Orioles: It was surprising to some that the Orioles didn't protect the hard-throwing right-hander after they got him from San Diego in the Miguel Tejada deal. Baltimore has moved him into a bullpen role and while there have been continuing command issues, he's taken to it very well.
Elvin Ramirez, RHP, Mets: The big right-hander was being mentioned frequently by those involved in Rule 5 discussions here, no doubt largely because of his outstanding effort in the Dominican (2.18 ERA, 26 K, 4 BB, .203 BAA in 20 2/3 relief innings).
Aneury Rodriguez, RHP, Rays: If there was one name that was generating the most "oh, he'll get taken" buzz, it's been Rodriguez. He spent most of the year in Triple-A (where he had a 3.80 ERA in 113 2/3 IP) and he's been very sharp in the Dominican, with a 1.22 ERA and .193 BAA in seven starts.
Josh Rodriguez, SS, Indians: Rodriguez could be the answer for a team looking for middle infield help. The Rice product spent much of the season in Triple-A and finished the year with a combined .297/.378/.484 line. He's also played second, short, third and the outfield.
Jason Rice, RHP, Red Sox: After posting a 2.85 ERA and 13 saves in Double-A during the regular season, along with 71 K's and a .211 BAA in 60 innings, Rice struck out 13 in 11 2/3 AFL innings, but the Red Sox didn't find a spot on their roster, leaving other teams intrigued by his power arm.
Mario Santiago, RHP, Royals: Santiago is another one who's put his name on this list with a strong winter ball showing. He wasn't bad during the regular season -- 3.56 ERA in 93 2/3 innings of Double-A, nearly all as a starter -- but his 2.87 ERA over eight starts in Puerto Rico has opened a few more eyes this offseason.