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12/09/09 12:00 PM ET

Clubs seek needles in Rule 5 haystack

It's uncommon, but Draft can yield players like Santana, Uggla

INDIANAPOLIS -- 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 Indianapolis.

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 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

With the exception of perhaps only Clemente, Santana has to be considered the best all-time Rule 5 pick. 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 122-60 with a 3.12 ERA and 1,733 strikeouts in 1,709 2/3 innings. Opponents have hit .225 against the southpaw and he's averaged 9.12 strikeouts per nine innings, placing him eighth all-time.

2. Dan Uggla
Rule 5 selection: By Marlins from Diamondbacks, 2005

The talk surrounding Uggla is often about the strikeouts and yes, he has carried the bat back to the dugout 611 times in his 617 Major League games. But he's also driven in 90 or more runs in three of four years, hit 30 or more homers in each of the past three seasons and increased his walk totals every year. The two-time All-Star has been durable, with a low of 146 games played in 2008. All of that earned him a push up to the No. 2 spot. He may find a new home in 2010, but the Marlins can't complain about the return they've gotten on their $50,000 investment.

Below is the Draft order for Thursday's Rule 5 Draft. A team must have fewer than 40 players on its roster to make a selection in the Major League phase of the Draft.
Pick No. Team
1 Nationals
2 Pirates
3 Orioles
4 Royals
5 Indians
6 D-backs
7 Mets
8 Astros
9 Padres
10 A's
11 Blue Jays
12 Reds
13 White Sox
14 Breweres
15 Cubs
16 Rays
17 Mariners
18 Tigers
19 Braves
20 Twins
21 Rangers
22 Marlins
23 Giants
24 Cardinals
25 Rockies
26 Phillies
27 Dodgers
28 Red Sox
29 Angels
30 Yankees

3. Josh Hamilton
Rule 5 selection: By Cubs from Rays, 2006. Traded to Reds on Draft day

An injury-riddled 2009 season moved him down to No. 3 on this list. After hitting .292 and slugging .554 as a rookie with the Reds in 2007, his first year with the Rangers was other-worldly. He finished seventh in MVP voting that season and went to the All-Star Game in New York, ending with a .304 average, 32 homers and 130 RBIs. His "down year" in 2009 saw him hit just .268/.315/.426 in 336 at-bats, but his overall numbers as a big leaguer -- .292/.356/.508 -- are still pretty impressive. Look for a bounce-back year in 2010 as a nice encore for what's already worthy of a movie script.

4. Joakim Soria
Rule 5 selection: By Royals from Padres, 2006

In the first season following his selection, Soria had a 2.48 ERA and 17 saves in 62 games. He topped that by making the All-Star team in 2008 and finishing second in the American League with 42 saves in 45 opportunities. The 2009 season saw a trip to the disabled list with a rotator cuff problem, but he still put up very good numbers: 30 saves, 2.21 ERA, .219 batting average against, 69 K's in 53 inning. In his three-year Major League career, he's now got 89 saves in 99 tries to go along with a 2.09 ERA. He's struck out 210 and walked just 54 in 189 1/3 innings, while hitters have managed to hit just .190 against him.

5. Shane Victorino
Rule 5 selection: By Padres from Dodgers, 2002. Returned to Dodgers, May 2003; By Phillies from Dodgers, 2004

The two-time Rule 5 selection has moved up the list based on his recent performance. Obviously, the 2008 World Series ring lends credibility, as does his return appearance in the Fall Classic last year. He added an All-Star appearance to his resume in 2009 as well as his second straight Gold Glove award. He set career highs in hits, RBIs, walks and on-base percentage while scoring more than 100 runs for a second successive year. That gives him a career line of .284/.347/.428 with 109 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

He moves down another slot largely because of inactivity (and Victorino's success). 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. 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's among baseball's leaders with 194 steals over the past five seasons.

8. 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 2009 campaign in relief and now has 1,761 career Major League innings on his resume.

9. 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. 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 30 steals in 2009 marked the fifth time he'd hit that plateau (the other four were 40 or more) and he now has 266 career steals to go along with a .277/.340/.381 line.

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. 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 3,799 career at-bats.

Honorable mentions: Antonio Alfonseca, Luis Ayala, Jared Burton, Jesus Flores, Jay Gibbons, Graeme Lloyd, Matt Mantei, Guillermo Mota, Jorge Sosa, Derrick Turnbow.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.