The Longest Of Longshots
Callis ranks the top recent minor league Rule 5 picks
LAS VEGAS—It requires scouting to unearth a hidden gem and patience to give up a big league roster spot for a year, but teams can find talent in the Rule 5 draft.
Over the years, Rule 5 picks have developed into Hall of Famers (Red Faber, Hack Wilson, Roberto Clemente), MVPs (Clemente, Willie Hernandez, George Bell) and Cy Young Award winners (Hernandez, Johan Santana). In the past decade alone, Santana, Dan Uggla, Joakim Soria and Josh Hamilton have been Rule 5 selections.
All those players went in the major league phase and were at least somewhat valued—if not properly valued enough—by their former clubs. Far less acclaimed are the truly unwanted players who go in the Triple-A and Double-A phases.
Players eligible in the Triple-A phase were deemed unworthy of getting protected with one of 78 spots between the big league and Triple-A rosters, and cost only $12,000 to select. Those available in the Double-A phase couldn't cling to one of 115 spots on an organization's top three rosters, and cost just $4,000. There are no strings attached, and Triple-A and Double-A selections don't have to be kept in the majors for a year.
Triple-A and Double-A picks are the longest of longshots. But in the last 10 Rule 5 drafts before the most recent one, 36 have made it to the majors.
Just four Double-A selections have defied the odds to play in the big leagues, led by Julius Matos, who picked up 242 at-bats between the 2002 Padres and 2003 Royals. Below are the top 10 Triple-A Rule 5 choices from the last decade who've enjoyed the best careers.
10. Eric Valent (2003, Mets from Reds).
A 1998 sandwich pick by the Phillies, Valent was traded to the Reds at the end of 2003 for Kelly Stinnett. The Mets took him and got a surprisingly effective .267/.337/.481 season out of him in 2004, but he never hit like that or played regularly again.
9. Eugenio Velez (2005, Giants from Blue Jays).
Velez won the low Class A South Atlantic League MVP award in his first season as a Giant, then led the Double-A Eastern League in steals in his second. He took over at second base when Ray Durham was traded last year and will battle for a starting job in spring training.
8. Tim Corcoran (2000, Orioles from Mets; 2003, Rays from Orioles).
Corcoran hadn't done much to distinguish himself in seven minor league seasons before the Rays picked him. He went 5-9, 4.97 in three seasons with Tampa Bay.
7. Edgar Gonzalez (2003, Rangers from Rays; 2004, Expos from Rangers).
After getting picked twice in the Triple-A phase, Gonzalez went to the Marlins and Cardinals as a minor league free agent before reuniting with his brother Adrian in San Diego in 2008. Now Edgar is the Padres' leading candidate to start at second base.
6. Wayne Franklin (1998, Astros from Dodgers).
Franklin posted a 1.59 ERA in his first year in the Astros system, launching a seven-year big league career in which he went 14-16, 5.54. Houston traded him for Mark Loretta in 2002, and the Brewers dealt him for Carlos Villanueva two years later.
5. Brian Buscher (2006, Twins from Giants).
The Giants left Buscher unprotected after he struggled in Double-A for two years. He raced to the big leagues seven months later, logged more time than any Twins third baseman in 2008 and is in position to do so again this year.
4. Chris Gomez (2004, Phillies from Orioles).
Gomez had spent 12 years in the majors when he signed a minor league deal with the Orioles. The Phillies stunned Baltimore by Rule 5ing him, then re-signed Placido Polanco and sold Gomez back to the O's a week later. He has been his usual light-hitting utilityman self for three clubs since.
3. Benji Gil (1998, Marlins from White Sox).
A former Rangers first-round pick who reached the majors at age 20, Gil got traded to Chicago and turned in a lousy Triple-A season. He couldn't find a big league job with the Marlins, but the Angels signed him as a free agent after 1999 and squeezed sporadic production out of him over the next four years.
2. Aaron Miles (2000, White Sox from Astros).
Miles made consistent contact in the lower minors, but the Astros held his height (5-foot-8) and age (23) against him when they left him unprotected. He lasted 37 picks in the Triple-A phase of the 2000 draft but has been a regular for the last five seasons and won a World Series ring in 2006.
1. Jorge Sosa (2000, Mariners from Rockies).
Sosa was going nowhere as an outfielder, having hit .222 with 11 homers in six seasons. The Mariners took him two picks ahead of Miles and immediately converted him to the mound and he started throwing 95-96 mph. Because he was still raw, Seattle gambled and left him off its 40-man roster in 2001, only to lose him to the Brewers in the major league Rule 5 draft (and ultimately the Rays via waivers). Sosa has pitched for four teams since, going 40-49, 4.67 and leading the National League with an .813 winning percentage in 2005.