Ask BA: How Do The Minor League Phases Of The Rule 5 Draft Work?

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The Rays defeated the Rangers in Game No. 163 of the 2013 season to finalize the 2014 draft order. Here’s how the first round will shape up, with the Blue Jays getting two picks thanks to the compensatory pick that came for failing to sign 2013 first-rounder Phil Bickford.

1. Astros
2. Marlins
3. White Sox
4. Cubs
5. Twins
6. Mariners
7. Phillies
8. Rockies
9. Blue Jays
10. Mets
11. Blue Jays (for failure to sign 2013 first-rounder Phil Bickford)
12. Brewers
13. Padres
14. Giants
15. Angels
16. Diamondbacks
17. Orioles
18. Yankees
19. Royals
20. Nationals
21. Reds
22. Rangers
23. Rays
24. Indians
25. Dodgers
26. Tigers
27. Pirates
28. Athletics
29. Braves
30. Red Sox
31. Cardinals

From one draft to another. We’re already getting questions about December’s Rule 5 draft.

How are players protected from the minor league phases of the Rule 5 draft?

Obviously, any MLB-level 40-man guy is protected from all phases, but what players are protected from the Triple-A and Double-A phases? Is a guy on the Triple-A reserve roster protected from everything but the MLB phase? Or is it any guy on a Triple-A or Double-A reserve roster protected from the minor league phases?

Are there rules about which roster a guy has to be on to be protected like there is with the MLB 40-man roster? For example, if 19 years old when drafted, must a player be protected by their fourth season. . . ) This question comes up about a certain Twins prospect, Max Kepler. To protect him from the MLB phase he would need to be added to their 40-man roster this year, but seeing that he played at low Class A to this point, it’s unlikely he would get selected. I do, however, think he would for certain be selected in one of the minor league phases. So which roster would he have to be placed on to be protected in the minor league phases?

Thanks for any explanation.

Steve Lein

The regular season is over, so let the Rule 5 fever begin. OK, maybe the fever can wait until the World Series is complete and we’ve crowned a champion, but it’s a fine time to explain some of the rules of the Rule 5 draft, which takes place each December at the Winter Meetings.

Teams can choose to shield eligible players from selection in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft by adding them to the 40-man roster. (The deadline to make 40-man additions usually falls on or around Nov. 20.) The player pool of Rule 5 eligibles consists of two main groups:

• Those players who signed at age 18 or younger five years ago, such that the majority of players signed out of high school or internationally in 2009 become Rule 5 eligible for the first time this year.

• Those players who signed at age 19 or older four years ago, such that the majority of players signed out of college or junior college in 2010 become Rule 5 eligible for the first time this year.

June 5 is used as the cutoff point at which a player’s age is determined, and players who sign after the minor league season concludes--typically on Labor Day weekend--don’t have their Rule 5 clocks begin ticking until the following season. Any eligible player can be selected for the Rule 5 fee of $50,000 (payable to the original team) and then must be kept on a major league roster for the following season. If the player doesn’t stick, then he’s placed on waivers and--if he clears--is offered back to his original team for $25,000.

In the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 draft, teams may select any eligible player left off the major league 40-man roster or the Triple-A reserve roster of 38 players. In the Double-A phase of the draft, teams may select any eligible player left off the major league roster, the Triple-A reserve roster or the Double-A reserve roster of 37 players. In other words, a player selected in the Triple-A phase does not rank among his organization’s top 78 talents, and a Double-A selection does not rank among its top 115. In these cases, players are not required to remain on a particular roster. The player’s contract is irrevocably assigned to the drafting team and the drafting fee ($12,000 for Triple-A, $4,000 for Double-A) is paid.


Max Kepler (Photo by Tony Farlow)

While you will see a few useful prospects selected every year in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft, the pickings in the Triple-A and Double-A phases are much slimmer. Scanning the last five Rule 5 drafts (2008-12), I couldn’t find any player who went on to have a significant big league career after being selected in a minor league phase. The minor league phases are used much more as an inexpensive way to add depth to the minor league clubs by acquiring a player who fills a need for, say, a lefty reliever or backup center fielder for the Double-A or Triple-A club.

In Kepler’s case, he was signed in July 2009 as a 16-year-old out of Germany, so this will be the first year that he is Rule 5 eligible. Because of the pace of his development, the Twins will have an interesting call to make about adding him to the 40-man roster. On one hand, Kepler is an intriguing prospect who has shown some power potential and is still just 20. However, working against him is the reality that it’s hard to see how Kepler could stick on a big league roster for a full year--he doesn’t run particularly well and he’s not good enough defensively as a first baseman/corner outfielder to serve as a useful backup while getting limited at-bats. Also, a full year in the majors would likely retard his development. Kepler has just a half season of full-season ball as a 20-year-old. If he spent the full year in the majors next year, he would likely be sent to high Class A in 2015 as a 22-year-old, with plenty of rust to shake off and would likely have fallen behind his contemporaries.

So the Twins will have a tough decision to make about whether to protect Kepler on the 40-man roster. The decisions to place him on the Triple-A reserve roster will be easy, however. Unlike the major league roster, which brings both privileges (a big league spring training invitation) and requirements (the Twins would have to use one of Kepler’s three options to send him to the minors next spring), there are no such restrictions to the Triple-A roster. Kepler can be assigned to any minor league level next spring with no concerns about using options. So why you may have to worry about losing Kepler in the major league Rule 5 draft, there are no such worries about the minor league phase.