Suitcase Chronicles: Listening For Your Own Name

Between bites of sausage, the same question floated towards me throughout the Winter Meetings:

“So, you think you’ll be taken in the Rule 5 draft?”

For the first time in my career I was protected on the Double-A roster, and this increased the likelihood of the occurrence. Perhaps I should quickly explain.  

When on the Triple-A roster, my chances of selection were miniscule. I was only eligible for the major league phase of the draft, and I didn’t fit the prototype of pitchers taken. Teams often grab power righties and lefthanded relievers in the big league phase. They’re players with upside who are worth the $50,000 investment and a spot on the 40-man roster. The hope is to secure an eventually productive big-leaguer.  

I, on the other hand, more closely resemble a righthanded Jaime Moyer than a power righty. As a control specialist, I don’t fit the Rule 5 mold.

This season, protected on the Double-A roster, my chances were better. I could be selected as a minor league roster filler, and it would only cost the team $12,000. But I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to be selected.

At its best, the minor league phase of the draft presents a fresh start. It’s an opportunity for a player to showcase their talent within a new organization. Sometimes it motivates the player, and sometimes the new team sees an opportunity where others saw only flaws. Occasionally a player will flourish.  

But the minor league phase hardly presents the opportunities afforded by the major league phase. It guarantees nothing. Each of the past two years, I witnessed teammates selected in the minor league phase. A few months later, their new teams released them at the mid-point of spring training. The teams had too many players and not enough invested in their newly acquired bodies—my former teammates. With all teams making cuts to combat swollen spring training rosters, employment prospects were grim. The players received not one dime for their efforts, or for their selection in the draft, and spent the year playing independent ball.

Still, the prospect of being drafted intrigued me, so I anxiously entered the voluminous site of the draft a few minutes before 9 a.m. Representatives from each team sat in the front rows, while a sea of journalist clustered behind them. At the mid-point, I found seating for baseball’s secular world.

It didn’t take long for a teammate to be taken. Baltimore selected Ben Snyder, with whom I played much of the past two seasons, with the third pick. After 14 more picks, the major league phase ended.  

During the ensuing five-minute break, snapshots of my career ran through my mind. Obtaining a physical at AT&T Park. My first professional game. My first Triple-A start. A minor league championship ring. For five and a half years, I had been a Giant. I had befriended almost every player in the organization. I could navigate Scottsdale, Arizona (our spring training site), almost as well as I could navigate St. Louis. All of this could become meaningless in a few moments.

The Triple-A phase began around 9:30. Teammate Brian Horwitz, also a 2004 Giants’ signee, was the fourth player selected. Name after name quickly followed. In total 21 names were selected in the Triple- A phase. Mine was not one of them.  

With four more players selected in the Double-A phase, teams nabbed 42 players in less than 45 minutes. The sprint was over, and I was still a Giant.  

I had been passed over by every organization. It didn’t matter that I am the second winningest pitcher in the Giants’ minor league system over the past two years (only behind Madison Bumgarner). It didn’t matter that I had never missed a start in my entire career and could be found each year among league leaders in innings pitched. What mattered was that I was an aging right-hander who had spent most of his days in Double-A. What mattered was my velocity and lack of strikeouts. I wasn’t worth $12,000.  

Yes, I was still a Giant, but my days might be limited.