Overlooked Positions Have High Success Rate Among Rule 5 Picks

Image credit: Mark Canha (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)

Every year when the Rule 5 draft arrives, there’s a good bet you can count on lefty and righty relievers, shortstops and outfielders making up the majority of players picked.

Since 2000, there have been 332 MLB Rule 5 picks. More than half of those picks have been righthanded pitchers (169). Lefthanders (66) have made up 20% of the picks and outfielders (37) represent another 11%. So any time a Rule 5 pick is announced, there’s an 8-in-10 chance that it will be coming from one of those three groups.

But in studying which Rule 5 picks have been successful, what’s notable is that when teams decide to pick from the generally overlooked positions, they often find the biggest success stories.

First basemen and second basemen are the oft ignored positions of the Rule 5 draft. Since 2000, those are two of the three positions to have the fewest MLB Rule 5 picks. 

They also happen to be the positions that have seen the highest success rate.

Only seven first basemen (2% of Rule 5 picks) have been selected among the 332 Rule 5 picks since 2000. Four of those seven “stuck” by fulfilling Rule 5 roster requirements. Two of them (Mark Canha and Josh Phelps) are among the 19 Rule 5 picks that produced 1 or more bWAR in their initial season as Rule 5 picks. Canha, Phelps and Jay Gibbons all rank among the top 20 in career bWAR since 2000 among Rule 5 picks who stuck.

The success rate among second basemen has been similar. There have been only 11 second basemen (3%) picked in the Rule 5 draft. Of those, 45% have stuck on their new team’s roster. Four of the five who stuck produced positive bWAR in their initial season after they were picked (and the other, Ryan Flaherty, ended up with 1.2 career bWAR). Two of them (Odubel Herrera and Dan Uggla) rank first and third among bWAR produced in the initial season and both Herrera and Uggla rank in the top six for career bWAR.


There have been 14 Rule 5 picks since 2000 who stuck and produced 5-plus career bWAR. Four of those 15 (27%) have come from the ranks of first and second basemen, even though just 5% of Rule 5 picks over that time have come from those two positions.

We’ve written about the success rate of college first basemen taken in the top 10 picks of the amateur draft. The same assumptions likely apply here—since teams are less inclined to select first and second basemen, it does stand to reason that the ones who have been picked are players who stand out, usually for their hitting ability. And because of that, they are more ready to contribute immediately. 

Contributing immediately is the hidden key to Rule 5 draft success. Not one of the 14 players who produced 5-plus career bWAR had a truly bad initial MLB season. Two were effectively replacement level in their initial season with -0.1 bWAR (Hector Rondon and Marwin Gonzalez). Ryan Pressley (0.5 bWAR) and Jay Gibbons (0.9 bWAR) were the next least productive players in their debut. Of the six most successful Rule 5 picks, five produced 2.4 bWAR or more in their debut season.

Garrett Whitlock (2.9 bWAR in 2021) and Akil Baddoo (2.1 bWAR in 2021) could join that career list in upcoming years, further adding to the point that the best Rule 5 picks are ones who immediately contribute.

If second basemen and first basemen have been surprising success stories, there are some trouble spots as well.

The least successful position is catcher. In fact, of the 12 catchers picked, there are many more misses than hits. Chris Shelton, a catcher who primarily played first base in the majors, produced 3.9 career bWAR. Nationals catcher Jesus Flores posted 0.9 bWAR. The other 10 catchers selected either failed to stick or produced less than 0.0 bWAR for their career. Mariners catcher Luis Torrens could eventually improve these numbers, but for now it is very hard to find a success story of an MLB Rule 5 pick at catcher.

Similarly, teams have been disappointed regularly when picking a shortstop. There have been 24 shortstops selected in the MLB Rule 5 draft since 2000. The success rate of those shortstops sticking is actually very good—12 of the 24 (50%) fulfilled Rule 5 eligibility requirements. But almost every time, the team would have been better off by sending them back.

Of those 12 shortstops who stuck, only Marwin Gonzalez and Everth Cabrera produced positive WAR, either in the initial season or over their career. It’s possible that one of the other current Rule 5 shortstops like Richie Martin, Vimael Machin or Jonathan Arauz could change that, but for now that’s two success stories in 24 picks. Shortstops since 2000 who stuck in the Rule 5 draft have produced 11.5 career WAR combined, with Gonzalez (13.5 bWAR) making up for the failings of almost everyone else.

Third baseman is a position where players rarely are picked and even more rarely succeed. There were success stories in the 1980s (David Hollins and Kelly Gruber), but since 2000 no player who is primarily a third baseman has stuck as a Rule 5 pick. Jose Bautista was a Rule 5 pick in 2003, so there is a Rule 5 third baseman who went on to have plenty of success, but he didn’t stick as a pick. No player who primarily played third base has been selected in any Rule 5 draft since the Orioles selected Michael Almanzar in 2013.

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