Rule 5 Loses What Luster It Had

Rules changes have drained talent pool

Fans latch onto the major league Rule 5 draft because aside from the ongoing Latin American winter leagues and the occasional trade or free agent signing, not much is happening in the baseball universe in December.

The 2006 Rule 5 famously granted new horizons in new organizations for Josh Hamilton and Joakim Soria. Five all-star game appearances and one MVP award later, one could reasonably say that those two made the most of their new opportunities.

But Hamilton and Soria stand so tall over the recent Rule 5 field that it's a testament to good scouting, and perhaps an indicator that teams were feeling their way through the new draft process.

The rules of the Rule 5 game changed in time for the 2006 draft. Beginning that year, teams gained an extra year to evaluate minor league players' worthiness for 40-man roster spots. Prior to that, teams had just four years to make a determination for high school and international prospects. Now, they have five years. Similarly, clubs now have a four-year window to evaluate their two- and four-year college products. Prior to '06 they had just three years.

But neither Hamilton nor Soria player was selected with the No. 1 pick in that draft. In fact, no top selection has stuck in the big leagues since 5-foot-7 lefty Fabio Castro did so in 2006. He made 20 relief appearances that season, but he needed a trade from the Rangers to the Phillies on June 29 just to make it happen. In four seasons since then, Castro has pitched a grand total of 12 big league innings, all in '07, and his career 3.30 ERA looks a whole lot better than his 32-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

In the 10 Rule 5 drafts from 2000 to '09, just two other first overall picks managed to stick for an entire season. A 25-year-old Chris Shelton batted .196/.321/.283 in a scant 27 games for the Tigers in '04, but he recovered to sock 34 home runs for Detroit in the following two seasons.

One year before Shelton, a 21-year-old Enrique Cruz scuffled through a miserable campaign with the Brewers, batting .085/.145/.099 with 30 strikeouts in 71 at-bats. Back in the minors, the versatile infielder regained his stride in Double-A, but that's where he topped out. Cruz surfaced again in the big leagues for the Reds in 2007 ever so briefly—he logged 2 2/3 innings at shortstop and went 0-for-1 at the plate.

2009 Rule 5 Draft
Total Picks: 17.

No. 1 Pick: Nationals draft outfielder Jamie Hoffmann (25, Triple-A) from Dodgers, then trade him to Yankees as player to be named for Brian Bruney (pre-arranged deal). Yankees return him to Dodgers on March 22, 2010.

Verdict: Hoffmann couldn't crack the Yankees' 2010 roster, and the Nationals probably wish the same could have been said for Bruney, who got slammed for 18 runs (on 21 hits and 20 walks) in 17 2/3 innings. Washington cut him in May. For his part, Hoffmann hit .310/.369/.431 with 36 doubles for Triple-A Albuquerque in 2010 and earned passage on the Dodgers' 40-man roster this offseason.

Success Story: Righthander Carlos Monasterios, part of the bounty the Phillies received when they traded Bobby Abreu in 2006, provided the Dodgers with 88 workmanlike innings. The 24-year-old made 13 starts and 19 relief appearances for Los Angeles, faring much better in the latter role (2.06 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 23 strikeouts in 35 innings). The Mets drafted him seventh overall in the Rule 5 and subsequently sold him to the Dodgers.

2008 Rule 5 Draft
Total Picks: 21.

No. 1 Pick: Nationals draft righthander Terrell Young (23, high Class A) from Reds. He spends the entire 2009 season on the disabled list, thus foiling Washington's plan to banish him from whence he came—during the season at least. They finally succeed in returning him to Cincinnati on Oct. 26, 2009.

Verdict: Young never pitched for the Nationals, not even in the minors on rehab, and he didn't pitch in 2010 either. He retired in May.

Success Story: Shortstop Everth Cabrera, drafted third overall by the Padres from the Rockies, garnered rookie of the year votes as a 22-year-old in 2009, but he fell on hard times in '10, batting .208/.279/.278 in an injury-plagued campaign. For helping pitch the Rangers to the World Series, submarining righty reliever Darren O'Day belongs in the conversation. He's given Texas 118 quality innings in two seasons, but he took a circuitous route to get to Arlington. O'Day made the Angels out of spring training as a rookie in 2008, but he tore the labrum in his shoulder and got dumped from the 40-man roster that October, making him Rule 5 eligible. The Mets snagged the 26-year-old with the 15th pick in the '08 draft, but lost him on a waiver claim to the Rangers in April '09 when they had to clear roster space for Nelson Figueroa.

2007 Rule 5 Draft
Total Picks: 18.

No. 1 Pick: Rays draft righthander Tim Lahey (25, Double-A) from Twins, then immediately sell him to Cubs, who lose him on a waiver claim to the Phillies in March '08. Phillies return him to Twins on April 11, 2008.

Verdict: Lahey spent a few days in the big leagues as a member of the Phillies bullpen, but he didn't get into a game before being returned. He spent the 2008 through '10 seasons in the Triple-A Rochester bullpen, with thoroughly mediocre results. Lahey, a converted catcher, can do as he pleases this offseason—he's a minor league free agent. That he accomplished as much as he did is notable for this lackluster Rule 5 class.

Success Story: The only player to stick with his drafting organization for more than a year (under Rule 5 restrictions) was lefty Wesley Wright, whom the Astros drafted from the Dodgers eighth overall. In three seasons for Houston, from ages 23-25, Wright has proven to be difficult for lefty batters to square up (.258/.350/.384 over 220 plate appearances) but also quite wild (4.9 walks per nine innings) and homer prone (1.6 per nine). The Pirates selected 2010 all-star righty reliever Evan Meek from the Rays with the second pick, but they ultimately negotiated to buy his rights from Tampa Bay. Afterward, he no longer carried Rule 5 pick jeopardy, so he doesn't really count.

2006 Rule 5 Draft
Total Picks: 19.

No. 1 Pick: Devil Rays draft right fielder Ryan Goleski (24, Double-A) from Indians, then immediately sell him to Athletics. Oakland returns him to Indians on March 28, 2007.

Verdict: The slugging Goleski had wrist surgery about a month before the Rule 5 draft, unbeknownst to the A's, who later accused the Indians of withholding critical information. As it turned out, Goleski did not recover his power stroke and topped out at Double-A prior to his release by Cleveland in January 2009.

Success Story: The Royals nabbed Soria from the Padres with the second overall pick and the Cubs drafted Hamilton from the Devil Rays with the third pick (and then sold him to the Reds). The Nationals and Reds found value a bit later in the draft with catcher Jesus Flores (sixth pick, from the Mets) and righty reliever Jared Burton (eighth, A's), both of who remain with those organizations. However, Soria and Hamilton represent extreme outliers (or incredible feats of scouting, if you prefer) in a year in which teams adjusted to new rules in the Rule 5.

2005 Rule 5 Draft
Total Picks: 12.

No. 1 Pick: Royals draft LHP Fabio Castro (20, high Class A) from White Sox, then immediately trade him to the Rangers for Esteban German. Rangers trade him to Phillies for Daniel Haigwood on June 29, 2006.

Verdict: Though seldom used, Castro did keep lefthanded batters in check as a rookie—they collected two singles in 27 at-bats (.074)—helping him survive the Rule 5 gauntlet. In subsequent Triple-A time (318 innings), Castro has been wildly inconsistent and just plain wild, going 19-22, 4.66 with 6.9 strikeouts and 4.4 walks per nine innings. But he's still just 25 years old, and he's still lefthanded.

Success Story: The Marlins committed grand larceny in prying second baseman Dan Uggla from the Diamondbacks with the draft's eighth pick. In his second year of Rule 5 eligibility, Uggla batted a loud .297/.378/.502 with 21 homers for Double-A Tennessee (and he added seven homers and a .988 OPS in the Arizona Fall League). But the Diamondbacks apparently couldn't look past his age (25) or his choppiness in the field (he had just returned full-time to second after three years as a primary third baseman). Uggla became the first second baseman to homer 30 times in four straight years, and he was traded to the Braves this offseason.

2004 Rule 5 Draft
Total Picks: 12.

No. 1 Pick: Diamondbacks draft righthander Angel Garcia (21, low Class A) from Twins, then immediately sell him to Devil Rays. Tampa returns him to Twins on March 31, 2005.

Verdict: Probably the most anonymous first overall pick from the most anonymous Rule 5 class of the decade, Garcia spent all of 2005-06 and most of '07 in Class A. He then missed the entire '08 season and spent much of the past two years in Double-A with the A's and White Sox, going 1-5, 5.70 in 24 games this season. Despite this, Chicago re-signed him for '11.

Success Story: Five of 12 players drafted stuck in the big leagues in 2005, which sounds impressive until one realizes that the players in question are lefty Andy Sisco (second overall, stuck with Royals), righthanders Marcos Carvajal (fourth, Rockies) and D.J. Houlton (10th, Dodgers); outfielder Adam Stern (11th, Red Sox) and third baseman Tony Blanco (12th, Nationals). A 22-year-old Sisco struck out 76 batters in 75 innings as a rookie reliever for the Royals, but the 6-foot-10 lefty's performance declined precipitously afterward. He ran up a 7.34 ERA over 84 additional appearances in 2006 and '07. But the fact that he got a second and third chance in the big leagues makes him this draft's success story, by default.

2003 Rule 5 Draft
Total Picks: 20.

No. 1 Pick: Tigers draft catcher/first baseman Chris Shelton (23, high Class A) from Pirates. (See introduction for more.)

Verdict: The Pirates notoriously lost five of the first six players in this draft, though they eventually had outfielder Rich Thompson and lefty Frank Brooks returned early in 2004. They lost Shelton and righthander Jeff Bennett (to the Brewers) for keeps, and they had to jump through hoops to reclaim the fifth of their drafted players (more on him in a bit). Shelton provided value to the Tigers for a spell, but he would have done little to help the Pirates avoid fifth- and sixth-place finishes.

Success Story: Pittsburgh seemed to regret losing 23-year-old third baseman Jose Bautista almost from the minute that the Orioles Rule 5'd him with the sixth pick. Ultimately, the Pirates got Bautista back at the 2004 trade deadline, but not before he had passed through four organizations, in the process becoming perhaps the world's most coveted .205 hitter. Baltimore waived Bautista that June and the Devil Rays immediately claimed him, but that lasted about a month before Tampa Bay sold him to the Royals. Kansas City traded him to the Mets a month after that, acquiring Justin Huber. New York sought Bautista for the sole purpose of packaging him with Ty Wigginton and Matt Peterson to send to the Pirates for Kris Benson. Bautista spent the rest of '04 and most of the next four years with the Pirates, batting .241/.329/.403 in 400 games. But in a touch of irony, Pittsburgh traded him to the Blue Jays for Robinzon Diaz just prior to Bautista's two best seasons, including a 54-homer campaign in 2010.

2002 Rule 5 Draft
Total Picks: 28.

No. 1 Pick: Brewers draft third baseman Enrique Cruz (21, high Class A) from Mets. (See introduction for more.)

Verdict: Cruz was far from ready for the limelight, and his lost development time appeared to set him back irrevocably.

Success Story: The 2003 Tigers successfully carried three Rule 5 pitchers all season—lefty Wil Ledezma and righthanders Matt Roney and Chris Spurling. It might not surprise you that Detroit also successfully lost 119 games that year. But despite the barrage of picks (a decade-high 28!), no one player stands above the fray. A trio of relievers launched lengthy careers thanks to this Rule 5 draft: righthander D.J. Carrasco (sixth overall by Royals), side-arming lefty Javier Lopez (13th by Red Sox then traded to Rockies) and righty Luis Ayala (14th by Expos). Righty Aquilino Lopez (12th) even saved 14 games for the '03 Blue Jays in a career year. Javier Lopez helped pitch the Giants to the World Series title this year, which would have been difficult to foresee a year ago when he finished the year in Triple-A with the Red Sox and then signed with the Pirates as a free agent.

2001 Rule 5 Draft
Total Picks: 12.

No. 1 Pick: Devil Rays draft righthander Kevin McGlinchy (24, big leagues in 1999-2000) from Braves.

Verdict: McGlinchy never did take the mound for Tampa Bay, missing all of 2002 before drawing his release in May '03. He pitched eight innings for the Braves in 2000 and then just two more in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in '01 as he rehabbed from shoulder surgery. At the time, Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar had fond memories of McGlinchy from their days together in the Braves organization.

Success Story: Hard-throwing righthander Jorge Sosa, a converted outfielder, already had been through the Rule 5 process once before, but on the minor league side. This time the Brewers drafted him from the Mariners with the sixth overall pick in the major league phase. The 24-year-old Sosa didn't make Milwaukee's 2002 roster, but he subsequently landed in Tampa Bay on a waiver claim. He stuck with the Devil Rays all year, going 2-7, 5.53 in 31 appearances (14 starts) and walking more (54) than he struck out (48). Sosa never did iron out his control (4.6 walks per nine innings over three years in St. Petersburg), so the Devil Rays traded him to the Braves for shortstop Nick Green in March '05.

2000 Rule 5 Draft
Total Picks: 10.

No. 1 Pick: Cubs draft righthander Scott Chiasson (23, high Class A) from Athletics. Chicago trades Eric Hinske to A's the following spring to retain Chiasson and also obtain Miguel Cairo.

Verdict: Chiasson didn't work out. He made 10 relief appearances for the Cubs in 2001-02, allowing 14 runs on 16 hits (four of them homers) over 11 1/3 innings. He left the organization as a minor league free agent following the '04 season.

Success Story: The Orioles nabbed corner outfielder Jay Gibbons from the Blue Jays with the fourth overall pick. He smashed 15 homers for Baltimore as a 24-year-old rookie in 2001 and served as a low on-base, high-power source (20+ homers in three seasons) for the organization for seven years.