SAN DIEGO — The Grand Hall rooms C/D at the Manchester Grand Hyatt were packed at 9 a.m. PT for an annual Winter Meetings event that rarely even lasts an hour, the Rule 5 Draft.
On this day, only 33 minutes passed from the opening remarks to the final pick of the minor league phase. Eleven players were picked in the major league phase, and three of those players were in the Houston organization until this morning. As much as anything, that’s a compliment to the depth of the Astros’ farm system.
As you probably know, all Rule 5 picks must stay on the MLB roster all season, or be put on waivers and offered back to their original teams for half of the $100,000 the team spent to pick the player.
It’s a risky proposition (MLB roster spots are valuable), and most players who are chosen in the Rule 5 draft don’t wind up making a huge impact in the majors.
Some do, though. In the 2014 Rule 5 draft, Mark Canha was the No. 2 pick by the Rockies, then immediately traded to the A’s, where he’s developed into a starter who popped 26 homers and had a 4.5 bWAR in 2019. Delino DeShields was the No. 3 pick, and he’s been a regular in the Rangers outfield, when healthy, since that draft day. Odubel Herrera was the No. 8 pick that year, and he posted a 4.0 bWAR as a rookie for the Phillies in 2015, then made the NL All-Star squad in 2016.
But they don’t quite crack the list of the best Rule 5 players ever chosen.
These three guys went on to do great things with the team that took the risk.
1. Roberto Clemente, 1954
Details: Picked by the Pirates, from the Dodgers
Need to know: You know all about his greatness on and off the field. But after hitting .257 for Brooklyn’s Triple-A club in 1954 as a 19-year-old, Clemente was left unprotected and the Pirates snagged him. He didn’t become an All-Star until his sixth season in the majors, but even then he was still just 25 and on his way to legend status.
2. George Bell, 1980
Details: Picked by the Blue Jays, from the Phillies
Need to know: Bell took a couple of years to develop into a starter, but once he found his regular spot in the lineup, he became a star. From 1984-90, Bell averaged 28 home runs a year for Toronto, and he won the AL MVP in 1987.
3. Shane Victorino, 2004
Details: Picked by the Phillies, from the Dodgers
Need to know: Victorino was a rare two-time Rule 5 pick. In 2002, he was plucked by the Padres from the Dodgers, but that didn’t work out (he hit .151 in 36 games) and he was returned to L.A. But with the Phillies, Victorino turned into an All-Star (two times) Gold Glove (three times) winner who was a driving force behind the team’s 2008 World Series title.
And here are the top three players who were selected in the Rule 5 draft, but went on to greatness elsewhere.
1. Josh Hamilton, 2006
Details: Picked by the Cubs, from the Devil Rays
Need to know: The Cubs immediately sold Hamilton, who was coming back off drug-related suspensions, to Cincinnati on the day of the Rule 5 draft. After hitting .292 with 19 homers in 90 games for the Reds in 2007, they traded him to the Rangers. There, of course, he went on to become a perennial MVP candidate (he won the award in 2010) and five-time All-Star. His career was marked by extreme highs and extreme lows.
2. Johan Santana, 1999
Details: Picked by the Marlins, from the Astros
Need to know: With a pre-draft deal in hand , the Marlins picked Santana first in the Rule 5 draft and immediately swapped him to the Twins for Jared Camp, who went No. 2 in that draft. Oops. Santana held the best-pitcher-in-baseball title for a stretch where he finished in the top seven in the Cy Young voting six consecutive seasons (winning in 2004 and 2006).
3. Jose Bautista, 2003
Details: Picked by the Orioles, from the Pirates
Need to know: Bautista’s road to big-league success was long and winding. After he was picked by the Orioles in that Rule 5 draft, he was also with the Devil Rays, Royals, Mets and Pirates (again) before he finally became one of the most feared sluggers in baseball for the Blue Jays.