The Winter Meetings might be virtual this year, rather than all of baseball gathering in Dallas as was planned, but some things don’t change. The Rule 5 Draft is taking place on Thursday, as usual, albeit via conference call.
Every year, teams do find big league talent in the Draft, which will take place at noon ET (the conference call will be streamed live on MLB.com). There have been more contributors than stars found, but Major Leaguers are discovered annually. This year, the Pirates will get the first pick, by virtue of having the worst record in baseball in 2020. They’ll be followed by the Rangers, Tigers, Red Sox and Orioles in the top five.
There are hundreds of eligible players, and teams are going through those lists and scouring past reports -- even more challenging this year without a Minor League or Arizona Fall League season in 2020 -- to help determine whether they want to make any selections.
The Draft order
The Rule 5 Draft order is based on the reverse order of the 2020 regular-season standings. A team must have room on its 40-man roster to make a pick, so each team's 40-man status is noted in parentheses.
Players first signed at age 18 must be added to 40-man rosters within five seasons or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 Draft process. Players signed at age 19 or older have to be protected within four seasons. Clubs pay $100,000 to select a player in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. If that player doesn't stay on the 26-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $50,000.
For this year, that means an international or high school Draft pick signed in 2016 -- assuming he was 18 or younger as of June 5 of that year -- has to be protected. A college player taken in the '17 Draft is in the same position.
There were 11 players taken in last year’s Major League phase. Six of them got at least a little big league time with the team that acquired them, either in the Draft or in a trade announced immediately at the conclusion of the Draft, while one (Mark Payton) made it up with the team that took him, returned him to his original team and then traded for him later in the summer. Over the last six years, 57 of the 91 players taken in this phase were in the big leagues, at least briefly, with that team.
There is also a Minor League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, with the costs now $24,000 for a Triple-A pick (anyone not protected on a big league or Triple-A roster is eligible). Players selected in this portion of the Rule 5 Draft aren't subject to any roster restrictions with their new organizations.
Of the players taken in last year’s Major League phase, only one finished with a positive Wins Above Replacement: Yohan Ramirez (0.5) of the Mariners. Brandon Bailey, who was taken by the Orioles but returned to the Astros, actually finished with a 0.1 WAR when he made it up with Houston. Last year, eight of 14 chosen players were in the big leagues with the team that acquired them. In 2018, 11 of 18 saw Major League time with their new teams. Back in 2017, 18 players were taken, and 10 spent time in the big leagues.
That 2017 Major League phase has produced some solid big league talent that has stuck beyond the 2018 season. Right-hander Brad Keller has cemented himself as a member of the Royals' rotation, compiling 8.3 WAR over the past three seasons. Victor Reyes’ success has been a bit more modest (0.7 WAR), but the No. 1 pick in that year’s Rule 5 has been a regular contributor to the Tigers’ outfield since being selected.
All-time best picks
Most people know Roberto Clemente was a Rule 5 pick, taken by the Pirates from the Dodgers in 1954. But the rules have changed so much, we tend to make any “all-time” list by looking through a more modern lens. Looking at 1990 through last year, here's how Rule 5 Draft picks line up in a top five, ranked by career WAR.
- Johan Santana, LHP, 50.7
- Shane Victorino, OF, 31.2
- Josh Hamilton, OF, 28.1
- Joakim Soria, RHP, 18.6
- Dan Uggla, 2B, 17.5
Soria remains the only active player on the list. Keller might be the only one taken in recent years who has the chance of eventually landing here.
Top available prospects
Here's a list of teams with Top 30 Prospects who are eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft:
24) Thomas Burrows, LHP
30) Brendon Little, LHP
25) Luis Oviedo, RHP
New York Yankees:
24) Trevor Stephan, RHP
21) Joe Rizzo, 3B