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Rule 5 comes out of the shadows


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Intriguing article found on MLB.com:


Rule 5 comes out of the shadows

Success of Shelton, Santana brings notoriety to obscure draft


These days they seem to be as ubiquitous as foul poles or warning tracks. Milwaukee's exciting young closer Derrick Turnbow was one. So was Atlanta's Chris Reitsma, Houston center fielder Willy Taveras, Chicago White Sox outfielder Scott Podsednik, Boston's Adam Stern, Kansas City's Emil Brown, Philadelphia's Shane Victorino and Toronto's Frank Catalanotto.


Minnesota ace Johan Santana is another, as are Colorado pitcher Miguel Asencio, Atlanta's Jorge Sosa, Kansas City's Andy Sisco, Detroit's Wil Ledezma, Washington's Gary Majewski and Arizona's Miguel Batista.


One of the biggest stories of the season so far, Detroit's Chris Shelton, has become the poster boy for what these talented players have in common -- all were snatched off one team's roster by another during the Rule 5 draft.


Once a little-followed winter event, the draft outlined by Rule 5 of the Major League Baseball rules has become something of a golden rule for a few fortunate teams and one that may gain more attention as teams hope to find the next Shelton or Santana.


Shelton is paying huge dividends for the Tigers, who plucked him from Pittsburgh in the 2003 Rule 5 draft. Shelton, who hit nine homers to start the season faster than anyone in American League history, is the latest Rule 5 pickup to make a splash with a new team, but hardly the first.


Pittsburgh took Roberto Clemente from the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1954 draft and Santana, the 2004 Cy American League Cy Young Award winner, was with Houston until Florida selected the left-hander in 1999, then traded him to Minnesota.


There have been other Rule 5 alums who went on to fine careers, guys like Dave Hollins, Bip Roberts, George Bell, Cecil Cooper, Deivi Cruz, Matt Mantei, Jeff Fassero, Bobby Bonilla, Fernando Vina and Antonio Alfonseca, to name a few. While Rule 5 success stories like these are not uncommon, they have been overwhelmingly outnumbered by the Rule 5 busts over the years.


But the chance to mine gold will have teams digging through the list of Rule 5 eligible players again next winter. Even if a team chooses not to draft any players during the Rule 5 draft, they will have scrutinized every player on the board.


"Roster spots are limited, so especially if you're thinking you're a contending team, you don't want to tie up one on a guy that isn't going to help you this year," Houston general manager Tim Purpura said. "If you're rebuilding, that might change things."


As part of the Basic Agreement, the Rule 5 draft enables players who might not otherwise receive a chance to latch on with a new team.


The Rule 5 draft is held each December at the Winter Meetings. It is basically an opportunity for any player not on a 40-man roster who has spent at least three years with a Minor League contract to be drafted by another team. Such players can be drafted by another team for $50,000, with the selecting team obligated to keep the player on its Major League roster for the entire subsequent season or offer the player back to the original team for $25,000.


The Pirates did not protect Shelton, though he was previously named the organization's Minor League Player of the Year, because they did not have room on the roster. Shelton was not an immediate success as a right foot injury limited him to 27 games in 2004, before hittting .299 with 18 homers in 107 games last season.


"As we evaluated Shelton at that point in time, we definitely liked his bat," Pittsburgh general manager Dave Littlefield said of Shelton. "But the thing we weren't confident about was his defense and where he was going to be able to play [defensively]."


The decision wasn't all that surprising at the time. After being promoted to Double-A Altoona in 2003, Shelton did not have a home run in 122 at-bats.


"In retrospect, it was a mistake," said Littlefield. "If I had it to do all over again, we certainly wouldn't have [left Shelton unprotected]. As we are now seeing, the power is obviously there. I tip my cap to Chris. He's obviously performing well and I hear he's improved his defense as well."


The Tigers have done well in the Rule 5 draft. Besides Shelton, they picked up starter Wil Ledezma from Boston in the 2002 Rule 5 draft. Detroit kept Ledezma on the roster in 2003. Ledezma has progressed and currently is a member of the Tigers rotation.


It should be noted that the Red Sox, who won the World Series in 2004, were a contending team and didn't have a roster spot for Ledezma. Detroit, on the other hand, was rebuilding and could afford to keep Ledezma on the roster.


Choices have to be made, and sometimes in hindsight those choices can look like glaring mistakes, though they cause hardly a ripple at the time. It is still a case of making long-term evaluations on green players, many of whom are at the Single-A level.


Purpura, who was Houston's assistant GM and director of player development when Santana departed via the Rule 5 draft, knows how difficult it can be to make those long-term predictions.


"You can't protect everybody you'd like to protect and at the time he was pitching in low-A ball and hadn't fared as well as some of our other prospects," Purpura said. "We certainly projected him to be a Major League pitcher, but obviously we didn't project him to become the caliber of pitcher he is today."


Neither did a lot of teams.


The gamble on Santana paid off not for the Marlins, who drafted him, but for Minnesota. The Marlins traded Santana to the Twins for pitcher Jared Camp.


Baseball front-office types know that Santana's success and Shelton's sensational start are exceptions to the rule when it comes to Rule 5 results, so don't expect any major changes in philosophy in regards to the Rule 5 draft.

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