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V is for 5 as in Rule V

With 40 man rosters needing to be set for the Rule V draft coming up, it’s definitely time for a primer on what exactly this draft is. The purpose of the Rule V draft is for teams to be unable to keep their prospects in their minor league system for years without having to promote them to the 40 man roster. Players eligible to be selected are those who are not on their parent club’s 40 man roster and are either a)signed at age 19 or older and have been in their organization for four years or b)signed at age 18 or younger and have been in their organization for five years. These eligibility rules went into place in 2006.

Each pick in the Rule V draft costs the drafting team $50,000 and they are required to keep their pick on the Major League roster for the entirety of the season. If they do not remain on the roster, they have to be offered back to the player’s original club for $25,000. At that point, a few thing can happen. The team can work out a trade that allows the drafting organization to keep the drafted player as was the case with a guy like Evan Meek of the Pirates. The original team can simply refuse to take the player back, at which point he becomes the property of the drafting team and they are free to option him to the minors at their will. This was the case with Edgar Osuna and the Royals in the 2010 season. The final option is that the player is returned to his original team. This happens quite often.

The Rule V draft isn’t exactly burgeoning with talent as most of these player would be protected if their organization thought they were going to become stars or even just useful major leaguers, but sometimes talent is readily available. The example that hits closest to home in this regard is Joakim Soria who was drafted by the Royals prior to the 2007 season. He’s now a two-time All-Star and generally considered one of the best closers in all of baseball. Josh Hamilton is expected to be announced the American League MVP later today and was selected in the Rule V draft by the Cincinnati Reds before being traded to the Texas Rangers after his only season in Cincy.

Talent is available for the taking. Oftentimes it’s simply a miscalculation by the original organization. In the case of Joakim Soria, he had been hampered by arm trouble and missed full seasons in the minors, so the Padres left him unprotected. The Royals saw him and he’s been both amazing and relatively injury free since. Dan Uggla was the victim of a roster crunch in Arizona. While moderately successful in the minors, he had never progressed past AA and the Diamondbacks were loaded with prospects, so he had to be left unprotected. The Marlins took a chance and he gave them five fantastic seasons before they recently traded him to the Braves. That’s a similar situation to what the Royals will be facing in future seasons. They just have so much talent that someone who is better than your typical Rule V draftee will inevitably become available.

Of course, no Rule V primer would be complete without talking about the granddaddy of all picks, Roberto Clemente. The setup at the time was a little different, but the fact remains that the Dodgers missed out on a transcendent talent and had to watch from afar as Clemente led the Pirates from 1955-1972 before his tragic death. Probably the second best player taken in Rule V history was Johan Santana who was hidden in the Twins bullpen before being sent down to the minors the next season to re-acclimate himself to a starting role. Two Cy Youngs later, the Twins were pretty pleased they took a $50k gamble on him, bad trade aside.

Notable draftees by the Royals include Soria, DJ Carrasco, Andrew Sisco and Fabio Castro. Castro is notable because he was used to acquire Esteban German from the Texas Rangers. Ronny Paulino was also selected by the Royals in 2002, but was immediately returned to the Pirates. While he’s not a world beater, he’d be a very useful player to have now with the catching position in flux.

Players taken in the draft who are the best bets to stick are those who have at least one Major League skill already. Left handed relievers are hot commodities in the Rule V as they are often able to be stored in the back of the bullpen and used sparingly but still with the acumen to retire a few Major League left-handed hitters. Speed guys are often good picks for National League clubs as they can be used as pinch runners and defensive replacements without having to bat.

This draft is filled with a few players who could be right-handed outfield bats to fit with the lefty heavy outfield the Royals employ. Look for one of the outfielders or a pitcher who can be hidden to be taken by the Royals if anybody. The two players I’m most concerned with losing from the Royals organization are Mario Santiago and Paulo Orlando. Santiago would be the better bet to fit on a Major League roster, but Orlando has the most long-term potential, so a team in need may be willing to put up with him being pretty raw. It’ll be interesting to see if any superstars come out of this one leaving their original team with their collective heads in their hands.

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