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How good organizations find "sleeper" studs
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Author:  Wabberjocky [ Sat Dec 03, 2005 5:36 pm ]
Post subject:  How good organizations find "sleeper" studs

The Rule 5 draft is an interesting annual showcase in which minor league free agents who have spent six years in an organization and were left off the big club's 40-man roster can be drafted away by any other organization. The drafting club must commit to carrying the drafted player on the roster all season long, or offer to return him to the original club for $25,000.

(Style note: It's never the "Rule V draft." Rewrite this wherever you see it.)

This year, it's happening next week (Dec. 4 and 5, I think). Pay attention to what your team does. Good organizations fill out their roster with cheap, quality Dumpster-diving from other organizations.

Mostly it's a crapshoot, but every once in a while you roll sevens.

Everyone's looking for the next Johan Santana, the 2004 American League Cy Young Award winner whom the Twins selected from the Astros in the 1999 Rule 5.

Perhaps the best success story in recent years was Orioles outfielder Jay Gibbons. The Orioles gambled on Gibbons in 2000, a few months after the Blue Jays' 1998 14th-round pick hit .321-19-75 in 474 at-bats in Double-A. It took Gibbons two years to fully establish himself in the big leagues, and the first year in particular required a lot of patience from the Orioles' brass to preserve him on their major league roster. But the move eventually paid dividends, as Gibbons emerged as a solid everyday big leaguer.

Other hitters have made their mark since then. The Indians lost shortstop Hector Luna and outfielder Willy Taveras in 2003, and both went on to reach the World Series with their respective clubs within two years, but not without some additional shuffling.

The Astros knew Taveras was not major league ready that season, and rather than watch him ride the bench in the majors, they traded lefthander Jeriome Robertson to the Indians in order to keep him and send him to Double-A. Clubs can select players each December in the major league Rule 5 draft for $50,000 and must keep them for all of the following season on their 25-man major league roster. If they do not, the player is returned to his original club in exchange for $25,000.

Luna was picked twice, first by the Devil Rays in 2002 (then returned to the Indians), then by the Cardinals the following year. He wound up sticking on the Cardinals roster and played a utility role for the 2004 National League champions.

Tigers first baseman Chris Shelton is another example. Detroit took Shelton from the Pirates with the first pick in the 2003 Rule 5 draft, kept him on the roster and Shelton ended up hitting .299-18-59 in 388 big league at-bats in 2005.

So while there is a recent track record of some success within the draft, it's a crapshoot at best. When teams prepare for the Rule 5 draft, they are looking for versatility, and lefthanded hitters are a commodity, as well. But because pitching ultimately costs clubs more down the road, arms are really what teams are after.

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