On Wednesday, Dec. 7, the Rule 5 Draft will take place at the Winter Meetings in San Diego. As always, it will be an opportunity for teams to take some low-risk gambles to find big league talent.
For the uninitiated, a quick primer on how it works:
Players first signed at age 18 or younger must be added to 40-man rosters within five seasons or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 process. Players signed at 19 years 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 2018 had to be protected. A college player taken in the 2019 Draft was in the same position.
While a 2006 change in the rules giving teams an extra year to evaluate talent before making this decision has made it a bit more difficult to find stars via the Rule 5, there have been a ton of big leaguers selected. In the past 10 years alone, teams made 133 selections in the Major League phase of this Draft (there was no Major League phase in 2021 due to the lockout). And while a majority of those players haven’t stuck in the big leagues, here is a list of the 10 best who have, using a combination of production to date (including WAR according to Baseball-Reference) and potential future success.
1. Ryan Pressly, RHP, HOU: Selected by Twins from Red Sox, 2012 (9.7 bWAR)
Pressly spent nearly six seasons as a valuable part of the Twins’ big league bullpen after they took him No. 4 overall in the 2012 Draft. He led the league in appearances in 2018, the year the Twins dealt him to the Astros close to the Trade Deadline, and he’s since made two All-Star appearances and cemented himself as the team’s closer, playing a big part in Houston’s World Series run this past season. He has a 2.56 ERA and 11 saves in 41 postseason outings for the Astros.
2. Garrett Whitlock, RHP, BOS: Selected by Red Sox from Yankees, 2020 (4.7)
The 2020 Rule 5 Draft went a little bit under the radar since there were no Winter Meetings for folks to attend in person. But there was still good talent to be found, led by Whitlock, the No. 4 pick of the Rule 5 Draft that year. He fought through a hip injury for much of 2022 before having surgery in late September but still proved to be valuable in a number of roles. He has a 2.73 ERA, .227 BAA, 1.062 WHIP and a 5.09 K/BB ratio in two seasons with Boston.
3. Odúbel Herrera, OF, PHI: Selected by Phillies from Rangers, 2014 (13.4)
The way things started for the No. 8 pick in the 2014 Rule 5 Draft, he looked like he could be one of the best Major League phase selections of all time, and he does lead the group of players who stuck in bWAR. Much of that came over his first two seasons (8.7), the second of which earned him an All-Star invite, but he’s struggled with productivity and injuries, playing in just 62 games in 2022.
4. Anthony Santander, OF, BAL: Selected by Orioles from Cleveland, 2016 (4.8)
It’s taken a while for Santander to get settled in the big leagues, playing in just 46 games in 2017 and 2018 combined. He’s found his power stroke, especially in 2022, when he hit 33 homers and drove in 89 runs, accruing 2.1 of that 4.8 bWAR.
5. Mark Canha, OF/1B, NYM: Selected by Rockies (traded to A’s) from Marlins, 2014 (12.5)
Canha stands second on the bWAR list among picks in the last decade and continues to be a productive player. He played nearly every day in his rookie season of 2015 and hit 16 homers, then had his best season in Oakland in 2019, when he hit 26 homers and finished with a .913 OPS. After signing a two-year deal with the Mets as a free agent, he was an everyday player with New York and has accrued 5.0 bWAR in his last two seasons combined.
6. Brad Keller, RHP, KC: Selected by Reds (traded to Royals) from D-backs, 2017 (8.9)
Keller began his first year with the Royals in the bullpen but might have been their most consistent starter by season’s end. He was a mainstay in the rotation for the next three seasons and spent most of 2022 doing the same, though a lack of results pushed him back to relief work late in the year. From a bWAR perspective, his most productive year was his rookie season (4.0), followed by the following year (3.0).
7. Akil Baddoo, OF, DET: Selected by Tigers from Twins, 2020 (2.5)
The toolsy outfielder took advantage of playing time in 2021, finishing with 13 homers and 18 steals in his rookie season after the Tigers took him No. 3 overall. He wasn’t really able to build on that in 2022, playing in just 73 games and finishing with a .558 OPS. There’s still upside here given that he’ll be 24 for most of the 2023 season.
8. Ji-Man Choi, 1B, PIT: Selected by Angels from Orioles, 2015 (5.2)
The Orioles had signed Choi as a Minor League free agent in November of that year but didn’t protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, so the Angels took a shot. He appeared in 54 games with the Halos in 2016, then bounced around from the Angels to the Yankees to the Brewers as a free agent over the next couple of seasons. Milwaukee shipped him to Tampa in June 2018 and his best season as a big leaguer came with the Rays in 2019 (2.1 WAR), and he accrued 88 postseason plate appearances from 2019-2022 before the Rays sent him to the Pirates this offseason.
9. Delino DeShields Jr., OF, FA: Selected by Rangers from Astros, 2014 (5.1)
DeShields looked like a potential huge Rule 5 success story when he played 121 games with the Rangers and stole 25 bags in 2015, leading to him getting a Rookie of the Year vote. He stole 20-plus bags in four of his five seasons with Texas before seeing time in the big leagues with Cleveland in 2020 and the Reds in 2021. He spent the 2022 season in Triple-A Gwinnett (Braves).
10. Héctor Rondón, RHP, retired: Selected by Cubs from Cleveland, 2012 (4.9)
After appearing in 45 games out of the Cubs’ bullpen as a rookie in 2013, Rondón became Chicago’s closer, saving 59 games combined in 2014 and 2015. He picked up 18 saves in 2016 (and won a World Series ring) and 15 more with the Astros in 2018. He last pitched in 2020 with the D-backs.
Others of note (listed with team that acquired them in Rule 5): Josh Fields, RHP, Astros; Tommy Kahnle, RHP, Rockies; Victor Reyes, OF, Tigers; Trevor Stephan, RHP, Cleveland; Tyler Wells, RHP, Orioles; T.J. McFarland, LHP, Orioles