The Rule 5 draft is an annual event designed to prevent major league teams from hording minor league talent. In the past, players who were 18 or younger on the June 5 that proceeded the day they signed their first professional contract were eligible for the Rule 5 draft after four years. Players who were 19 or older on the June 5 that proceeded the day they signed their first professional contract were eligible for the Rule 5 draft after three years. This season, under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, an extra year was added to each category for the eligibility requirements. Teams can protect players from being drafted by placing them on their 40-man rosters.
There are three portions of the Rule 5 draft: the major league portion, the AAA portion and the AA portion. If a player is selected from an organization, the organization that loses that player can protect another previously unprotected player. Players who are selected in the major league portion of the draft must remain on their new team's 25-man roster for the entire season or that player must be offered back to his original team for $25,000. A team must pay $50,000 to select a Rule 5 player in the major league portion of the draft. The cost is $12.000 and $4,000 for the AAA and AA portions of the draft, respectively. Players who are on an organization's AAA reserve list are protected in the AAA and AA portions of the Rule 5 draft.
Who Is Generally Selected?
Rule 5 selectees are usually fairly raw in terms of their skill levels and, therefore, are selected more for what they might provide for a team in the future rather than what they can provide for a team that season. Consequently, Rule 5 players who actually remain on a major league roster for an entire season often don't see a lot of playing time. That player might be a 12th man on a pitching staff or a seldom-used fifth outfielder or third catcher. A Rule 5 player can be returned to the minor leagues after spending that one season at the major league level without having to be offered back to his original team.
The majority of Rule 5 major league draft picks are offered back to their original teams either during spring training or at some point during a season, as it is difficult for most teams to carry a player who isn't expected to play very often for an entire season. Those who do remain on the roster often play sparingly during the season. For example, Chris Shelton was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 2003 Rule 5 draft from the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. He remained on the Tigers roster for the entire 2004 season, but he played in only 27 games and had only 46 at-bats. He was sent to AAA to start the 2005 season for more seasoning, although he was eventually recalled to Detroit later that year.
Another famous example of a successful Rule 5 pick is Johan Santana, who was selected by the Florida Marlins from the Houston Astros organization during the 1999 Rule 5 draft. Santana's rights were then traded to the Minnesota Twins that same day. Even though Santana was traded, the Twins were still obligated to keep him on their roster for the entire 2000 season or they would have had to offer him back to the Astros. Of course, we all know that the Twins wisely held onto Santana, hiding him at the back of their bullpen for most of the season (although he did make five starts), and he appeared in only 30 total games.
Occasionally, there is a prospect available in the Rule 5 draft who is "major league-ready" and who doesn't have to be "hidden" at the end of a bench or deep in the bullpen. Last season, one such prospect was Dan Uggla, who was taken by the Florida Marlins from the Arizona Diamondbacks after Uggla had had an outstanding Arizona Fall League season. The Diamondbacks' system was so flush with middle infield talent that they had no room for Uggla on their 40-man roster, and the Marlins took advantage. Uggla appeared in 154 games for Florida and hit 27 homers and drove-in 90 runs.
There is one common thread that runs through all three of the examples laid out above: all of the teams who drafted and kept those players were teams that weren't expected to compete for a playoff spot. Very rarely do teams with division title hopes keep Rule 5 picks on their rosters for the entire season because they have less of a margin for error if a player isn't ready to play at the major league level. One of the last playoff teams to carry a Rule 5 player the entire season was the Oakland A's in 2003, who carried Mike Neu for the entire season. Neu appeared in 32 games, throwing 42 innings, mostly in mop-up situations. Oddly enough, the A's traded Neu the next off-season, so they were never able to reap any long-term benefits from their one-year commitment to the right-handed reliever.
Oakland A's Players Who Are Eligible
The A's currently have 42 players who are eligible to be selected in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft. Some of these players are minor league free agents whom the A's just signed this off-season. Others are guys who have been in the system for a long time. We should note that players are very rarely taken in the Rule 5 draft, so it would not be surprising if none of the players we highlight below are selected in the Rule 5 draft. That being said, let's take a closer look at some of the names on the A's list:
Closest To "Major League-Ready"
A few of the players on the A's list are guys who may not project to be future superstars, but who are solid minor league players with substantial AAA experience who could appeal to a team looking for a bench player for the upcoming season. For the purpose of this analysis, we are going to assume that the three minor league free agents the A's just recently signed (J.J. Furmaniak, Vince Faison and Erasmo Ramirez) won't be selected, as other teams had the opportunity to sign these players to major league contracts just recently if they envisioned them on their 25-man roster all season.
John Baker, C: Baker is a player who could draw some interest from a team that is looking for a young back-up catcher for the upcoming season. Baker has two-plus years of experience at the AAA level. He recovered from a horrible 2005 season to post respectable offensive numbers in 2006, as he hit .273 for the River Cats in 83 games. Baker has improved his once-questionable defensive skills and, as a left-handed hitter, could be a valuable back-up for a team with a right-handed hitting veteran catcher.
Jared Burton, RP: Burton doesn't have any AAA experience, but the 2002 8th round pick is coming off of a solid showing at the Arizona Fall League, where he held opposing batters to a .217 BAA. The big right-hander spent the 2006 season at AA-Midland, where he struck-out 66 batters in 74 innings. A team could take a chance that Burton's performance at the AFL is an indication that he is ready for a shot in a major league bullpen.
Brant Colamarino, 1B: Colamarino spent half of the 2005 season at AAA and many expected him to get another shot in Sacramento in 2006 after he hit 11 homeruns in 74 games for the River Cats in 2005. Surprisingly, the A's chose to keep Colamarino at AA for the entire 2006 season. He had a solid year, posting an 855 OPS and driving-in 91 runs for the Rockhounds. Colamarino is a solid left-handed hitter with decent power and an average eye at the plate. He also fields his position (1B) well, so he could be an asset to a team on the bench.
Shawn Kohn, RP: Kohn had a stint with the River Cats in 2004 and then spent the majority of the 2006 season with Sacramento. The side-arming reliever has a career 9.18 K/9 ratio and an impressive 1.79 BB/9 ratio. He has also allowed only 25 homers in 347 innings. Kohn didn't have his best season in 2006, but his career is somewhat similar to what Mike Neu's career looked like in 2002 (although Neu had more strikeouts and fewer walks), so Kohn could intrigue a team desperate for young relief help.
Jason Perry, OF: Perry started his season off with a bang, hitting .402 in 28 games with AA-Midland before being promoted to AAA-Sacramento. He didn't have nearly the same success with the River Cats (only a .252 BA). He is currently struggling for the Toros del Este in the Dominican Winter League. However, Perry has good power (22 homers in 2005 and 25 in 2004), so a team looking for some power out of their fifth outfielder spot could be interested.
Brian Stavisky, OF: Stavisky got his first crack at AAA this season, but he struggled to find his stroke at Sacramento while playing sporadically. He was sent down to AA in June and ended up being one of the Rockhounds' best hitters, as he batting .316 with 30 extra-base hits in 85 games. Stavisky was the California League MVP in 2004 and he has hit better than .300 at Vancouver, Modesto and Midland twice. He also has a very good batting eye. Stavisky is not a strong defensive player in the outfield or at first base and he doesn't run particularly well, but he has the makings of a good major league pinch-hitter. A team looking for a left-handed bat off the bench could be interested in Stavisky.
Kazuhito Tadano, RP: Tadano was acquired by the A's from the Indians at the start of the 2006 season and was on the team's 40-man roster for much of the season. However, a lingering knee injury caused Tadano to struggle mightily for the first half of the season and he was designated for assignment. He cleared waivers and remained with the A's, pitching much better down the stretch. He struck out 60 and walked only 19 in 56.2 innings for Sacramento last season. Tadano is the only player on the A's Rule 5 list with significant major league experience (save for Erasmo Ramirez). He has a 4.47 career major league ERA in 54.1 innings, all for the Indians. Tadano has experience as both a starting pitcher and as a reliever, although he projects better out of the bullpen. His major league experience and career minor league K/BB ratio of better than 4:1 could intrigue some teams, including his old club, that are desperate for relief help.
Brad Ziegler, SP: Ziegler struggled during his first taste at AAA this season, posting a 6.00 ERA in four starts with the River Cats. However, he was outstanding for AA-Midland during the rest of the season, posting a team-best 3.37 ERA in 141.2 innings. Ziegler was signed out of the Independent Leagues in 2004 and has been one of the A's most consistent minor league pitchers ever since. The A's see him in a bullpen role down the road and were working with him this fall on developing an underhand throwing motion, similar to that of Chad Bradford. Because Ziegler's new motion is a work-in-progress, most teams probably won't be interested this season. However, the New York Mets could be interested since pitching coach Rick Peterson was the A's pitching coach when Bradford established himself at the big league level and the Mets' bullpen is currently wide-open, having just lost Bradford, among others.
There are a few prospects on the A's Rule 5 list who have some future upside. None of these players have appeared at the AAA level, so they are likely too raw to be taken in the Rule 5 draft. Still, their talent could be tempt a team that is in rebuilding mode.
Brad Knox, SP: Knox was one of the A's top pitching prospects in 2004, when he went 14-5 with a 2.59 ERA and 174 strikeouts in 156.1 innings for Kane County of the Midwest League. However, he developed a back problem that off-season and had only a mediocre campaign for high-A Stockton in 2005. However, he re-established himself as a legitimate prospect with an excellent season for AA-Midland in 2006. Knox went 12-5 with a 3.67 ERA for the Rockhounds, tying for the team lead in wins, finishing second on the staff to Ziegler in ERA and logging a career-high 161.2 innings. Knox isn't overpowering (high-80s, low-90s fastball), but he has an excellent curveball and a good change-up/slider combination. Unlike many young pitchers, Knox isn't afraid to pitch inside and he likes to pitch to contact. He was a 2002 junior college draft pick, so he is still only 24 despite being in the A's system awhile.
Luis Perez, OF: Perez went from a virtual unknown to an intriguing prospect in the span of about eight weeks this season. The Venezuelan native began the 2006 season as a fourth or fifth outfielder with A-Stockton. However, he got a chance to play regularly in July and he caught on fire. He finished the year with a .334 batting average and 58 RBIs in 101 games. He also had a .474 slugging percentage. Perez isn't fast enough or defensively solid enough to be a pinch-runner or defensive replacement at the major league level right now, so he isn't likely to draw any interest. Perez was a minor league free agent at the beginning of the off-season, but he re-signed with Oakland quickly.
Gregorio Petit, 2B/SS: Petit is also a big long-shot to be selected, but it isn't because he doesn't have the talent to play at the major league level. He was signed as a 16-year old so even though he is eligible for the Rule 5, Petit is still only 21 years old. His glove is almost major league-ready at both short and second, but he has a lot of growing to do on the offensive-side of the ball, where he will need to cut down his swing. He has good speed (22 stolen bases last season) and some power, but he is probably too raw for the majors at this point. If he puts together a solid offensive season at AA next year, the A's probably won't be able to get away with not protecting him for the 2007 Rule 5 draft.
Vasili Spanos, 3B/1B/DH: The burly corner infielder and former Big Ten Player of the Year had a solid season for AA-Midland, batting .308 with a .405 on-base percentage. It was a dramatic improvement over his showing at AA in 2005, when Spanos hit only .235 in 43 games. He spent a lot of time at DH in 2006, especially early in the season when Brian Snyder was at Midland. However, Spanos still managed to make a game-saving defensive play at third in the Texas League All-Star game. He struck out only 73 times in 439 at-bats and managed to be hit by a league-high 25 pitches. Spanos is the definition of a grinder, someone who will never jump out at you when watching him in one game, but someone who will impress you over the course of a season. Despite his bulky frame, Spanos is surprisingly agile at first and has good hands and decent range at third. He has a good understanding of the strike zone, generally hits for a high average and has some power. He could be a useful fourth infielder/pinch-hitter at the major league level.
Former First Round Picks
The A's have four former first round picks on their Rule 5 list: Ben Fritz, John McCurdy, Brian Snyder and Brad Sullivan. All four have had injury problems during their careers and only Fritz spent time at the AAA level last season. None are likely to be picked in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft.
Players Eligible For The AAA And AA Portions Of The Draft
Eight of the A's Rule 5 draft eligible players are not currently being protected on the AAA reserve list. That means that these players are eligible to be selected in the AAA and AA portions of the draft. Players selected in those portions of the draft do not have to remain on any particular minor league roster during the season and are rarely returned to their original clubs.
The eight players are David Castillo (a catcher who spent time in A-Stockton and AA-Midland in 2006), Cameron Coughlan (an outfielder who the A's took in the AA portion of the draft last year), Keith Eusebio (a right-handed pitcher who made 20 appearances for Vancouver this season), James Heuser (a right-handed pitcher who made 12 starts and two relief appearances for Vancouver this season), Casey Myers (a talented offensive catcher who has struggled with injuries throughout his career), Wilber Perez (a 22-year old infielder who has moved around the A's system over the last several years), Tim Rall (a left-handed reliever who the A's took in the AA portion of the Rule 5 draft last year and who missed much of the season with injuries) and Brad Sullivan (a former top pick of the A's 2003 who has seen injuries decimate a once-promising career).