Minnesota Twins Rule 5 Draft Preview

With the Winter Meetings approaching quickly, general managers around baseball are preparing for the upcoming Rule 5 draft. Today, we take a look at the Minnesota Twins players who are eligible for the draft. On Monday, our Scout.com Roundtable will be an overview of top players from many organizations around baseball who will be eligible to be picked in the draft.

Background:

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.

Minnesota Twins Players Who Are Eligible

The Twins currently have 40 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 Twins 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 Twins list:

Closest To Major League Ready:

Douglas Deeds, OF: Deeds is a player that the Twins do not want to lose in this year's rule 5 draft. He has established himself as a top outfielding prospect in the organization, and is coming off his second straight successful season in the Eastern League. He is slated to open the season in Rochester, and if he puts together some good numbers, then he should be able to make a run at making his Major League debut at the end of the 2007 season.

Trent Oeltjen, OF: Oeltjen is another player coming off a great season, and he was the only Twins farmhand to represent the organization in the Future's Game. He has increased his stock quite a bit in the last calendar year, and is someone who some Major League GMs are looking at right now. Already an established Minor Leaguer, Oeltjen could really make a case for himself on some Major League bench next season.

Dave Gassner, SP: Gassner is a guy who the Twins could legitimately look at for their starting rotation in 2007, if they are unable to sign an established free-agent pitcher. Gassner got a taste of Major League ball during the 2005 season, and worked his way to Triple-A last season. He is already 27 years old, so this season is a make or break one for Gassner in the Twins organization.

Kevin Cameron, RP: Cameron is one of the top relief pitching prospects in the Twins organization, and he is coming off a successful Arizona Fall League season. He was one of the top relievers in Rochester last season, and some teams have their eyes on him for possible relief pitching help. Rochester has already lost Beau Kemp to Toronto, so the Twins are hoping they can hang onto Cameron.

Gil Velazquez, INF: Velazquez has been in Triple-A ball since 2002, playing for both the Twins and the Mets organizations. He has the defensive ability to be a bench player on a Major League roster, but he has never put it together with the stick. If he stays on with the Twins, then Velazquez will most likely start the season in Triple-A.

Tommy Watkins, MIF: Watkins had a successful first run in Triple-A last season, and most scouts within the Twins organization were quite surprised. He was batting only .216 for the New Britain Rock Cats at the time of his promotion, but he batted a respectable .276 in the International League. If he continues to progress, then he could be a back-up with the Twins in a year or two.

Glenn Williams, 3B: Williams proved to everybody that he could perform at the Major League level in 2005, and it is only a matter of time before he gets another shot. The Twins are pretty thin at the third base spot as far as players being ready for the Majors, so Williams is definitely a player that they want to get back. If they retain him, hell be in Rochester to start the 2007 season.

Players With The Most Upside:

Garrett Guzman, OF: Guzman was the Twins Comeback Player of the Year in 2006, after coming back from a broken neck. The sweet-swinging lefty has tremendous pop, and advanced all the way to Double-A in 2006. He has the ability to hit to all fields, and is a guy who any organization would love to have in their farm system.

Felix Molina, 2B: Molina may be the second base prospect who is most ready for the Majors for the Twins, after another successful season in the Eastern League in 2006. He is slated to supplant Luis Maza as the Rochester second baseman in 2007, and could conceivably make his Major League debut next season. He is a guy who will be asked about on draft day.

Tarrence Patterson, OF: Patterson is one of the best speed guys in the Twins organization, and he was quite a valuable piece to the Beloit puzzle in 2006. The Twins like the way he has progressed during the past two seasons, and are happy that he is not likely to be taken away in the Rule 5 draft.

Jose Morales, C: Morales is one of the better young catching prospects in the Twins organization, which is a position of weakness within the Twins system. He has tremendous upside, and the Twins believe he could be a rare selection on draft day. If he is taken, then there is added pressure on guys like Kyle Geiger (who is also eligible), Allan de San Miguel, Gregory Yersich, and Jeffrey Christy to start producing.

Jason Miller, LHP: Miller has had success at the Double-A, and Triple-A levels during the last two seasons, and is a guy who the Twins can see coming out of their bullpen in a year or two. If taken, he will upgrade any system.


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