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Panning for Rule 5 Draft success stories12/04/2007 10:00 AM ET
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
There have been hundreds of players selected in the Rule 5 Draft since its inception. Some have gone on to become stars, like Roberto Clemente. Some have become productive Major Leaguers, like George Bell. Most have never made a splash at the big-league level, like Rafael Quirico.
That's all part of the risk involved in making Rule 5 selections. But there have been more than enough success stories for teams to continue taking shots on Minor Leaguers left unprotected by their organizations.
Today's Major League rosters are dotted with Rule 5ers who made it. From last year's draft alone, Josh Hamilton and Joakim Soria are two who made an immediate splash (although they'll have to show they're more than one-hit wonders to make this top 10). Here's a look at the top players selected in the Rule 5 Draft since 1990:
1. Johan Santana
If he's not the best all-time Rule 5 pick, he's getting close. He's fast approaching all-time Rule 5 greats George Bell (probably already there) and Roberto Clemente (OK, not quite there yet). He's got two Cy Young Awards on his shelf and was a serious candidate in 2005. For his career, he's 93-44 with a 3.22 ERA and 1,381 strikeouts in 1,308 2/3 innings. Opponents have hit .221 against the southpaw, who has struck out 9.5 per nine innings, placing him fifth all-time (just ahead of Sandy Koufax), He'll turn just 29 in March, so wherever he pitches in the future, he's still got a lot left in the tank.
2. Dan Uggla
Uggla proved that 2006 -- the year he became the first Rule 5er to be named to the Major League Baseball All-Star team in the year following section -- wasn't a fluke. That enabled him to finish third in Rookie of the Year voting. Even though his average dipped, from .282 in his rookie campaign to .245 this past year, and he struck out a whopping 167 times, his power numbers were still extremely impressive, especially for a middle infielder. The Marlins second baseman finished the year with 31 homers, 39 doubles and 88 RBIs. He may never overtake Santana on this list, but it's hard to imagine anyone surpassing Uggla in terms of immediate impact.
3. Fernando Vina
He moves back up to No. 3 because of some others dropping. Clearly Seattle had the right idea when it drafted Vina from the Mets. But after 45 at-bats with the Mariners in 1993, Vina was given back to New York. He made the big leagues for good in 1994 and went on to make an All-Star team and win a pair of Gold Gloves. Even though he was hurt for much of 2003 and 2004 before retiring, a .282 career average and more than 4,200 big league at-bats say he deserves to be in the top three here.
4. Frank Catalanotto
Even though the Tigers left Catalanotto unprotected in 1996, they knew they had a good player on their hands. He moved from Double-A to Triple-A after the A's returned him to the Tigers, then made his Major League debut in the 1997 season. It took him a while to establish himself, but he went from being a supersub with the Rangers to an everyday outfielder for the Blue Jays in 2003, when he hit .299 and set career highs in homers and RBIs. Even though he missed much of the 2004 season due to injury, he still hit .293, then upped that to .301 and tied a career high in RBIs in 2005. He duplicated that with a .300 effort in 2006 to bring his career average to a nifty .297. He parlayed that into a three-year deal back with the Rangers this offseason, though his first year back in Texas -- .260, 11 HR, 44 RBI in 331 AB -- wasn't anything special.
5. Willy Taveras
The Astros realized two things about Taveras the first spring he was with them after being taken in the Rule 5: They liked him a lot and he wasn't ready for the big leagues. So they worked out a trade with the Indians and sent Taveras to Double-A, where he promptly won the Texas League batting and stolen base crowns. He got a taste of big league life that 2004 season, then hit it for good in 2005. In two full seasons in the Astros outfield, Taveras hit .284 with a .340 OBP and 68 steals. He was sent to Colorado in the Jason Jennings deal last offseason, and the speedster went on to hit .320 with another 33 steals over 97 games as the Rockies went to the World Series.
6. Shane Victorino
Victorino probably belonged on this list prior to this year based solely on the fact that he was a two-time selection. His time with the Phillies, though, really cements him in the top 10 and it's easy to see how he could move up this list over time. The sparkplug outfielder had a breakout season in 2007, hitting 12 homers, stealing 37 bases and hitting .281. Assuming he stays healthy -- he did miss some time in 2007 -- he should be a fixture in the Phillies outfield.
7. Miguel Batista
The Pirates didn't keep the right-hander, sending him back to the Expos after pitching him in just one game. But clearly, they saw something in him. And say what you will about his inconsistencies over the years, there aren't too many Rule 5 picks who have gone on to spend parts of 12 seasons (not counting '92) in the big leagues. He's also shown the ability to fill a number of roles, closing in 2005 and saving 31 games and topping 200 innings as a starter for the first time in 2006. He moved on to Seattle for the 2007 season and proceeded to win 16 games, his career high.
8. Jay Gibbons
Gibbons has had a bit of an up-and-down ride in his big-league career and he's slid down this list because 2007 was particularly of the down variety. He had a 100-RBI season in 2003, struggled in 2004, then bounced back with a good 2005 campaign (26 HR, .277 average, .516 SLG). His 2006 wasn't bad, but it was cut short by injuries. Had he bounced back with a healthy and productive 2007, he probably would've stayed in the upper half of this list. Instead, he played just 84 games and had a .621 OPS. To add insult to injury, his name has come up in steroid reports.
9. Scott Podsednik
Even though he was recently designated by the White Sox, he still could be Exhibit A for why everyone should also pay attention to the Minor League phases of the Rule 5. You never know when one of those guys is going to develop. In Podsednik's case, it took a while. Taken by the Rangers in '97, he played three seasons in the Texas organization before becoming a free agent and signing with the Mariners. But it wasn't until he was waived and claimed by the Brewers in 2002 that he started making a name for himself. His breakout season in 2003, for which he finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting, established him as a valuable speedster, first with the Brewers and then with the White Sox. He had four straight seasons with 40 or more stolen bases and has 224 steals for his career to go along with a .274 average.
10. Graeme Lloyd
Left-handed pitching is always popular at the Rule 5 Draft, and that's a big reason why he was selected, then traded in the 1992 draft. He appeared in 55 games with the Brewers the following season and didn't look back, putting up typical lefty specialist numbers: 568 games, 533 innings.
Honorable mention: Antonio Alfonseca, Luis Ayala, Josh Hamilton, Matt Mantei, Guillermo Mota, Scott Sauerbeck, Joakim Soria, Jorge Sosa, Derrick Turnbow.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.