Most Rule 5 Draft picks spend their first year in the Majors firmly planted on the bench. Dan Uggla exceeded all expectations by becoming the first Rule 5 pick to reach the All-Star Game the year after he was selected.
Uggla was grabbed by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 11th round of the 2001 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Memphis. In his fourth season in the organization, he slugged 21 homers and drove in 85 runs for Double-A Tennessee and was named a Southern League All-Star. In December 2005, however, Uggla was left off the D-backs 40-man roster, leaving him unprotected heading into the Rule 5 Draft.
In an Arizona organization stocked with infield depth that included future Major Leaguers Brian Barden, Danny Richar, Emilio Bonifacio and Alberto Gonzalez, it wasn't easy to safeguard every prospect.
"Dan was a kid that had power potential. He had a compact, powerful swing -- we just didn't have a position for him," Scott Coolbaugh, who managed him in the Texas League, said. "I think from that standpoint he was considered a top-notch player, but they had some players who were just ahead of him."
Uggla's Minor League career also was marred by inconsistency. He enjoyed a solid professional debut with short-season Yakima in 2001, hitting .277 with five homers and 40 RBIs. Across two Class A levels in 2002, he batted just .214 with five homers and 26 RBIs.
Uggla followed that up with a breakout campaign in 2003. Returning to Class A Advanced Lancaster in the hitter-friendly California League, he batted .290 with 23 homers and 90 RBIs.
That prompted a promotion to Double-A El Paso, where Uggla struggled in 2004. Coolbaugh recalled that infield depth made things difficult, forcing Uggla to spend time playing almost anywhere but his natural position -- second base. During his career in the Minors, he spent time at first base, shortstop, third and the outfield.
"Dan was in a tough spot because we had some guys that had graded out ahead of him -- Sergio Santos at short and a couple of guys at third that they had projected a little ahead of him -- and he had to be bounced around at a couple of positions, and I think that affected him mentally," Coolbaugh said.
Uggla bounced back again in 2005 at Double-A Tennessee, earning Southern League All-Star status after hitting .297 with 21 homers, 87 RBIs and 15 stolen bases.
"I know that he had a big year in 2005, and he was coming off a year where he didn't play as well in 2004," said Coolbaugh, who currently serves as hitting coach at Triple-A Oklahoma City. "It was an opportunity to get him through waivers and maybe sneak him through a little."
Enter the Florida Marlins, who had the eighth pick in the Rule 5 Draft -- and an opening at second base. Luis Castillo, who had just won his third straight Gold Glove, was traded to the Minnesota Twins a week earlier as part of an offseason rebuilding effort.
"We had a coach working in the Arizona Fall League, so we kept an eye on [Uggla] and we were convinced he had a chance to play right away," said Jim Fleming, the Marlins vice president of scouting and player development. "It was a great opportunity, and that's what it takes with those guys. You have to have a spot and take the risk and be willing to let them play."
Selecting Uggla proved a no-brainer for the Marlins. He was the only player they had targeted in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, believing he was capable of filling the vacancy at second base, Fleming said.
"We thought that there was something there," he added. "We thought there was upside there that we could get to fast. Our anticipation was that he had the chance to be our starting second baseman."
Uggla didn't disappoint. After a slow start -- he batted .253 with three homers in April -- Uggla caught fire and made the National League All-Star team as a reserve, hitting .307 with 13 homers at the break. Making the All-Star Game was the ultimate experience.
"I grew up watching half these guys," Uggla told MLB.com in July 2006. "It's always been a dream of mine to play in the big leagues, so now that I'm here and playing alongside the best, it's going to be awesome."
Uggla ended the year with a .282 average, 27 homers and 90 RBIs, breaking Hall of Famer Joe Gordon's record for home runs by a rookie second baseman. He finished third in National League Rookie of the Year balloting as one of six Marlins to receive votes, including double-play partner Hanley Ramirez, who won the award.
"Dan Uggla is a storybook thing for a lot of kids," Coolbaugh said. "He was a kid that was drafted mid-range and was a guy that no one knew what to expect when he stepped on the field. I think that the consensus was that he would play in the bigs and make the most of it, but no one thought he would be a two-time All-Star and put up the numbers he has. It's a credit to him and, hopefully, he can continue that the rest of his career."
Minor League career breakdown
2001: Dan Uggla played in 72 games with short-season Yakima after the Diamondbacks took him in the 11th round of the Draft. He hit .277 with five homers and 40 RBIs in the Northwest League. |
2002: Uggla split the year between Class A South Bend and Class A Advanced Lancaster. He struggled at both stops, hitting .214 with five homers in 104 games. |
2003: Uggla enjoyed a breakout year back in the California League, slugging 23 homers and driving in 90 runs in 134 games. He finished second in the circuit in homers and fourth in RBIs. |
2004: Uggla hit .259 with four homers and 30 RBIs at Double-A El Paso while splitting time at second base, third base and the outfield. He tore up the Cal League over the final 2 1/2 months of the season, batting .336 in 37 games. |
2005: Uggla earned Southern League All-Star honors in his second tour of Double-A. He led Tennessee with 21 homers and 87 RBIs while playing second base exclusively. He also had a successful stint in the elite Arizona Fall League, hitting .304 with seven homers and 22 RBIs in 29 games for the Peoria Javelinas. |