Major League Baseball's annual Rule 5 Draft, held each December at the league's Winter Meetings, rarely registers as more than a blip on ESPN tickers and daily sports coverage. Held in a side ballroom with team executives spread out behind laptops and broadcast only over a scratchy internet radio feed, the Rule 5 Draft lacks the glitz and glamour of baseball's annual June Amateur Draft.
However, for prospects across the Minor Leagues, the Rule 5 Draft can be one of the most momentous days of their entire careers, offering the select few chosen a one-way ticket to the Major Leagues.
What is the Rule 5 Draft?
With roots dating all the way back to 1892, the current iteration of the Rule 5 Draft was established by Major League Baseball in 1965 to give Minor League players more opportunities to crack big league rosters and prevent teams from stashing talented players in the Minor Leagues. With free agency still more than a decade away in 1965, roster movement at the MLB level was rare and top prospects often found themselves stuck in the minors year after year as insurance policies in case a Major Leaguer got injured with no chance to sign with a different team that would give them more opportunity.
While tweaks have made to the format over the years, the basic premise of the Rule 5 Draft has remained the same over the past five decades. Minor Leaguers who have spent multiple years in the minors (the current threshold is four or five seasons, depending on the age they signed their first contract at) that are not protected on their affiliate's 40-Man Roster can be selected by another MLB team in the Rule 5 Draft.
If a player is selected in the draft, they are immediately added to their new team's active MLB roster, where they must remain for the entire season.
Teams pay $50,000 for each player they select in the Rule 5 Draft, paid to the team they're taking the player from. If a team decides not to keep a player they select in the draft on their active roster for the entire season, their original team is given the opportunity to purchase them back for $25,000.
Who's eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft?
Players signed at age 18 or younger need to be added to their club's 40-Man Roster within five seasons or they become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. Players who signed at age 19 or older need to be protected within four seasons.
For example: Blue Wahoos infielder Travis Blankenhorn was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 2015 out of high school when he was 18 years old. 2019 was his fifth season playing in the Minor Leagues, meaning he would now be eligible to be selected by another team in the Rule 5 Draft if the Twins didn't add him to their 40-Man Roster.
Twins top prospect outfielder Luke Raley was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of college in 2016 when he was 21-years-old (and later traded to the Twins). Because he was signed at age 19 or older and has now played four seasons in the Minor Leagues, he also became eligible for the Rule 5 Draft.
What's this 40-Man Roster we keep hearing about?
Major League teams are allowed to have 25 players on their active roster at any given time (in 2020, active rosters will expand to 26 players). Teams also maintain a larger 40-Man Roster of players that are eligible to be added to the active 25-man roster. All 25 players on the active roster are on the 40-Man, as well as an additional 15 Minor League prospects that are eligible to be called up to the big league team.
For Minor League players, spots on the 40-Man Roster are incredibly coveted, not only because they guarantee a larger salary and membership in the Major League Baseball Player's Association Union, but because it means the prospect is eligible to be called up to the Major Leagues.
Simply put, if you're not on the 40-Man, you can not play in the Major Leagues.
40-Man Rosters are fluid throughout the year, as players are frequently added to the 40-Man or "designated for assignment" (removed from the 40-Man) during the season to allow MLB teams to call up new players. However, late November is a particular hot spot for movement on and off the 40-Man due to the Rule 5 Draft.
Back to the Rule 5 Draft
The 2019 Rule 5 Draft will be held on Thursday, December 12 in San Diego at the MLB Winter Meetings. To give teams time to prepare for the draft and decide which prospects they'd like to target for selection, teams' 40-Man Rosters needed to be finalized on November 20.
Leading up to the deadline, the Minnesota Twins, like most teams, had numerous players eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft and only eight open spots on their 40-Man Roster to protect those players (as well as to add free agents and players in trades this off-season), leaving them with many difficult decisions.
The Twins announced last night that they added five of those players to their 40-Man Roster: Blue Wahoos infielder Travis Blankenhorn, Blue Wahoos pitchers Jhoan Duran and Dakota Chalmers, Rochester Red Wings outfielder Luke Raley, and Fort Myers Miracle outfielder Gilberto Celestino. Those five prospects are no longer eligible to be selected in the draft.
With the addition of those five players, the remaining prospects can be selected by another MLB team in the draft. The players eligible for the draft include former Wahoos Brian Schales, Griffin Jax, Andro Cutura, Adam Bray, Tom Hackimer, Jonathan Cheshire, Jovani Moran, Ryan Mason, and Hector Lujan, as well as top prospect Wander Javier.
Because a player selected in the Rule 5 Draft has to remain on the Major League active roster for the entire 2020 season, teams typically target players in the highest levels of the Minor Leagues who are most likely to be successful in the Majors immediately.
That means a player like Griffin Jax, who was a Southern League All-Star with the Blue Wahoos in 2019 and combined to post a 2.90 ERA in 127.1 innings between Pensacola and Triple-A Rochester, will likely be an appealing player to other teams.
On the other hand, a player like 20-year-old SS Wander Javier, the Twins #7 overall prospect, is less likely to be selected. Despite being a top prospect, Javier has never played above A-ball and will probably be deemed not ready for the Majors by other teams due to his youth and inexperience despite his immense talent and potential.
However, the 2019 Rule 5 Draft will be different from any of its predecessors. In 2020, all Major League teams will be allowed to have 26 players on their active roster instead of the traditional 25 players. That extra roster spot may make teams more willing to take a chance on a prospect in the Rule 5 Draft that they otherwise wouldn't have had room for.
What about the Minor League Rule 5 Draft?
While the Major League Rule 5 Draft captures the majority of the headlines, the draft also has a Minor League portion that allows teams to select minor league prospects from other teams and add them to their farm system.
In the MiLB phase, any player who meets the same eligibility requirements of the MLB Rule 5 Draft who is not added to the organization's 38-man Triple-A roster can be selected by another team. Players taken in the MiLB phase do not need to be added to the 40-Man or active roster and can be assigned to any level of their new team's Minor League system.
In addition to the Twins adding three Blue Wahoos players to their 40-Man Roster and protecting them from the draft, two other former Pensacola players also received protection.
1B Lewin Diaz, who played for the Blue Wahoos in 2019 before being traded at the deadline to the Miami Marlins organization, was added to Miam's 40-Man Roster.
RHP Tony Santillan, who pitched for Pensacola in 2018 during the team's previous affiliation with the Cincinnati Reds, also received protection, being added to the Reds 40-Man Roster.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.