Royals Hunt For Another Gem In Rule 5 Draft

In fine print in a remote corner of the sports section: “The Royals select pitcher Nathan Adcock in the 2010 Rule 5 Draft.”

Who? Ho hum. Flip to the NFL section of the sports page. Nothing to see here.

One of the overlooked “perks” of being one of the worst teams in baseball is annually having a high selection in the winter Rule 5 Draft – a culling of seasoned minor leaguers.

But to the casual fan of most teams, the Rule 5 Draft goes unnoticed. Their teams are busy filling holes in their major league roster through free agency, trades or promotion of minor league talents. The drafting of minor league castoffs isn’t cause for excitement.

To the rabid Royals fan, however, hungering for any morsel of hope, the Rule 5 Draft is one more chance to inject life into the languishing franchise.

And the addition of one of the finest closers in the game is certainly worth getting excited about. That’s right, the Royals imported Joakim Soria for just $50,000 in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft.

The Rule 5 Draft is a bit complicated. In general, players over 23 years of age with four or more professional seasons under their belts must be protected on their teams’ 40-man major league roster. If they are not protected, they are eligible to be drafted by another team, with the only caveat being they must stay with their new major league club for the entire season. The cost of the selection is $50,000. If at some point the new team doesn’t want to keep the player on the roster, he must be offered back to the original club for $25,000.

(For a more complete look at the policies governing the Rule 5 Draft, go here.)

The Royals struck gold in the 2006 draft by plucking Soria from the San Diego Padres minor league system. Soria stayed with the big league Royals the entire 2007 season, emerging as their closer and finishing the year with 17 saves and a 2.48 ERA.

There’s hardly a player in the league for which the Royals would trade Soria, but shockingly the player taken right after Soria in the 2006 draft… none other than reigning MVP Josh Hamilton.

In 2005, the Royals and six other clubs passed on slugging second baseman Dan Uggla in the winter draft. Imagine for a moment the Royals with Hamilton and Uggla in their lineup and you realize how significant the Rule 5 Draft can be.

There have been a few other big name players taken in the winter draft over the years, the most significant being Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente (1954), Darrell Evans (1968), George Bell (1980), Bobby Bonilla (1985), and Johan Santana (1999).

Will the name of Adcock, a 22-year-old righty who has yet to pitch above high A ball, someday be mentioned with Uggla, Hamilton, Soria, and even Clemente? Probably not. The jump from the minors, in most cases, is too much to ask. But Rule 5 picks can be demoted to minor league rosters after they are offered back to their original clubs.

In 2009, the Royals took Edgar Osuna from the Atlanta Braves. Deemed not ready for the bigs, the Royals offered Osuna back to Atlanta, but the Braves declined to reclaim him. Osuna went 6-2 in 17 starts for Northwest Arkansas last season and figures in the Omaha rotation for 2011.

Some players of note from past Rule 5 Drafts include:

Andrew Sisco, taken in 2004 from the Cubs, pitched well out of the bullpen in 2005 (3.11 ERA and 9.1 SO/9), then netted Ross Gload in a 2006 trade.

D.J. Carrasco, selected from Pittsburg in 2002, had three productive seasons out of the pen before the Royals released him in 2005. Carrasco has pitched well enough to earn a spot on several teams since and has a career record of 23-18 and an ERA of 4.31 in 244 games.

Endy Chavez, drafted from the Mets in 2000, played sparingly in 2001 and was allowed to return to the Mets. Chavez made a decent career as a journeyman outfielder, hitting .270 through the 2009 season.

Brandon Weeden, a pitcher taken in 2005 from the Dodgers in a minor-league phase of the draft, spent one campaign with the Royals’ High Desert affiliate. In that season, Weeden suffered through a 6-5 record, a high ERA, and arm troubles. Name sound familiar? He’s the 27-year-old junior quarterback of the OSU Cowboys who must have overcome his arm problems – he passed for 4,037 yards this season, leading the Cowboys to a 10-2 record and a berth in the Alamo Bowl.

A star quarterback doesn’t do the Royals much good. And for the most part, neither have these other selections over the past decade. Teams must weigh the cost of selecting a player in the draft – since the player drafted must remain on the roster for the entire season, it blocks one spot from being filled by any other player, costs money that could be used in some other way, and could force a player in over his head.
One bit of good news is that, in surveying the drafts of the past 12 years, the Royals haven’t let any significant players slip away as a result of the draft. Unfortunately, one reason for this could be the Royals system has been so devoid of talent that there weren’t good players being left unprotected. Glass half full, or half empty?

Best of luck, Nathan Adcock. You’ve been given the opportunity every minor leaguer dreams of – a chance to prove you belong on a big-league roster. Go take your place among the Sorias, Hamiltons and Ugglas of history.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: