Roberto Clemente

Greatest Rule 5 draft picks of all-time

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The 2021 Rule 5 Draft may look a little different than usual because of the work stoppage but that won’t stop up from looking at the best Rule 5 draft picks ever.

This list will look at those players that came out of the Rule 5 draft to have significant careers in the big leagues. The Rule 5 draft has happened every year since 1920 and shouldn’t be confused with the Rule 4 draft which is the much more commonly talked about MLB draft each year.

The first part of finding the best players to come out of this draft is to understand what the Rule 5 draft actually is.

The draft occurs at the annual Winter Meetings and is designed to stop teams loading their minor league affiliates with too many good young players. This is seen as a way to distribute talent through the league. It is also seen as a way to make sure the best young players get to major league positions quickly and so the richer clubs can’t overpay for and bury the talent in Double-A ball. That, in a nutshell, is the Rule 5 draft explained.

Best Rule 5 draft picks ever

The Major League phase of the 2021 Rule 5 Draft has been postponed due to the work stoppage. The Minor League phase is still going ahead. Teams will look to their scouting departments to find a hidden gem that could eventually play their way onto a list like this.


Shane Victorino

Shane Victorino might be the most interesting Rule 5 selection of all time. That is because Victorino actually went through the process, and was selected, on two different occasions as a Rule 5 draft pick.

Victorino reached his highest point in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system when he suited up for the Jacksonville Suns of the Southern League in 2002. The San Diego Padres had seen enough to give Victorino a shot and they selected him in the 2002 Rule 5 draft.

Hitting just a .151 batting average with the Padres through 36 games, and with San Diego unable to move him to the Minors because a Rule 5 player has to stay on the Major League roster for a year, the Padres returned him to LA.

Two more years of development saw Victorino plucked from the Dodgers in the 2004 Rule 5 Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. Not working out as a big leaguer again, Victorino was offered back to the Dodgers and they declined allowing him to slot into the Phillies farm system. Victorino became a valuable outfield asset later in his career, becoming a two-time All-Star with the Phillies and winning World Series crowns in Philly and Boston.

Jose Bautista

Jos Bautista was never supposed to be the slugging monster that he became. His road from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic to the Major Leagues was a long and winding one. Part of that path was a Rule 5 draft pick selection in 2003 by the Baltimore Orioles from the Pittsburgh Pirates.


Bautista, who at one point because the first player ever to appear on five Major League rosters in the same season, was drafted in the 20th round of the 2000 Major League Draft by the Pirates. He played Low-A baseball in places like Williamsport and Lynchburg in their system before being picked by the Orioles after he was left unprotected in the Rule 5 draft of 2003.

His 2004 season started in Baltimore, before stints for varying lengths of time in Tampa Bay, Kansas City, New York Mets (for literally minutes), and then back to where it all began in Pittsburgh. A trade in 2008 took Bautista to Toronto and with the Blue Jays, he became a six-time All-Star, a three-time Silver Slugger Award Winner, and a two-time MLB Home Run leader. Bautista hit at least 20 homers every year from 2010 to 2017 as one of the most feared sluggers in the game.

Josh Hamilton

An entire book could be written on the career of Josh Hamilton and how he found himself in the Rule 5 draft. The No. 1 overall pick of the regular 1999 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Hamilton had fallen out of baseball altogether by 2002 after struggling with drug and alcohol abuse. Having cleaned up his life, Hamilton attempted a comeback for Tampa Bay in 2005, but he was far from impressive at even the Low-A level.

Tampa Bay, thinking that Hamilton was basically done, left him unprotected and the Chicago Cubs took a swing on the 25-year-old. This new home only lasted a moment as Hamilton was immediately traded to the Cincinnati Reds for $50,000 plus the cost of his Rule 5 selection. The Reds pulled a decent but injury-interrupted season out of Hamilton before cutting their losses and trading him to the Texas Rangers.

It was with the Rangers that Hamilton exploded into the promise he always had and became one of the best Rule 5 draft picks ever. The AL MVP in 2010 when batting for a .359 average and finishing first in the league in slugging percentage (.633) and OPS (1.044), Hamilton finished his career as a five-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger Award winner.

Johan Santana

It is not often that a Rule 5 selection goes on to become a dominant player. That was exactly what left-handed pitcher Johan Santana was for almost the entire decade of the 2000s. A signee of the Houston Astros in 1995, Santana was picked by the Florida Marlins in the 1999 Rule 5 Draft. This was not his landing spot for long, however, with Florida sending him almost immediately to the Minnesota Twins.

Santana became a legend in Minnesota. Florida received Jared Camp in the trade, a pitcher that never players in the Majors. A four-time All-Star and two-time AL Cy Young award winner, there is an easy case to make that Santana would have found his way into the Hall of Fame had injuries not wrecked his career in his early 30s.

The Venezuelan was able to pitch barely 100 innings after turning 32-years-old and missed an entire season of his five-year stint with the New York Mets after surgery to his throwing shoulder. Even after that, Santana was able to throw a no-hitter for the Mets in 2012 against the St. Louis Cardinals. This was the first-ever no-hitter thrown by a Mets pitcher in their 51st season and 8,020th regular-season game.

Roberto Clemente

When it comes to the greatest Rule 5 draft pick of all time there is really no argument. The 1954 version of the draft saw the Brooklyn Dodgers leave a young right fielder named Roberto Clemente unprotected. Clemente hit .257 for the Dodgers Triple-A affiliate in 1954 and the Pittsburgh Pirates took him with the first selection of the Rule 5 draft that winter.

Clemente went on to play 18 seasons for the Pirates and he was a 15-time All-Star, a 12-time Gold Glove winner, a two-time World Series Champion, and he won the NL MVP in 1966. He finished his career with 3,000 hits, the final one of which came during the last at-bat of his regular-season career.

Clemente was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973, months after his tragic death when the cargo plane full of relief aid he was traveling onboard to Nicaragua crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.

The Roberto Clemente Award is given out every year by MLB to a player with outstanding baseball skills who is personally involved in community work. The award is a fitting tribute to a great man.

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