While the rumor mills are churning out new material on the hour from the winter meetings, I thought I would talk about something that will actually happen this week. The Rule 5 draft.
Just briefly. The rule 5 draft allows teams to select players not protected on a team's rosters. There are actually three drafts. The one we usually think of is the draft for players not protected on the major league roster. But there is also a AAA draft for players not protected on the AAA roster and a AA draft for players left off the AA roster. The new player agreement extended the years players are exempt from the draft to 3 or 4 seasons depending on their age when signed.
Any player taken in the major league phase must be kept on the 25 player roster for the full year or offered back to the team they were drafted from. That does not apply to players taken in the minor league drafts. They can be assigned anywhere. Teams can also arrange a trade, but the player must first pass through waivers with every other team getting a chance to claim them. The claiming team would also have to keep them on the 25 player roster.
To see how this works here are three examples from the Twins. Johan Santana was claimed in the rule 5 draft. He spent the entire season pitching for the Twins as a starter and in the bullpen. He spent the next season in the bullpen and then was sent to the minor leagues to transition to starting. The rest was history. Scott Diamond was taken by the Twins. They decided he wasn't ready to play in the major leagues but they arranged a trade with the Braves to keep him. He spent 2011 in the minors and started 2012 there. Now he is the only starter the Twins have penciled in for next spring. Brian Buscher is an example of the minor league draft. He was selected, played at New Britain and then blossomed enough to claim a spot on the major league roster. That is really pretty rare. Even Terry Ryan admitted to surprise.
The Twins have the fourth pick in this year's draft. They are obviously going to look at pitching. This will be true of every team. Every team nees pitching and its a lot easier to carry someone as the 12th or 13th pitcher than it is a position player. In addition, the Twins have lots of opportunities in their rotation. So pitching seems the most likely spot.
In addition to pitching, the Twins have openings for a shortstop and backup middle infielder. Its easy to carry a guy who is a slick fielder and undeveloped bat as a backup in the middle infield. Those are also players that are sometimes left unprotected if a team doubts their bat will never come around. The fact that they let Tommy Field go after the rosters were set may indicate they saw someone they liked who was left off a roster.
Finally they are looking for competition for Trevor Plouffe at third base. Its highly unlikely anyone left a guy capable of competing for a third base job off their roster. But I think the Twins would jump if that should happen.
I am not going to try to guess who gets taken. For one thing, if it was obvious the player wouldn't be available at all. That means this is a scouting exercise. Twins have shown some success with that, but anyone taken is a long shot to ever help at the major league level. Of course there is Johan Santana ...