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MLB Rule 5 Draft: 10 Biggest Steals

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The MLB Rule 5 Draft (also known as the MLB Rule V Draft) is one of the more interesting events to watch at the MLB Winter Meetings. This is where players who were left off their team’s 40-man roster can get selected to another team’s roster. Some of these players don’t make it past Spring Training with their new teams, and others get a brief cup of coffee in the majors before being sent back to their original club. While this is frequently the case, some players have seen their careers take off after getting selected in the MLB Rule 5 Draft.

MLB Rule 5 Draft Steal #10: Kelly Gruber

Gruber was selected 10th overall by the Indians in the 1980 First-Year Player Draft, but he was left unprotected in the 1983 Rule 5 Draft. As a result, the Blue Jays snagged him and after a few years of middling play, Gruber broke out nicely. He was a two-time All-Star, with his best season coming in 1990, when he finished fourth in MVP voting while picking up a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove. Gruber concluded his tenure in Toronto by helping the Blue Jays win their first World Series title in 1992.

MLB Rule 5 Draft Steal #9: Dan Uggla

Dan Uggla was an extremely volatile hitter. He had high power numbers, especially for a second baseman, but struck out a fair amount. When the Marlins selected Uggla from the Diamondbacks in the 2005 MLB Rule 5 Draft though, he immediately had an impact. Uggla was an All-Star as a rookie, kicking off a six-year stretch where he made two All-Star Games while averaging 32 homers and 91 RBIs per season. While he declined rapidly as he exited his prime, Uggla was an exciting player to watch. The fact that he was a Rule 5 Draft selection is crazy to think about.

MLB Rule 5 Draft Steal #8: Joakim Soria

Joakim Soria had an interesting start to his career. He was signed as an amateur free agent when he was 17 by the Dodgers in 2001 but was released after the 2004 season. The Padres picked up Soria in December of 2005 but left him off their 40-man roster heading into the 2006 offseason. The Royals swooped in and selected Soria in the 2006 MLB Rule 5 Draft.

In his first stint in Kansas City (2007-2011), Soria shined. He was a two-time All-Star, pitching to a 2.40 ERA/2.90 FIP (181 ERA+), and a 1.043 WHIP while racking 160 saves and 341 strikeouts in 315.1 innings (9.7 K/9). He then continued his success with Texas, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Milwaukee, and even a second stint in Kansas City later in his career. Soria remains an effective pitcher for the A’s currently, making this an even greater MLB Rule 5 Draft heist.

MLB Rule 5 Draft Steal #7: Josh Hamilton

The winner of this Rule 5 pick wasn’t the team who selected him, but rather the team who ended up trading for him. The immensely talented Hamilton was selected by the Cubs in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft, but he was immediately shipped off to the Reds for cash. In 2007, Hamilton only played in 90 games, but he raked when he got to play. In 337 plate appearances, he hit .292/.368/.554 (131 OPS+) with 19 homers and 47 RBIs.

The only reason this heist isn’t ranked higher is that the Reds traded Hamilton to the Rangers after the 2007 season. In Texas, Hamilton became a five-time All-Star, a batting champion, and an MVP.

MLB Rule 5 Draft Steal #6: Shane Victorino

Shane Victorino was actually a Rule 5 Pick twice in his career. The Padres selected him from the Dodgers in December of 2002, but he was sent back to Los Angeles in May of 2003. The Phillies then selected Victorino in the 2004 Rule 5 Draft, and from there, he blossomed.

In eight years in Philadelphia, Victorino his .279/.345/.439 (105 OPS+) with 88 homers and 179 steals while racking up three Gold Gloves, making two All-Star Games, and registering 24.0 rWAR. Victorino played a key role in helping the Phillies win five straight NL East crowns, a stretch that included winning the 2008 World Series title and the 2009 NL Pennant. Victorino’s success continued when he signed with the Red Sox in 2013, where he helped Boston win a World Series too.

MLB Rule 5 Draft Steal #5: Darrell Evans

Darrell Evans bounced around from many different organizations before settling in with the Braves after he was selected in the 1968 Rule 5 Draft. During his first stint in Atlanta (1969-1976), Evans made one All-Star Game and hit as many as 41 homers in a season. He led the majors in walks twice and ended up hitting 414 homers across his 21-year big league career.

MLB Rule 5 Draft Steal #4: Paul Blair

Blair was selected by the Orioles in the minor-league portion of the 1962 Rule 5 Draft from the Mets. While he wasn’t much of a hitter (as shown by his career .684 OPS), Blair had a huge impact with his glove. In his 13 years in Baltimore, Blair won eight Gold Gloves, made two All-Star Games, and put up a 39.7 rWAR. With the help of his production, the Orioles made the World Series four times during Blair’s tenure with them and won two titles.

MLB Rule 5 Draft Steal #3: George Bell

Bell was selected by the Blue Jays in the 1980 Rule 5 Draft after spending three seasons in the Phillies organization. Unlike Blair, Bell wasn’t a great fielder, but he became a slugger in Toronto. From 1984-1990, Bell averaged 29 homers and 104 RBIs per season while batting .292/.332/.503 (125 OPS+) and making two All-Star Games. In 1987, Bell took home AL MVP honors for hitting 47 homers and driving in an AL-best 134 runs.

MLB Rule 5 Draft Steal #2: Johan Santana

Santana’s case is almost identical to what happened to Josh Hamilton. The Marlins selected Santana from the Astros in the 1999 Rule 5 Draft but immediately sent him to Minnesota in exchange for minor leaguer Jared Camp.

Santana became one of the best pitchers in baseball during his time with the Twins, especially after he converted to being a full-time starter in 2004. From 2004-2007, he went 70-32 with a 2.88 ERA/3.14 FIP (155 ERA+), and 0.990 WHIP, and 983 strikeouts in 912.1 innings pitched (9.7 K/9). Santana won two Cy Young Awards, made three All-Star Games, won two ERA titles, and finished in the top-10 in MVP voting twice during that stretch. In 2006, Santana won the pitching Triple Crown in the AL. He continued his dominance after getting shipped off to the Mets ahead of the 2008 season, though he eventually had to retire due to injuries.

MLB Rule 5 Draft Steal #1: Roberto Clemente

To this date, Roberto Clemente is the only Hall of Famer to get selected in the Rule 5 Draft. The Brooklyn Dodgers had signed Clemente out of Puerto Rico in 1954, but he only received sparse playing time while in Triple-A Montreal. The Pirates though were extremely high on Clemente and took him with the first pick of that year’s Rule 5 Draft.

During his time in Pittsburgh, Clemente became one of the most iconic players in all of the sport. He was a 15-time All-Star, a 12-time Gold Glover, a four-time batting champion, and won NL MVP honors in 1966. Thanks in large-part to Clemente, the Pirates won two World Series titles, with Clemente winning World Series MVP in 1971.

Clemente was still a star when he tragically passed away in a plane crash while on his way to Nicaragua to deliver aid to earthquake victims on New Year’s Eve in 1972. His career totals include a .317/.359/.475 batting line (130 OPS+), 240 homers, 3,000 hits, and 94.8 rWAR. In honor of his work both on and off the field, Major League Baseball now awards the Roberto Clemente Award to one player every season, and his number 21 is retired by the Pirates.

Takeaways from MLB Rule 5 Draft Steals

The MLB Rule 5 Draft may seem like a minor event to some people. Some players end up never playing for the team that drafted them, while others get released after short stints in the majors. If there’s anything that these ten players have taught us though, it’s that the Rule 5 Draft should never be written off as insignificant because there is a chance that one of the players picked ends up being a superstar.

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Mathias is a graduate student at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. He is currently studying Broadcast and Digital Journalism on the Sports Media and Communications track. He graduated from The College of New Jersey in 2021, where he studied journalism and served as the Sports Editor and Opinions Editor for the school's newspaper, The Signal. He joined Overtime Heroics as a writer in June of 2019 and became an editor in December of 2020 before taking over the MLB department in June of 2021. Mathias is also a former varsity swimmer and is the youngest of five kids.