Rule 5 draft success stories are few and far between (updated)

The first virtual Rule 5 draft is set to be held today at noon Eastern, and who isn’t excited about that?

Well, hardly anyone’s excited about it. Unless you work for a major league club’s player development unit, are a rabid follower of third-tier minor league prospects or are one of the players whose livelihood is actually at stake today, you really have no good reason to pay more than glancing attention at this event.

This is especially true for the Nationals, who essentially have been Rule 5 draft bystanders for the better part of the last decade.

Did you know the Nats haven’t selected a player in the MLB portion of the draft since 2010? They’ve also had only one player poached from them in the last six drafts.

That was Sterling Sharp, the right-hander who was left unprotected by the organization one year ago and was promptly drafted by the Marlins. This caused major consternation among a segment of Nationals fans convinced the club blew it letting the right-hander go.

Then Sharp made four appearances for Miami, posting a 10.13 ERA and a 2.250 WHIP, and was promptly offered back to the Nats. He remains in their minor league system, once again left unprotected entering today’s draft.

Point is, Rule 5 success stories are few and far between. For every Jose Bautista, George Bell or Dan Uggla who make it, there are 27 Brian Brodericks, Terrell Youngs and Tyrell Godwins.

Who are those last three guys? How quickly you forget former Rule 5 picks of the Nationals.

Truth be told, it’s easy to forget most of them. The Nats drafted 10 Rule 5 players between 2004-10, and a look through the names last night included a few that didn’t even register in this longtime reporter’s brain.

The Nationals drafted both Broderick and Elvin Ramírez in 2010. Both right-handers were returned to their original clubs. They had the first pick in both the 2008 and 2009 drafts. They selected Young (who had a bum shoulder, was sent back to the Reds and never pitched professionally again) and Jamie Hoffman (who was immediately flipped to the Yankees as the player to be named in the Brian Bruney trade).

None of this ringing a bell? How about 2007 Rule 5 draft picks Matthew Whitney and Garrett Guzman? Still nothing?

flores home run trot atlanta sidebar.jpgYou have to go all the way back to 2006 to find a couple of Rule 5 draftees who actually stuck with the Nationals: Jesús Flores and Levale Speigner. Flores proved to be a decent catcher for a few years before a shoulder injury derailed his career. Speigner was an entirely forgettable right-hander aside from his one moment of glory: a shocking win over Johan Santana at the Metrodome.

Godwin joined Tony Blanco as the Nats’ pair of Rule 5 picks for their inaugural season in town. Godwin appeared in three games and never recorded a hit. Blanco actually got 65 plate appearances and hit a home run in Toronto before requiring a three-week stint on the injured list with an unfortunate case of vertigo that sounded suspect at the time and only sounds more suspect today.

Suffice it to say, the Nationals haven’t found too many diamonds in the rough in their Rule 5 history.

Nor have they lost anyone of consequence. Ten players have been plucked away over the years, seven of them ultimately sent back: Sharp, Danny Rosenbaum, Jeff Kobernus, Erik Komatsu, Brad Meyers, Chris Booker and the wonderfully named Zech Zinicola. Three players were lost forever (Adrian Nieto, Michael Martínez, Alejandro Machado), but only Martínez enjoyed any kind of sustained big league career (294 games with five different clubs).

Like we said, it’s really difficult to come away with a winner in the Rule 5 draft.

But we’ll go through the process once again today, this time scattered across North America instead of jammed into one hotel ballroom. Prospect gurus will rave about players who get drafted and question why their original clubs let them get away. Everyone else will scramble to check their Baseball-Reference.com page and glean whatever info is possible to glean after a cursory glance at their stats and background.

Because maybe this will be the year somebody actually hits it big in the Rule 5 draft. Maybe there’s an Uggla who’s about to get a fresh start with a new organization and become a household name.

Unless he becomes the next Zech Zinicola.

Update: The Nationals didn’t make a pick in the major or minor league phases of today’s Rule 5 draft, nor did they lose any players.

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