This Friday marks the deadline for each team’s 2016 Rule Five draft protection list to be solidified. As a quick refresher, the main purpose of the Rule 5 draft, which occurs each year at the annual Winter Meetings, is to avoid teams stockpiling players in their minor league systems who otherwise may be able to make a 40-man roster elsewhere. The name is derived from the section in MLB’s rules that outline the procedure (the amateur draft is sometimes known as the “Rule 4” draft for the same reason).
Eligibility for selection is pretty simple. Teams may select players who are not on their current team’s 40-man roster to be added to their new team's 25-man roster for the entirety of the upcoming season. That player may not be sent down to the minors during the whole of the next season, though the player may be waived at any time. There are other minute details regarding eligibility and “active” roster time versus disabled list time, but this is the gist of the Rule 5 draft.
While it is hardly the norm, there are plenty of good (and some great) players drafted during the Winter Meetings. Jose Bautista, Johan Santana and even Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente were Rule 5 draftees (though we can attribute the Clemente bungle to an era of hidden information that has since passed).
In 2015 two players were left unprotected in the Rule 5 draft, were not selected by the other 29 teams, and ended up hitting a combined 41 home runs and totalling nearly 3.5 wins per FanGraphs WAR despite playing in fewer than 200 combined games.
The Padres’ Ryan Schimpf and the Phillies’ Tommy Joseph were both left out in the open last December, availble for any team to claim as their own. Yet Philly and San Diego managed to keep them, and turn them into productive members of their teams.
Last season Ryan Schimpf made his MLB debut at the ripe old age of 28. He got his shot in June and his penchant for reaching base via walks, combined with some decent power, made him a solid addition to an otherwise stalling Padres lineup. He is a three-true outcome hitter who walks and strikes out a combined 44.5 percent of the time. Throw on top a home run in 6.1 percent of his plate appearances and you’ve got a batter who fielders can completely ignore in 50 percent of his plate appearances.
In July, Craig Edwards’ did a great job analyzing Schimpf’s performance, and he revisited him a month later. Schimpf finished third on the Padres in fWAR, behind only Wil Myers’ 3.8 and Yangervis Solarte’s 2.8 wins. Despite playing playing in only 89 games and compiling just 330 plate appearances, he was third on the team in home runs and finished third in wOBA behind only Hunter Renfroe and Hector Sanchez (who came to the plate only 36 times and 46 times, respectively).
Another late-bloomer is Tommy Joseph, who made his major league debut in 2016 at the age of 25. Joseph was also left unprotected in the 2015 Rule 5 draft and ended up contributing about one win to the Phils.
Joseph played in only 107 games, amassing 347 plate appearances. Despite getting a six-week late start on his season, he still managed to finish third on the Phillies in home runs. Home runs aren’t everything (*cough* Ryan Howard had 25 home runs and -1.0 fWAR *cough*), but despite a 6.3 percent walk rate and a .267 batting average on balls in play, Joseph managed to be the best hitter on the Phillies by wOBA (Edubray Ramos walked in only one plate appearance, and A.J. Ellis came to the dish only 35 times).
With the Rule 5 draft deadline quickly approaching, teams will be evaluating their assets and trying to discern who to keep and who to make available for another team to snag. 2015 showed that there will be valuable players available, but identifying them ahead of time isn’t always easy.