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What is the MLB Rule 5 Draft? When is it and why is it important?

As the draft approaches, let’s explore the significance and continued relevance of MLB’s Rule 5 draft within Major League Baseball’s framework.

Anthony Santander #25 of the Baltimore Orioles

This year’s annual MLB Winter Meetings will conclude with the Rule 5 draft on December 6. It will be the second since the one-year lockout-induced hiatus. You’ve probably heard of it, even if you are unsure what it is. At any rate, we will break it all down for you, so join us for a look at MLB’s Rule 5 Draft.

What is the MLB Rule 5 draft?

Though it might surprise you, the Rule 5 draft in some form or fashion has been around for quite some time - since the 1890s, actually - but in all its various versions, its focus has remained the guarding against clubs monopolizing MLB-ready players in the minors as non-roster players indefinitely. To that end, there are, in fact, two brackets in the Rule 5 draft: a major league one and a minor league one. Any players selected in the major-league bracket must remain on their new team’s active major-league roster for at least one season or be offered back to their original organization for a fee. In the minor league bracket, players selected in the minors can join their new clubs with no roster restrictions.

A whole ton goes into deciding which players to protect and which ones to leave eligible. One of the primary considerations is the risk of losing a prospect who may be viewed as not up to standard versus the maintenance of a 40-man roster full of players they will need for the season. There are hundreds of players each year, most of whom will remain with their current team as non-roster players. To put it in perspective, only 16 players were selected in the major-league bracket in the 2020 Rule 5 draft.

Who is eligible for the 2022 MLB Rule 5 draft?

When it comes to eligibility, here’s how it breaks down: Firstly, players become eligible if they are not on their team’s 40-man roster, and secondly, they can be eligible if they were 19 or older and signed in 2019 or 18 or younger and signed in 2018 or earlier. It’s worth noting that all non-roster players with the eligibility above are available in the major-league bracket, while those eligible players not sitting on a team’s offseason Triple-A roster are eligible for the minor-league bracket.

When is the Rule 5 draft?

As mentioned above, the Rule 5 draft is set to take place on December 7 as the final event of MLB’s Winter Meetings in San Diego. To be clear, every team with spots on their 40-man roster can select a player. However, it should be noted that should they pass on said opportunity or have a full roster, they won’t be allowed to make a selection. Logically, the draft runs until all teams have passed on choices or arrive at a full 40-man roster. One important point to note is that there is a deadline for the Rule 5 draft. That’s to say that teams must add any prospects eligible to their 40-man roster by November 15.

Are good players ever found in the Rule 5 draft?

While it’s not a common occurrence, there have been some big names to come out of the Rule 5 draft in the past. The typical move for teams in the draft is to seek out a hard-throwing reliever or at least a utility player who works well on defense, but like we said, there have been a few big ones. Most famous of all? That would be Roberto Clemente. The Pirates selected the legendary Puerto Rican out of the Dodgers in 1954, and we all know what happened after that. There was also George Bell, who joined the Blue Jays via the draft in 1980. More recently, we’ve seen the likes of Mark Canha (2014), Odúbel Herrera (2014), Brad Keller (2017), Akil Baddoo (2020), Garrett Whitlock (2020) and Trevor Stephan (2020). As fans will recall, each of them went on to make waves with their teams. Ultimately, you never know what you’ll get in the Rule 5 draft.