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A brief look at the Tigers Rule 5 draftees

Akil Baddoo’s 2021 was delightful and surprising. Was it that unusual, though?

Detroit Tigers v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Rule 5 Draft can be summarized as, “Teams try to find a diamond in the rough.”

If you’re unfamiliar with the process, it goes like this: if you’ve been playing in the minor leagues for four years (or five, depending on your age when you were drafted), and you aren’t on your parent club’s 40-man roster, you can be drafted by any other team at the Winter Meetings in December, or under current circumstances, whenever a new CBA is agreed upon.

The catch is that the team that drafts you has to keep you on their major-league roster the entire next season, or they have to give you back to your previous club. The draft goes in reverse order of record, roughly speaking. There are some exceptions, of course, but they’re pretty rare.

Three current members of the Hall of Fame — Roberto Clemente, Hack Wilson and Christy Mathewson — were once Rule 5ers, which a is pretty fun statistic. Notable draftees in recent years have included Johan Santana, José Bautista, Bobby “I Still Get Paid By The Mets” Bonilla, and everyone’s favorite pasta-themed pitcher, Alfredo Simón.

Some interesting Rule 5 draftees by the Tigers within the past few decades, pre-2000:

  • Gene Lamont (catcher, 1973, from Atlanta): long-time coach and major-league manager, human windmill at times.
  • Lynn Jones (outfielder, 1978, Cincinnati): three-sport college athlete, won World Series with KC in ‘85.
  • Larry Rothschild (pitcher, 1980, also Cincinnati): later a pitching coach and manager, five consecutive consonants in surname.
  • John Wetteland (pitcher, 1987, Los Angeles): 330 career saves over 12 seasons but never played for Detroit.
  • Deivi Cruz (infielder, 1996, San Francisco): starting shortstop for Tigers from ‘96-’01, accumulating 6.0 WAR with Detroit.

It should be noted that all WAR statistics herein are Baseball-Reference calculations. Also, the source for these draftees’ names is this article on the Tigers website.

After reading said article, then thinking about the most recent Rule 5 draftee, Mr. Excitement, Akil Baddoo, I wondered if any such draftee in recent memory has had the statistical impact that he had in 2021.

Short answer: no.

Long answer...

I looked at every draftee from 2000 to the present and did a slightly deeper dive into their statistics. Some never ended up playing for the Tigers, for one reason or another. Some were largely one-and-done players who presumably went back to their hometowns and now sell insurance. A few stuck it out for a decent major-league career.

2000: Jermaine Clark, infielder, from Seattle

In the first three games of the Tigers’ 2001 season, he pinch-ran for Billy McMillon twice and Shane Halter once. Then they returned him to the Mariners, and he kicked-around for a few years with a few teams. That’s just a gloriously odd tenure with a team: you play a very small part in your very first three games, then someone higher-up decides you can’t do anything more for them and bingo, you’re gone.

  • Games for Detroit: 3
  • MLB WAR in year after Rule 5 pick: 0.0
  • MLB WAR for Detroit in total: 0.0
  • MLB WAR for career: –1.0

2001: Jeff Farnsworth, right-handed pitcher, from Seattle

I admit, I went down a bit of a Farnsworth rabbit-hole on a Sunday morning. The Tigers have had two Farnsworths in my lifetime, Jeff and Kyle. Both were born in Wichita; Jeff went to high school in Florida while Kyle went to high school in Georgia. Are they related? They were born six months apart so they can’t be brothers, but maybe they’re cousins? Or perhaps central Kansas is rife with non-related Farnsworths. Anyway, Jeff pitched for a year in Detroit, never pitched in the majors again, and played in a lot of independent leagues until he was 37.

  • Games for Detroit: 44
  • MLB WAR in year after Rule 5 pick: –0.2
  • MLB WAR for Detroit in total: –0.2
  • MLB WAR for career: –0.2

Get used to a whole lot of negative numbers in this article, folks.

Also, now it’s time for a big Rule 5 draft class for the Tigers in 2002, but as you will see, with some technicalities thrown in. They’d just come off a lousy year, and I have no idea why the Tigers’ brass went whole-hog on Rule 5ers this year. (Alright, I have some idea: they had absolutely no intention on winning anything in 2003, and by-gumm, they darn-near succeeded.)

2002: Chris Spurling, right-handed pitcher, from Pittsburgh

Out of all the pitchers on the 2003 Tigers staff, Spurling had the third-highest WAR out of the lot, behind Nate Cornejo (1.5) and Jamie “Walker, Texas Ranger” (0.9). (However, Spurling’s Tiger Rule 5 cred is only really due to a technicality: he was drafted by Atlanta from Pittsburgh, then during Spring Training they traded him to Detroit for the illustrious Matt Coenen, who topped-out at Double-A then called it a career.) Anyway, Spurling threw some innings, got claimed on waivers by Milwaukee in September of 2006, threw some innings for them, and that was it. To Spurling’s credit, he stuck around with the Tigers for parts of three seasons, which is more than you can say for some on this list.

  • Games for Detroit: 121
  • MLB WAR in year after Rule 5 pick: 0.4
  • MLB WAR for Detroit in total: 1.3
  • MLB WAR for career: 0.9

2002: Travis Chapman, infielder, from Philadelphia

He was returned to the Phillies in Spring Training and, Moonlight Graham-style, played in one game with them on September 5 of that year: an 18-5 blowout in which he pinch-hit for Tomás Pérez, flew out to right, then stayed in the game at third base. Other players with Tigers connections appearing in that game: Mike Hessman, Gary Sheffield, and a young Randy Wolf. Baseball is fun.

  • Games for Detroit: 0
  • MLB WAR in year after Rule 5 pick: 0.0
  • MLB WAR for Detroit in total: 0.0
  • MLB WAR for career: –0.1

Chapman is another Rule 5 technicality: drafted by Cleveland in December ‘02, had his contract purchased by the Tigers later that same day, then was returned to the Phillies at the end of March. Dave Dombrowski, in his first offseason with the Tigers, sure had some wacky ideas.

2002: Matt Roney, right-handed pitcher, from Colorado

I’ll get this out of the way first: yes, Roney had a giant head. I presume he still does. My hat size is 7 3/8 and I always assumed my head was pretty big. But when you go over 8 inches (is that a diameter? Circumference? Radius?), that’s one massive noggin, and it’s worth noting. He notched a 1-9 record for the Tigers during their wretched 2003 season while walking one more hitter than he struck out. He’s also another asterisk, by the way: Rule 5 pick by Pittsburgh, contract purchased the same day by the Tigers. Dombrowski was really stuck on that idea, eh?

  • Games for Detroit: 45
  • MLB WAR in year after Rule 5 pick: –0.2
  • MLB WAR for Detroit in total: –0.2
  • MLB WAR for career: –0.1

2002: Wil Ledezma, left-handed pitcher, from Boston

Ledezma was the Tigers’ real Rule 5 pick that year, and his career is a curious one. By the time the 2011 season wrapped up, he’d bounced around the major leagues for nine seasons, pitched for seven teams with a career WHIP of 1.606, walking 4.5 hitters per nine innings. How the heck did he stick around so long? Oh, gotcha, he’s left-handed, nevermind. (I feel like, these days, with teams being more statistically aware, Ledezma’s major-league career would be a lot shorter.) He stuck around in Detroit until 2007 and fell ass-backwards into a pair of World Series games against the Cardinals, doing no damage.

  • Games for Detroit: 106
  • MLB WAR in year after Rule 5 pick: –0.4
  • MLB WAR for Detroit in total: –0.1
  • MLB WAR for career: –1.7

2003: Lino Urdaneta, left-handed pitcher, from Boston

[conjuring up Sophia Petrillo from Golden Girls]

Picture it: September 9, 2004. It’s a Thursday afternoon in Detroit, and the Tigers are taking on the Royals in the first game of a doubleheader. Both teams are awful, and the books say about 20,000 people are in the stands. I doubt that may are actually there. Jason Johnson started for the Tigers but got knocked-around, getting yanked with one out in the third, eventually getting charged with 11 runs (9 earned). “In ya go,” says manager Alan Trammell to the young Urdaneta. The bases are loaded. Urdaneta walks David DeJesus on a full-count pitch, surrenders five singles to the next five hitters, gets pulled, and never puts on the Olde English D again. In 2007 he got into two games with the Mets and pitched a total of 1.0 innings, so his career ERA isn’t infinity.

  • Games for Detroit: 1
  • MLB WAR in year after Rule 5 pick: –1?
  • MLB WAR for Detroit in total: –1?
  • MLB WAR for career: –1?

I plugged a –1 in there because WAR must require innings pitched as a part of the calculation, and he didn’t have any for Detroit despite giving up a few runs. I had to make an executive decision here. That’s leadership, kids.

2003: Chris Shelton, infielder, from Pittsburgh

We all remember Big Red’s killer start to the 2006 season... his OPS in April was 1.186, but he spent August in Toledo. Two years earlier, though, Shelton rode the pine in Detroit most of the season, only getting into 26 games all year with the Tigers and had an OPS of .604. I see he also spent a couple of weeks mid-season in Toledo, so I have to assume that was sort of injury rehab assignment. He spent all of 2007 with the Mud Hens, got cut loose, and played 50 more games in Texas and Seattle the next two seasons.

  • Games for Detroit: 222
  • MLB WAR in year after Rule 5 pick: –0.2
  • MLB WAR for Detroit in total: 3.7
  • MLB WAR for career: 3.9

2005: Chris Booker, right-handed pitcher, from Washington

In a reversal of 2002’s draft, he was selected by the Tigers from the Nationals — who had picked him up as a free agent the previous month after he’d been released from the Reds — and had his contract purchased by the Phillies. A month after the start of the 2006 season he was placed on waivers and claimed by the Royals, and two months after that he was returned to Washington. Did you get all that? There’ll be a quiz tomorrow morning.

  • Games for Detroit: 0
  • MLB WAR in year after Rule 5 pick: –0.1
  • MLB WAR for Detroit in total: 0.0
  • MLB WAR for career: –0.6

2006: Edward Campusano, left-handed pitcher, from the Cubs

This one was a bit heartbreaking, really. As a 20 and 21 year old in the low minors of the Cubs system, Campusano had trouble putting it together, with WHIPs of 1.773 and 1.529. The next season it was 1.364, but then his age 23 season in A-ball and AA, he had a sparkling year with a 0.994 WHIP and 25 saves, lowering his BB/9 significantly. The Cubs left him unprotected and the Tigers must’ve thought they’d struck gold... until he got injured in the spring, needed Tommy John surgery, missed all of ‘07, was returned to the Cubs, then kicked around the minors for another two seasons. That’s rough, man.

  • Games for Detroit: 0
  • MLB WAR in year after Rule 5 pick: 0.0
  • MLB WAR for Detroit in total: 0.0
  • MLB WAR for career: 0.0

The Tigers then took six years off from the Rule 5 Draft, until...

2012: Kyle Lobstein, left-handed pitcher, from Tampa Bay

Here’s another “technicality” case, as the Tigers purchased Lobstein’s contract from the Mets on the same day he was Rule-5’d from the Rays. During 2013’s Spring Training they decided they’d seen enough — in a good way — and traded Curt Casali for his full rights so they could season him in the minors a little longer. To wit, in 2014, he started six games and finished another, and got another 13 games’ worth of action in 2015 before he was shipped off to the Pirates. He bounced around the minors for a long time, including a stop in Tijuana, and resurfaced last season in Washington. Good on ya, Kyle!

  • Games for Detroit: 20
  • MLB WAR in year after Rule 5 pick: 0.0
  • MLB WAR for Detroit in total: –0.2
  • MLB WAR for career: 0.1

2012: Jeff Kobernus, infielder, from Washington

Boston picked him the Rule 5 in 2012, then they traded him to the Tigers, who returned him to the Nationals in March. He got into a couple dozen games for Washington that year, four the following year, had a couple of decent years in the Atlantic League which got Seattle’s interest, they let him finish the year in AA, and that was it for him.

  • Games for Detroit: 0
  • MLB WAR in year after Rule 5 pick: 0.2
  • MLB WAR for Detroit in total: 0.0
  • MLB WAR for career: –0.2

This was the most recent Rule 5 pick that the Tigers really whiffed-on. Things pick up from here, I promise.

2016: Daniel Stumpf, left-handed pitcher, from Kansas City

OK, so, get this: Stump was Rule 5 drafted by the Phillies from the Royals in 2015, appeared in seven games for them, then returned. Kansas City left him unprotected again, the Tigers snagged him the 2016 version, and he had a really, really solid 2017 in which he appeared in 55 games and had a 1.381 WHIP. He stuck around another two seasons, which weren’t quite as good, but 159 appearances for the Tigers are certainly nothing to sneeze at. Career OPS against lefties: .687. Against righties: .952. That about sums it up.

  • Games for Detroit: 159
  • MLB WAR in year after Rule 5 pick: 0.8
  • MLB WAR for Detroit in total: 0.8
  • MLB WAR for career: 0.5

2017: Victor Reyes, outfielder, from Arizona

Finally, someone who’s still on the Tiger roster! Reyes was lightly-used in 2018, mostly as a late-game defensive replacement, but still managed to log 219 plate appearances in which he appeared to be allergic to walks, drawing five. He spent a chunk of 2019 in the minors but managed a .767 OPS in 69 games in Detroit that season. Things slid backwards in the last couple of seasons a bit for him, and it’s still unclear how he’ll fit into the Tigers’ outfield in 2022, for a variety of reasons. Still, I’ll never forget that glorious game in September of 2018 against the Yankees in which Reyes went 4-for-5 with two doubles and a home run.

  • Games for Detroit: 302
  • MLB WAR in year after Rule 5 pick: –1.2 (ouch)
  • MLB WAR for Detroit in total: 0.9 so far
  • MLB WAR for career: 0.9

2018: Reed Garrett, right-handed pitcher, from Texas

The Tigers picked him up from the Rangers, auditioned him for a baker’s dozen of games in the bullpen and, well, it just didn’t work out. He was a little unlucky in that his FIP was a run lower than his ERA, but his ERA was over 8, so that wasn’t gonna cut it either way and he was returned to Texas. He’s looked decent in Japan for the last two seasons, but I’m not sure it’ll be enough to earn a trip back across the Pacific.

  • Games for Detroit: 13
  • MLB WAR in year after Rule 5 pick: –0.2
  • MLB WAR for Detroit in total: –0.2
  • MLB WAR for career: –0.2

2019: Rony García, right-handed pitcher, from the Yankees

The jury’s still out on García, who appeared in 15 games in the shortened 2020 season, mostly out of the bullpen... and it was, shall we say, not great: 8.14 ERA, 1.619 WHIP, not many strikeouts and too many walks. In 2021 he was injured most of the year with a left knee sprain, appearing in four games for Toledo and a pair in Detroit in total. So, we’ll see how this turns out.

  • Games for Detroit: 17
  • MLB WAR in year after Rule 5 pick: –0.5
  • MLB WAR for Detroit in total: –0.4
  • MLB WAR for career: –0.4

2020: Akil Baddoo, outfielder, from Minnesota

You’re probably familiar with Baddoo’s story so far: drafted by the Twins, got injured during the 2019 season, didn’t play anywhere in 2020, and right out of the gate in 2021 he was a sensation. He got into slumps but made adjustments, and ended up with a .766 OPS, 13 home runs, 7 triples, 18 stolen bases, and countless helmets flying off his head. He made mistakes, as any young player will, but I can’t wait to see what’s next.

  • Games for Detroit: 124
  • MLB WAR in year after Rule 5 pick: 2.1
  • MLB WAR for Detroit in total: 2.1
  • MLB WAR for career: 2.1

So, how do they all stack up?

I enjoy a good bar graph, when it’s appropriate. I removed all the players that never played for Detroit in the Major Leagues and, well, have a look.

Baddoo’s the clear winner here. Reyes was, surprisingly, easily the worst (remember, Urdaneta’s –1.0 was my own call). Shelton’s first year wasn’t great, but he has the highest total WAR in a Tiger uniform with 3.7, who’s head-and-shoulders above Baddoo, who has 2.1 WAR so far. We’ll see how next year turns out for him, and for García and Reyes.