One of the most overlooked aspects of baseball's offseason is the Rule 5 draft. Taking place at MLB's Winter Meetings, the draft has special rules for eligibility. If a player has played for four or more years for an organization and were signed at age 19 or older, he is eligible. Similarly, if he has played five years and was signed at age 18 or younger, he is also eligible. The final rule of eligibility is that the player must not currently be on the MLB 40-man roster.
Not all teams participate in the Rule 5 draft, because not all teams have an available spot on their 40-man roster. Many teams will promote prospects to their roster shortly before the draft, a practice known as protecting.
Famous alumni of the Rule 5 include Roberto Clemente, Jose Bautista, Shane Victorino and Johan Santana.
But for now, I'll give very general predictions for what each team can hope for during the Rule 5 draft.
This is pretty obvious and already accomplished. Jarrod Parker, one of Arizona's top prospects, is already a member of the team's 40-man roster. He would have been Rule 5-eligible if not.
Arizona has nothing to worry about in the draft. Whatever quality prospects the team has that are eligible are already on the MLB roster.
Freddie Freeman (pictured) wasn't a Rule 5 pick, but he is a young offensive force that the Braves need more of to help complement the influx of top-tier pitching prospects.
The team will be set for the next 10 years in terms of starting pitching, but the offense is still a question mark.
Atlanta might want to take a chance on an eligible bat and see if he can become a contributor.
The Orioles are clearly heading for more rebuilding, at least for the foreseeable future. This is a team that has had repeated failures at developing prospects and having signings pan out. The Orioles need to take a chance, not just in the Rule 5 but in their overall plan this winter.
Taking a player with a spotty or injury-filled past with a high ceiling might be wise.
Given Boston's stunning collapse from World Series favorites to AL East also-rans, the Red Sox know better than anyone that sacrificing the future for the present isn't always the most prudent decision.
The Red Sox have left several players exposed to the draft, including Cesar Cabral and Reynaldo Rodriguez, who are potentially valuable talents.
Boston would be wise not to squander prospects to make borderline signings from outside the organization.
The Cubs have several fairly advanced prospects on the verge of contributing, including Brett Jackson (pictured). Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the new Cubs management could further help their cause with a wise Rule 5 draft where they pick up potentially MLB-ready talent.
An example could be Brad Meyers, a righty from the Nationals.
It'll be interesting to see what route the White Sox take in the Rule 5 draft. They left a lot of prospects exposed to the draft, but there hasn't been a history of Chicago's prospects being picked.
This team really needs to decide what route they're going. If they want to compete, they made the right move by leaving some roster spots open.
But if they want to retool and get ready for years of contention, they have erred by not protecting some of their better eligible prospects.
The Reds have a full 40-man roster, so they will not be participating in the draft.
As with the Reds, the Indians have a full roster and will likely not play a factor in the Rule 5 draft.
The Rockies have a bright future in terms of their pitchers. Yes, the Rockies might have good pitching. Part of this has to do with the team's recent decision to protect Edwar Cabrera and Christian Friedrich, two very good lefties who could contribute sooner rather than later.
Colorado is playing it smart by protecting their young pitching in a division that requires strong arms.
The Tigers are in pretty good shape, but they also have one spot on their 40-man roster. Chances are that they'll use this for a signing outside the organization, but for the time being, the Tigers might want to pick up an offensive prospect, particularly an infielder.
It is somewhat of a need, as the organizational depth is relatively thin there.
Houston, a team in total rebuilding mode, has a chance to acquire some good talent in the Rule 5 draft. They will get the first choice in the draft as baseball's worst team, giving them a chance to acquire some pitching depth.
The good thing about the Astros is that their draftees likely will see MLB playing time next year, so they will not have to be returned to their original teams per MLB rules.
As valuable as Bruce Chen (pictured) is, the Royals are clearly not satisfied with their current pitching depth. With the chance to pick up some good talent being near the top of the Rule 5 draft, the Royals may want to focus their efforts on pitching.
A good target would be knuckleballer Charlie Haeger, currently in the Boston organization.
The Angels are a team that relies heavily on other organizations' MLB-level talent for their offseason improvements. That said, they probably will look to go that route again and not be major players in the Rule 5 draft.
If they select a player, it is likely he will be returned to the original organization next year.
The Angels currently have three open spots on their roster.
The Dodgers, a team still probably not in the hunt to make the playoffs for the next year or so, made a very puzzling move by deciding to expose John Ely to the Rule 5 draft.
Ely is a very good pitching prospect and has the potential to contribute to the Dodgers either in the rotation or bullpen next year.
Instead, another team can now swoop him up.
The Marlins have shown that they are willing to spend big to compete in 2012, their first year in a new stadium.
Whether they will follow through and actually spend remains to be seen, but the Rule 5 draft is a good chance for them to pick up some cheap, young pitching that could contribute down the road.
Miami doesn't need to spend big to have a shot at the playoffs. If they are wise, the Rule 5 draft can help them.
The Brewers are at a very interesting crossroads.
The almost-certain departure of Prince Fielder might not mean the end of an era for the Brewers, but with five open spots on the roster, the Brewers must choose how to fill them wisely. They could sign some players from outside the organization.
But also, they should acquire some pitching prospects to begin building for the future.
On the heels of a nightmare season in 2011, the Twins are one of several team that are looking more towards the future. The Rule 5 draft will be a chance for the Twins to acquire not just prospects, but young players who could potentially contribute on a Major League level immediately.
Outside of a big free-agent signing, this might be a great chance for Minnesota to improve.
The Mets have already had their dream scenario come true, protecting all of their top prospects in preparation for a rebuilding project. Those prospects include Wilmer Flores (pictured) and Reese Havens, among others.
For now, the Mets' future plans are safe.
Just keep him. He's ambidextrous; that's awesome.
He is a potential impact player, and the Yankees did not protect him. They can only hope he isn't selected.
The Athletics excel at finding undervalued talent, so something tells me that Billy Beane and company will go about business as usual, scouring other organizations for talent that they have exposed.
The A's have many needs, so with one open roster spot, they might want to find a quick contributor.
When acquiring Hunter Pence, the Phillies gave up a large amount of prospects. Thus, they can use the Rule 5 draft as a means of acquiring some minor leaguers that won't necessarily be future impact players, but may be used as potential trade bait.
The MLB team is fairly set for next year, but the club can always improve its farm.
The Pirates have a full 40-man roster, and wisely filled it with potential impact prospects. They will not have an impact on the Rule 5 draft.
The Padres added six players to their roster last week, and they are now at capacity. They, too, will not play a major role in the draft.
The Giants added six players to their roster and designated two players for assignment. Their roster was at 36 before the transactions, so they are currently full.
The Mariners have two open roster spots, but those might be used for free-agent signings or trade acquisitions. However, that doesn't mean that they shouldn't take a shot at an offensive prospect in the Rule 5 draft.
If they are able to find someone that fits the bill, the worst that can happen is that the Mariners will have to return him.
The Cardinals have a potential back-of-the-rotation pitcher in Adam Ottavino, and they have made the right move by protecting him from the Rule 5 draft.
He's already 26, but the Cardinals see him as a spot guy who can have some impact on the team in their title defense.
The Rays have been very smart with the Rule 5 draft in years past, and securing Alexander Colome and Wilking Rodriguez, two big-time pitching prospects, is all part of the plan.
They will likely go after some offensive prospects in the draft, but the main priority was getting Colome and Rodriguez protected.
The Rangers are another team that always seems to handle the Rule 5 draft well, and this year they've set themselves perfectly. They protected top prospects, including Martin Perez and Neil Ramirez, while also leaving three roster spots for signings.
These are guys who will absolutely contribute down the road.
The Blue Jays are obviously hungry for contention, but they also value the future, as should all teams.
They addressed a big part of their future by protecting Travis D'Arnaud, one of the team's best overall prospects.
They still have roster space to improve their team after this move (cough..Yu Darvish..cough).
Unfortunately for the Nationals, Stephen Strasburg can't pitch every day. Though there are some very good arms in the Nats' system, they can also look to the Rule 5 draft to acquire some more.
They have three roster spots, so one or two might be filled by draftees who could make an immediate impact.