The Rule 5 draft is not much different than taking a piece of the family nest egg and throwing down on a table in an Atlantic City casino. It’s some research, but mostly luck.
Even with its long odds, very few teams have had the success the Phillies have had over the years. In 1990, they plucked a switch-hitting third baseman from the Padres organization named Dave Hollins. Hollins rode the bench for a bad Phillies team that year, playing in just 72 games and getting only 114 AB’s. The not-so-ready for prime time player hit .184 with five HR’s, but the team saw some potential. After another season of limited action, Hollins took over as the everyday guy at the hot corner in 1992 and lead all NL third baseman in homers with 27 and drove in 93 runs. The following season, he would bat cleanup for a Phillies team that took home the National League Pennant.
Fast forward to 2005, Philadelphia takes a flier on a speed switch-hitting outfielder Shane Victorino. He already had been a participant in the Rule 5 draft two years earlier, taken by San Diego, but was offered back to his original team, the Dodgers, later that year. The Phillies were just seeing things come together as their homegrown core of Rollins, Howard, Utley, and Hamels were showing MLB that they were for real. The Phils were fortunate that Victorino was injured for the better part of his Rule 5 season and they were able to hide him on the DL for much of it. Having fulfilled his time on the roster, they were able to send him to Triple A for more seasoning the following year, where he won the International League MVP. In 2006, he took over as the everyday CF and became one of the keys to five straight division titles and a World Series Championship in 2008.
Last off-season, the Phillies plopped down the $50,000 fee to draft Texas OF/2B Odubel Herrera. He was an intriguing prospect coming off a 2014 season where hit .321 and won the Texas League batting crown. He followed that up in winter ball by hitting .372 and won the MVP. But he was a man without a position in the Rangers organization, moving from second base to center field with the emergence of rising star Rougned Odor. The Phillies scouts liked what they saw in his transition to the outfield and were fairly certain the bat would continue to develop. He reminded them of a more recently Rule 5 selection, Ender Inciarte.
The Phillies took Inciarte from the Arizona Diamondback organization, but decided against keeping him on the 25-man roster during the 2012 season and returned him to Arizona. Inciarte has gone on to have two very solid seasons and is entrenched in the Arizona outfield.
They were looking to spoon-feed playing time to Herrera, mostly in left field, as the 2015 season began. Ben Revere, coming off a .300 season, was the everyday centerfielder and Domonic Brown was moved back to right. Veteran Grady Sizemore and Darin Ruf would share left most of the time. This quickly changed as Sizemore was awful from the start and Ruf is not an everyday OF, so in came Herrera a lot faster than expected.
Early on, he hit mostly out of the 7th or 8th spots, but within a month, he found himself in the leadoff or #2 spot, which he would later settle into as the season progressed. Not only did he show the offensive skill that won him a batting title in the minor-leagues, he also played excellent defense and was flip-flopped with Revere and took over as the everyday center fielder.
Herrera ended up playing in 147 games, ranking second among National League rookies in doubles with 30, tied for first in steals with 16, and a top-ten finisher in games played, OBP, and OPS. At age 23, he fits right in line with Philadelphia’s rebuilding efforts and is slated to begin the 2016 as the team’s starting center fielder atop the Phillies batting order.