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Rule 5 Success Helping Minnesota Twins Get Back to Winning Ways

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COMMENTARY | The Minnesota Twins have a long history of success with the Rule 5 draft. Two of their last three picks were on display in Boston as Scott Diamond and Ryan Pressly combined to shut out the powerful Red Sox offense in 11 combined innings over two games on May 7 and 8.

The Rule 5 draft is held each December and is designed to prevent teams from stockpiling players in the minor leagues when they could be in the major leagues for other teams. Prior to the creation of the June draft and free agency, stockpiling prospects was a big reason the New York Yankees were able to dominate the American League for so long because they could afford to outbid the other teams for the best prospects and keep them in the minors ready to fill in for any of their injured veterans.

Players have to be with their club for four or five years before being eligible for the Rule 5 draft, depending on their age when they originally signed. Clubs can protect their players from the Rule 5 draft by placing them on their 40-man roster.

The most famous Rule 5 selection was Roberto Clemente, who ended up being a Hall of Fame outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Some more recent famous Rule 5 picks include Jose Bautista, although he was selected by the Baltimore Orioles and didn't become a great hitter until he got to the Toronto Blue Jays, and Josh Hamilton, who was selected by the Chicago Cubs and then was immediately traded to the Cincinnati Reds in a prearranged deal.

How Hamilton ended up with the Reds is much like how the Twins ended with another famous Rule 5 pick, Johan Santana. The Twins actually picked pitcher Jared Camp with the first pick. The Houston Astros picked Santana with the second pick and then traded him and cash to the Twins for Camp.

Santana struggled mightily in 2000 as a long reliever, but the Twins wisely waited through his growing pains and he went on to win two Cy Young Awards (he should have won at least one more) before he was traded to the New York Mets for four prospects.

Another important Rule 5 pick for the Twins that is often overlooked was Shane Mack. The outfielder was selected by the Twins prior to the 1990 season and he ended up being a key player for the 1991 World Series championship team. He started in right field and batted in the middle of the order for the Twins.

Scott Diamond, Ryan Pressly Continue Success of Minnesota Twins' Rule 5 Picks

The Twins look to be carrying on that tradition of success with Diamond and Pressly. Diamond is definitely a keeper and Pressly has had an impressive start to his season, highlighted by his first major league victory after pitching four shutout innings on Wednesday, May 8 against the Red Sox, the team the Twins drafted Pressly from.

Diamond was actually a pick of former general manager Bill Smith, who was fired after the 2011 season. Smith has been greatly criticized for his failures in high-profile moves, but he made a number of quality moves that didn't receive as much press, including drafting Diamond from the Atlanta Braves.

The Twins were expecting to contend again in 2011 after winning the AL Central in 2010, so they couldn't find room on the roster for Diamond. However, they liked him enough to trade hard-throwing but erratic Billy Bulluck for Diamond.

A slew of injuries in 2011 allowed Diamond to make his debut in 2011, but he struggled, going 1-5 with a 5.08 ERA, plus a very low strikeout rate and a mediocre walk rate. He didn't make the opening day roster in 2012, but more injuries allowed him to be called up and start on May 8, and he's been a godsend ever since.

Since then, the left-hander has gone 15-11 with a 3.46 ERA over 202 2/3 innings in 32 starts. His 1.6 walks per nine innings led the American League in 2012 and he's at 0.9 BB/9 in 2013. He dazzled the Red Sox on Tuesday over seven shutout innings at Fenway Park, a ballpark that is infamously difficult for left-handed pitchers.

Diamond more than makes up for his low strikeout rate with his incredible control and the ability to keep the ball on the ground. Diamond had the third best ratio of ground balls to fly balls in the AL in 2012.

Pressly, who the Twins drafted prior to the 2013 season, is the antithesis of Diamond since he's a right-handed reliever that throws hard and has mediocre control. Pressly is another example of the Twins' recent emphasis on acquiring power arms, whether through drafts or trades.

So far, it's been a successful start for Pressly, who struggled as a starter in the minor leagues, but had success as a reliever in 2012, which impressed the Twins scouts enough to recommend drafting him. After pitching four shutout innings on Wednesday, Pressly is now 1-0 with a 1.72 ERA.

The ERA is a little deceiving since Pressly has had eight walks in just 15 2/3 innings pitched, but he still is doing well for someone that had not pitched above Class AA before this season. If pitching coach Rick Anderson can work his magic on Pressly's control, then the Twins could have a decent middle reliever making the major league minimum for the next three years.

The Rule 5 draft was designed to help the little guys compete with the big-market teams. It's pretty rare for these to turn into star players, but if the Twins can continue to reap solid major league players from it for next to nothing, that's a big win every time.

Darin McGilvra has been a professional sports writer since 1997 and has been a Twins follower since Kirby Puckett's breakout season of 1986. He has been published in The Californian, a newspaper covering Riverside County, and currently writes for Spotya! Media.

Follow Darin on Twitter at @SoCalTwinsfan

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