At bargain-basement prices, some Rule 5 pickups bring teams a
major league boost
Dewayne Wise has Major League Baseball's logo tattooed on his
left shoulder, but that doesn't mean he has baseball's bylaws
memorized. When a recent visitor to Blue Jays camp mentioned the
Rule 5 draft to Wise, a 22-year-old outfielder whom Toronto
plucked from the Reds in December, he shook his head. "When my
agent told me before the draft that I might get taken," said
Wise, "I was like, 'Rule 5? What's that?'"
For Wise and several of his fellow draftees, it can be a
high-speed escalator from the low minors to the big leagues. A
player chosen in the December draft--in which, for $50,000,
teams can grab prospects not protected on opponents' 40-man
rosters--must spend the entire season in the majors; if he is
sent down or cut, his former team can reclaim him for $25,000.
It's a small risk for the chance to turn up the next George Bell
or Kelly Gruber or Dave Hollins, all onetime Rule 5 draftees who
became All-Stars. Says Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar,
"In the economics of today's game, $25,000 is a very good gamble."
Wise, who stole 35 bases for the Reds' Single A affiliate in
Rockford last year, had hit just .188 this spring through
Sunday, but the Blue Jays were impressed enough with his
baserunning and defense to consider carrying him (or making a
deal with Cincinnati so Toronto could send him to the minors for
more seasoning). "This kid would be a first- or second-round
choice [in the June free-agent draft]," says Blue Jays manager
Jim Fregosi. "We paid $50,000 to look at someone we'd otherwise
have to pay $1 million for."
Here are three other Rule 5 players who entered the last week of
camp with a strong chance to make their respective teams.
--Chris Reitsma, RHP, Devil Rays. Tampa Bay hoped to draft him
out of high school in 1996, but the Red Sox got there first.
Since then, Reitsma, 22, has twice broken bones in his elbow
while pitching; in 19 starts last year at Rookie League Sarasota
he was 4-10 with a 5.61 ERA. Still, the Devil Rays, enamored of
his sinking, mid-90s fastball, pounced on him in December. "I
think he's a major league pitcher in the future," says LaMar.
--Matt Williams, LHP, Brewers. As one of the few lefthanders in
camp, Williams, pitching for his sixth organization, had an
inside track on a roster spot; he locked it up with a 1.28 ERA
in eight spring appearances. Chosen from the Yankees, for whom
he struck out 66 batters in 51 innings for Double A Norwich and
Triple A Columbus last year, he'll be the Milwaukee bullpen's
--Johan Santana, LHP, Twins. Asked early in spring training how
he felt about facing Ken Griffey Jr. in an exhibition game,
Santana, 21 and a former Astros farmhand, said, "Let's get ready
to rumble." Four of Santana's first five strikeout victims this
spring were Griffey, Pokey Reese, Dante Bichette and Will Clark.
He had a 2.16 ERA, and opponents were hitting .200 in 16.2
Grapefruit League innings.
Expos' Latest Phenom
BERGERON TAKES CENTER STAGE
Discussing his centerfield prospects Peter Bergeron, 22, and
Milton Bradley, 21, Expos manager Felipe Alou sounds like a
proud parent of twins trying to pick a favorite. "This spring
Bergeron has showed he's been around a little longer," Alou
says. "But Bradley is loaded with talent. He's just greener."
Not long ago two rookies battling for a position in Montreal's
camp would have been no more newsworthy than a small crowd at
Olympic Stadium. But on the new-look Expos--they're trading for
veterans, increasing the payroll to $28 million--centerfield is
the only position that on Opening Day will be filled by a
first-year player. Bergeron won the job with a blistering
spring, batting .324 with a .457 on-base percentage through
Sunday; when the season starts, Bradley will head to Triple A
Ottawa. Still, Alou's choice wasn't easy.
Bergeron and Bradley are both speedy and are excellent defensive
players, both counted among Baseball America's top 100
prospects. The switch-hitting Bradley showed power from both
sides of the plate at Double A Harrisburg last season. He also
arrived in camp with a reputation as a hothead, having been
suspended twice in the minor leagues for run-ins with umpires,
including a seven-game ban last April for spitting gum at an
ump. "I've matured past that," Bradley says. "Now I realize that
stuff will just keep me from my dream of playing in the big
"I know he has had problems, but I haven't seen any of that,"
says Alou. "I don't have any questions about his attitude."
Attitude wasn't the deciding factor in Bergeron's getting the
job this spring; he simply outhit Bradley, who had only a .170
average through Sunday. Acquired with Wilton Guerrero from the
Dodgers in the 1998 trade that sent Carlos Perez, Mark
Grudzielanek and Hiram Bocachica to L.A., Bergeron considers
himself a "typical leadoff hitter." In addition to his high
batting average and on-base percentage, he was leading the Expos
in stolen bases (six) and walks (eight) at week's end. "He's
done everything: getting on base, stealing bases, bunting," says
Alou. "But Bradley doesn't have to make this team for me to know
he's going to be a great player. The time will come when you
will see both of these guys in the outfield for the Expos."
The Reynolds Rap
THAT'S THE SPIRIT
Astros righthander Shane Reynolds, reacting to the announcement
that he would be Houston's Opening Day pitcher, didn't exactly
sound like his gunfighter namesake. Told of the honor, Reynolds
said, "Who wants to pitch against the other team's Number 1
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT ROGERS The Devil Rays made a $50,000 bet that Reitsma and his sinking fastball can bloom in the bigs.
COLOR PHOTO: JIM MONE/AP
the HOT corner
How did the Devil Rays, whose attendance dropped by 31% last
year, afford their off-season spending spree? The four free
agents they signed, plus four players on the team who got new
contracts, all agreed to defer significant chunks of their
salary, allowing general manager Chuck LaMar to keep this year's
payroll to about $48 million. "Before this year we were one of
only two teams without deferred money [on the books]," says
LaMar. "This was something we had to do."...
The Twins have received calls from several teams asking about
the availability of outfielder Matt Lawton. One interested club
is Seattle, which is desperate to find a lefthanded bat before
the end of spring training....
Rookie outfielder John Roskos has forced his way onto the
Padres' roster with his performance this spring: Through Sunday
he was batting .526 (20 for 38) with six doubles and four home
runs. "This guy is relentless," manager Bruce Bochy says....
Last month Orioles manager Mike Hargrove tried to deal with
highly touted 20-year-old leftthander Matt Riley's chronic
tardiness by making him report to camp at 5:15 a.m. every day
for a week. It didn't work: Riley showed up late again last
Friday and was immediately banished to Baltimore's minor league
Teams have two goals in the final week of spring training: keep
everyone healthy and fill holes on the roster before Opening
Day. We can't predict whose hamstring will pop, but we can say
which clubs are likely to be active in the trade market. Here
are four teams with pressing needs and four who are overstocked
at a particular position.
Looking to Buy
Blue Jays Starting pitcher: With Joey Hamilton (shoulder
surgery) out until mid-May, Toronto needs workhorse
Indians Lefthanded reliever: Ricardo Rincon, only lefty in
pen, had spring ERA of 6.75 through Sunday
Tigers Centerfielder: Juan Encarnacion, in second full
season, has great tools, but he's better suited to
Yankees Designated hitter: The Boss, itchy to make move after
poor spring, unlikely to stand pat with Shane Spencer
Looking to Sell
Indians Outfielders: With Kenny Lofton due back this month,
Jacob Cruz, Alex Ramirez or Dave Roberts is expendable
Pirates Lefthanded relievers: With Jason Christiansen, Scott
Sauerbeck and Jeff Wallace, Pirates pen has a lefty
Red Sox Infielders: Manny Alexander, Jeff Frye (right) and
Donnie Sadler all play nearly any position; all three
Tigers Leftfielder: Rich in corner outfielders, Detroit
eager to move Bobby Higginson (.239 in 1999) and his
$4.3 million salary