That's all part of the risk involved in the Rule 5 Draft, which will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. ET on Thursday, with MLB.com carrying live pick-by-pick coverage, including streaming video and expert analysis. Despite the Rule 5 Draft's risk factor, there have been more than enough success stories to encourage teams to continue taking shots on Minor Leaguers left unprotected by their organizations -- especially considering the price tag.
Today's Major League rosters are dotted with Rule 5ers who made it. Here's a look at the top players selected in the Rule 5 Draft since 1990:
1. Johan Santana
Rule 5 selection: By Marlins from Astros, 1999. Traded to Twins with cash for Rule 5 selection Jared Camp on Draft day
If he's not the best all-time Rule 5 pick, he's getting close (Clemente's a tough guy to top). He has two Cy Young Awards on his shelf, finished third in 2008 -- his first season in the National League -- and in 2005. For his career, the three-time All-Star is 109-51 with a 3.11 ERA and 1,587 strikeouts in 1,543 innings. Opponents have hit .223 against the southpaw and he's averaged 9.26 strikeouts per nine innings, placing him sixth all-time (just behind Sandy Koufax). He'll turn 30 in March, so he clearly has plenty more left in the tank.
2. Josh Hamilton
Rule 5 selection: By Cubs from Rays, 2006. Traded to Reds on Draft day
Yes, he's only spent two years in the big leagues since being taken in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft. But oh, what a two years it's been. Hitting .292 and slugging .554 with the Reds as a rookie in 2007 would've been enough, but then he was dealt to the Rangers and had a ridiculous season, enough for him to finish seventh in MVP voting and make the All-Star team. After hitting .304 with 32 homers and 130 RBIs, Hamilton has now hit .300 with a .370 on-base percentage and .538 slugging percentage in his Major League career. Already a story worthy of a movie script, is there anyone who can't wait to see what might happen in the encore?
3. Dan Uggla
Rule 5 selection: By Marlins from Diamondbacks, 2005
Yes, he strikes out a lot -- his 171 Ks were third-most in the National League -- but after three years in the league, it's clear the power is legit. Among all Major League second basemen, his .514 slugging percentage was third highest, behind only Chase Utley and Ian Kinsler. The first Rule 5er to be named to a Major League Baseball All-Star team in the year following his selection, Uggla has hit 90 homers over the past three years, more than any second baseman in the big leagues.
4. Joakim Soria
Rule 5 selection: By Royals from Padres, 2006
His first season was success enough, when he had a 2.48 ERA and 17 saves in 62 games. But he stepped it up a few notches in 2008, making the All-Star team and finishing second in the American League with 42 saves in 45 opportunities. That gives him 59 saves and a 2.05 ERA over two years. He's struck out 141 and walked just 38 in 136 1/3 innings, while hitters have managed to hit just .178 against the right-hander. If that's not a Rule 5 success, what is?
5. Fernando Vina
Rule 5 selection: By Mariners from Mets, 1992. Returned to Mets, June 1993
He moves down to No. 5 largely because of Hamilton and Soria's success. Clearly Seattle had the right idea when it drafted Vina from the Mets. But after 45 at-bats with the Mariners in 1993, Vina was given back to New York. He made the Majors for good in 1994 and went on to make an All-Star team and win a pair of Gold Gloves. Even though he was hurt for much of 2003 and 2004 before retiring, a .282 career average and more than 4,200 big league at-bats say he deserves to be in the top five here.
6. Shane Victorino
Rule 5 selection: By Padres from Dodgers, 2002. Returned to Dodgers, May 2003; By Phillies from Dodgers, 2004
He belongs on the list solely based on the fact he was a two-time selection, but now he has something that sets him apart: a World Series ring. He also had another good season overall, stealing more than 30 bases for the second straight year in 2008. He also set career highs in homers (14), RBIs (58), OBP (.352), SLG (.447) and batting average (.293). If this continues, he should move up the list in the coming years.
7. Willy Taveras
Rule 5 selection: By Astros from Indians, 2003
When the Astros selected Taveras, they realized they wanted to keep him, but in the Minors. So they made a trade so they could keep him and let him continue to develop. In two seasons with the Astros, he hit .284 with a .340 on-base percentage and 68 steals. He was then dealt to the Rockies and he proved to be a catalyst in their run to the 2007 World Series, hitting .320 with 33 steals over 97 games. Last year, he took off. ... literally. His 68 steals led the Major Leagues in 2008 and with four straight seasons of 30-plus steals, he's fifth with 168 from 2005-2008.
8. Miguel Batista
Rule 5 selection: By Pirates from Expos, 1991. Returned to Expos, April 1992
The Pirates didn't keep the right-hander, sending him back to the Expos after pitching him in just one game, but clearly they saw something in him. And say what you will about his inconsistencies over the years, there aren't too many Rule 5 picks who have gone on to spend parts of 14 seasons (not counting '92) in the Majors. He's also shown the ability to fill a number of roles, closing in 2005 and saving 31 games and topping 200 innings as a starter for the first time in 2006. He moved on to Seattle for the 2007 season and proceeded to win 16 games, his career high. His 2008 was not pretty, though his 115 innings brought him to 1689 2/3 for his career.
9. Frank Catalanotto
Rule 5 selection: By A's from Tigers, 1996. Returned to Tigers, March 1997
Even though the Tigers left Catalanotto unprotected in 1996, they knew they had a good player on their hands. He moved from Double-A to Triple-A after the A's returned him to the Tigers, then made his Major League debut in the 1997 season. It took him a while to establish himself, but he went from being a supersub with the Rangers to an everyday outfielder for the Blue Jays in 2003, when he hit .299 and set career highs in homers and RBIs. Even though he missed much of the 2004 season due to injury, he still hit .293, then upped that to .301 and tied a career high in RBIs in 2005. He duplicated that with a .300 effort in 2006 to bring his career average to a nifty .297. He parlayed that into a three-year deal back with the Rangers in 2007 and he's settled in to a utility role in Texas. From the humble beginnings of being a Rule 5 pick, Catalanotto has played in over 1,100 big league games and collected 3,655 career at-bats.
10. Scott Podsednik
Rule 5 selection: By Rangers from Marlins in Minor League phase, 1997
His role has been greatly reduced in the past couple of years, but he's still a good choice to be Exhibit A for why everyone should also pay attention to the Minor League phases of the Rule 5 Draft. You never know when one of those guys is going to develop. In Podsednik's case, it took a while. Taken by the Rangers in '97, he played three seasons in the Texas organization before becoming a free agent and signing with the Mariners. But it wasn't until he was waived and claimed by the Brewers in 2002 that he started making a name for himself. His breakout season in 2003, for which he finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting, established him as a valuable speedster, first with the Brewers and then with the White Sox. He had four straight seasons with 40 or more stolen bases and has 236 steals for his career to go along with a .271 average.
Honorable mentions: Antonio Alfonseca, Luis Ayala, Jesus Flores, Jay Gibbons, Graeme Lloyd, Matt Mantei, Guillermo Mota, Jorge Sosa, Derrick Turnbow.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.