For just $50,000, a team with roster space can bet on a player not deemed worthy of 40-man roster protection in the hopes he might be the next Johan Santana, Dan Uggla or Josh Hamilton. There's just as much chance, if not greater, that they'll be the next Enrique Cruz, Tyrell Godwin or Jared Camp.
The Washington Nationals started it all off by going slightly off the board, taking right-hander Terrell Young from the Cincinnati Reds organization. Nationals executives Jim Bowden and Bob Boone likely had good history with Young, who had been taken in the 10th round of the 2004 Draft, from their days with the Reds. Young is an athletic righty with a loose arm who can throw his fastball in the 94- to 96-mph range. He throws a slider, 78-82 mph, but his biggest development has been a changeup that he's added recently.
"The changeup was the separator," Nationals assistant general manager and vice president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo said. "[Major League scout] Bill Singer saw him twice, once early and once late. The improvement Bill saw at the end of the season was key. Everyone liked his stuff, and his command and walk rate were trending in the right direction. He showed vast improvement in those two secondary pitches."
Teams turned to middle infielders with the next couple of picks as the Mariners took Yankees shortstop Reegie Corona No. 2 and the Padres went with 2008 Minor League stolen base winner Everth Cabrera with the third pick. At No. 4, the Pirates brought things back to the mound by taking lefty Donnie Veal from the Cubs.
"We liked him a lot last year," Pirates GM Neal Huntington said. "We'll do what we can to help him get back to that. We believe in [pitching coach] Joe Kerrigan and [pitching coordinator] Troy Buckley, who'll work with him in the spring. We'll see if we can help him fulfill that potential."
The Orioles picked next, selecting Brewers catcher Lou Palmisano. But he was Baltimore property for a very brief amount of time, as the O's dealt him to the Houston Astros. Like with Young and the Nats front office, past history certainly helped. Astros scouting director Bobby Heck came from the Brewers front office and obviously knew Palmisano well. It was Heck who called Palmisano to deliver the news.
"Honestly, I was a little bit of a nervous wreck hoping and praying something would happen," said Palmisano, who missed most of the 2008 season due to injury, but got the opportunity to showcase his talents in front of scouts at the Arizona Fall League. "I'm so excited for the new opportunity, I'm pretty much speechless."
"We're looking to add depth behind [Humberto] Quintero," Astros assistant general manager Ricky Bennett said. "He's a young catcher that can add to that depth. He's got great makeup and is a tools guy that can hit. He has a legit chance with us."
Palmisano wasn't the only player taken and then traded. The Reds took right-hander David Patton from the Rockies and then sent him to the Cubs for cash considerations.
In a year when most agreed the talent pool was smaller due to the rule change that allowed organizations an extra year before having to decide whether to protect a player, there were still three more selections in the Major League phase than in 2007. Only the Padres and the Mets made multiple selections, with two picks each. Thirty-five players were taken in the Triple-A phase and only one was taken in the Double-A portion.
There were some noticeable absences, players who seemed certain to hear their names called but ended up staying with their original organizations. The Indians still have both lefty Chuck Lofgren and first baseman/outfielder Jordan Brown, both of whom were expected to go. While the Rockies lost a pair of players in Cabrera and Patton, they were pleased that others stuck around.
"Cabrera hurts," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said of the young shortstop who played the 2008 season in the Class A South Atlantic League but was taken by the Padres. "He's a good, young player. You can't protect everybody. It's a long way from Asheville to the big leagues.
"This says a lot for our system. We thought we were going to lose [Corey] Wimberly and Matt Miller."
The Yankees and Angels systems were hit the hardest in the Major League phase. New York saw four players -- three pitchers and Corona, the infielder -- get taken, while Los Angeles lost three arms.
It remains to be seen whether any of the 21 taken in the opening phase will turn into the All-Stars that have become the standard-bearers for the Rule 5 Draft -- Santana, Uggla, Hamilton and Joakim Soria. But especially for teams who have struggled recently, it's a gamble worth taking.
"There's nothing good about losing a lot of games," Huntington said. "But you can get better players in this and the [amateur] Draft. We're going to turn this thing around, but we might as well capitalize on it now."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.