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Michael Dubee had a 6-2 record and 2.21 ERA in 77 1/3 innings pitched between AA and AAA this past season in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. ((Courtesy piratesprospects.com))

Baseball's Rule 5 draft, held on the final day of the annual winter meetings, is a much less hyped event that can often be overlooked by the casual fan.

Ardent followers of the game, however, hope their favourite team can unearth a diamond in the rough who will contribute to a playoff run.

Fans in Toronto will be praying for the next George Bell or 2010 version of Jose Bautista when the Blue Jays select 18th overall on Thursday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Bell, now 51, was a Rule 5 pick of the Blue Jays in 1980 and went on to play 1,587 regular-season games over 12 seasons, driving in 1,002 runs and hitting 47 of his 265 home runs in 1987.

The single-season franchise record for homers stood until this past season when Bautista led the majors with 54 long balls, 38 more than his previous single-season high. He added 124 runs batted in to help Toronto to a surprising 85-win season.

Bautista was a Rule 5 pick by Baltimore in 2004.

Outfielder Lou Thornton and infielder Manny Lee were two less-heralded Rule 5 draftees from 1984 but played good defence and could pinch-run for the Jays.

Pittsburgh's Roberto Clemente (1954) remains the classic success story coming out of the Rule 5 draft.

Some baseball observers consider this year's field perhaps the deepest in recent memory.

With some holes in the Toronto bullpen created by the expected departures of free-agent relief pitchers Kevin Gregg and Scott Downs, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos might see the Rule 5 as perfect chance to add a decent arm for 2011.

Players eligible for selection in Thursday's draft include:

  • Those who are not part of their major league club's 40-man roster, were signed at age 19 and have been in the organization for four years.
  • Those who were signed at 18 or younger and have been in the organization for five years.

It is rare to see more than 15 players drafted because any player chosen must be kept on a team's 25-man major-league roster for an entire season. They can't be optioned or designated to the minor leagues.

Teams can also waive Rule 5 draftees at any time. If the player subsequently clears waivers, he must be offered back to his original team at half of the $50,000 US selection price.

A year ago, the Blue Jays chose right-handed pitcher Zech Zinicola from Washington with the 10th selection in the Rule 5 draft. He was returned to the Nationals in March after Toronto failed to work out a trade. Zinicola split last season between AA and AAA, posting a 4.30 earned-run average in 11 appearances at AAA Syracuse.

A couple of pitchers could draw the attention of Anthopoulos and the Jays.

  • Right-hander Michael Dubee, a six-foot-three reliever in the Pittsburgh Pirates system, has been dominant the past two campaigns. The 24-year-old had a 6-2 record and 2.21 ERA in 77 1/3 innings pitched this past season, all but one at the AA level.
  • Left-hander Jeremy Horst, a 25-year-old draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds in 2007, fashioned a 2.62 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 72 innings across three levels of the minor leagues in 2010. The six-foot-four, 220-pounder fanned 9.4 batters per nine innings while walking just 2.2 batters every nine frames.

Blue Jays' Rule 5 draft eligibles

 Player  Position  2010 team
 Jamie Vermillya  P  Las Vegas (AAA)
 Dumas Garcia  P  Las Vegas
 Brad Emaus  3B  Las Vegas
 Scott Campbell  3B  Las Vegas
 Al Quintana  3B  Las Vegas
 Danny Perales  OF  Las Vegas
 B.J. LaMura  P  New Hampshire (AA)
 Vince Bongiovanni  P  New Hampshire
 Randy Boone  P  New Hampshire
 Ronald Uviedo  P  New Hampshire
 Matt Liuzza  C  New Hampshire
 Callix Crabbe  2B  New Hampshire
 Jonathan Diaz  SS  New Hampshire
 Luis Sanchez  SS  New Hampshire
 Adam Calderone  OF  New Hampshire
 Adam Loewen  OF  New Hampshire
 Chad Beck  P  Dunedin (Class-A)
 Frank Gailey  P  Dunedin
 Sean Shoffit  P  Dunedin
 Concepcion Rodriguez  OF  Dunedin
 Ricardo Nanita  OF  Mexican League
 Juan Hernandez  P  NY Penn League
 C.J. Ebarb  IF  U. of Las Vegas/Nevada