Rule 5 draft could help Rays' Kevin Gadea fulfill big-league dream

Kevin Gadea, 22, has never pitched about Class A but, armed with a mid 90s fastball, has a chance to join the Rays pen.
Kevin Gadea, 22, has never pitched about Class A but, armed with a mid 90s fastball, has a chance to join the Rays pen.
Published Feb. 21, 2017


The quiet December morning in the Gadea household in Chinandega, Nicaragua, was shattered when Kevin Gadea stirred awake and checked his iPhone messages.

There was one from the Mariners. Gadea was now a Ray.

"I was screaming," he said.

The commotion woke his mother, Rosibel.

Gadea told her the Rays selected him with the fourth pick of the Rule 5 draft, which is held on the final day of the Winter Meetings.

"A lot of things changed, man," Gadea said. "It was crazy."

In an instant, the 22-year-old right-hander with a fastball that can touch the mid 90s but with limited minor-league experience went from hoping to pitching this summer at Double A to competing for a spot in the Rays bullpen.

"You go from A ball and now you're in major-league spring training with a chance to make a team," Rays senior vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom said. "It's got to be kind of a wild experience."

The Rule 5 draft is used to prevent teams from stockpiling too many prospects. Those eligible are players who were 18 or younger before the major-league draft, have played five years in the minors and are not on the 40-man roster; or those who were 19 or older prior to the draft, spent four years in the minors and are not on the 40-man.

Players selected in the major-league portion of the draft must remain on the 25-man roster for an entire season or be placed on waivers. If they clear waivers, they have to be offered back to their original team. If the drafting team still wants to keep the player in the organization, it can work out a trade with the original team.

That's how the Rays acquired catcher Curt Casali after the Tigers picked up pitcher Kyle Lobstein (drafted by the Mets and traded to the Tigers) during the 2012 Rule 5 draft.

Normally the Rays lose players in the Rule 5 draft. They lost outfielders Tyler Goeddel (Phillies) and Joey Rickard (Orioles) in 2015. They lost outfielder Josh Hamilton in 2006.

Taking Gadea was a bit out of character for a team that prides itself on drafting and developing its own starting pitchers. For the bullpen, the Rays tend to seek major-league veterans.

"I think the two things you look for are: What do you think the long-term upside is? And do you think he has a chance to stick and help our club?" Bloom said. "We really like him as a prospect. We think he's a good starting pitching prospect, and the fact he has good stuff, has a good changeup and is a strike thrower, we felt he has a chance to stick here and help our team win."

Gadea has pitched in 45 minor-league games over four seasons, with only 10 games last year at the low Class A level. Yet, he could be one of the seven relievers to make the team.

"I think many eyes are on me right now because of Rule 5. A lot of things are in play right now, many options, many things to think about," Gadea said. "I know that, but I'm not trying to impress anybody. I'm just trying to do what I know, and trying to do my best to help the team and be part of the 25-man at the start of the season."

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Rickard said that's the best approach.

"I was nervous, excited, a lot of emotions came into it, but as soon as Day 1 was over, the leaders in the clubhouse made me feel really comfortable," said Rickard, who wound up batting .268 in 85 games with Baltimore. "Within a week or so I was ready to go."

Gadea attended Dennis Martinez's baseball academy when he was 16. His country's greatest major-leaguer told those in attendance that, best-case scenario, only one would reach the majors.

"In my mind I was like I got to be that guy and started working for it," Gadea said.

With the help of the Rule 5 draft, Gadea is one solid spring from realizing that dream.

Rule 5 rules

. Selecting teams pay $100,000 to the original team when drafting a player. That player must remain on the 25-man roster for the entire season with at least 90 days active. If he is injured and is active less than 90 days, the process carries over to the following season.

. Notable players selected in the Rule 5 draft: Josh Hamilton (2006), Joakim Soria (2006), Dan Uggla (2005), Shane Victorino (2004), Johan Santana (1999)