PAWTUCKET The Rule 5 draft can produce mixed results, for the players taken and the teams involved. Roberto Clemente is perhaps the most surprising name on the list of players that were once Rule 5 draft picks. Recent Red Sox acquisition Shane Victorino is also on the list. Clemente was taken by the Pirates from the Brooklyn Dodgers and went on to a Hall of Fame career that was cut short by a tragic plane crash. Victorino was returned by the Padres to the Dodgers just a few months after he was taken.
Either way, though, it can be an unsettling time if youre a player who is left exposed by a team to the Rule 5 draft. Jeremy Hazelbaker found himself in that position for the first time this year. He was one of several players the Sox chose not to put on their 40-man roster, leaving them available to be taken.
I dont know if surprised is the right word, Hazelbaker said. You hope for something good to happen with the 40-man roster, being put on the 40-man. Everybody hopes for something to happen thats good for them in their baseball career. Thats just something that every minor leaguer thats in that situation hopes for. But you just cant let that affect you. You just have to treat it like its just one more thing in your baseball career that you have to deal with.
I wasnt paying attention to the draft on Thrusday. But, of course, my family was and my agent was telling me what was going on. But, of course, I wanted to know how it turned out. But I wasnt going to sit there and watch it on the computer.
Hazelbaker, 25, the Sox fourth-round pick in 2009 out of Ball State, was not taken.
I guess you could say I was relieved, he said. But it was nice to know where you stood. As a player it was nice to know where I stood and what that meant for me and my career at this point and how to go about the offseason.
Hazelbaker, who was at McCoy Stadium Saturday for Pawtuckets Christmas party, ended last season with the PawSox. In seven games, he hit .267, going 8-for-30, with three RBI and three stolen bases, playing four games in left field and serving as the designated hitter in three. He carried a seven-game hitting streak into the postseason after a 10-game hitting streak before his promotion from Double-A Portland -- as the PawSox won the International League championship for the first time in 28 years. In 114 games with the Sea Dogs, he hit .273 with 19 home runs, 64 RBI, and 33 stolen bases in 44 attempts, a 75 percent success rate. He tied a franchise record with four stolen bases on July 22 at New Hampshire. He also had 10 outfield assists in 80 games eight assists in 65 games in left field, two in 16 games in right.
It was great, Hazelbaker said of his time in Pawtucket. They were making a playoff push, and being able to be one of the players to come up here and help it was great to be a part of that and kind of get my feet wet for next season. And to know I came up here at the time where the best teams are playing, theyre putting their best players out there to be a part of that so you know what to expect for next season.
I cant say one certain thing really as the biggest difference between Double-A and Triple-A but I guess just the caliber of players. You play ex-big leaguers, current big leaguers, guys that are just down here because theres not enough spots on the roster in the big leagues. Theres so many talented guys here and so many guys with big league experience. You just hope to be one of those guys one day where another up-and-coming player looks at you and is like Man, hes played in the big leagues or hes playing in the big leagues. So just being around guys with big league experience.
For the first time, Hazelbaker played winter ball this offseason. Appearing in eight games with Obregon of the Mexican League, he hit .261 (6-for-23) with two home runs, three RBI, and three stolen bases in four attempts.
It was a great experience, he said. Its like a Yankees-Red Sox game every game. Everybodys excited. Everybodys on their feet, cheering, yelling every pitch. It was great to be a part of that.
Hazelbaker will likely start the season with the PawSox. His take on the outfield situation between Boston and Pawtucket?
A lot of guys, he said. A lot of players. We got a lot of money in the outfield right now, a lot of great players, a lot of big leaguers that have been up there for a while that know the game. Its good for me as a young player to be able to see them, to see what they're going to do and hopefully I get a chance to be around them in spring training so I can learn from them. But theres a lot of guys.
Hazelbaker, a native of Indiana, will be in Massachusetts now until spring training, working out at a facility in Hudson. In each of his four seasons with the Sox except 2010 when he spent the whole season with Single-A Greenville hes earned a promotion during the season. Hes hoping to do that again in 2013.
Just to keep performing and do what I did last season the second half of the season, to go up another level, he said of his goals for next season. Ive gone up a level each season and hopefully I can do the same thing next season. I just want to tighten my game up.