Victorino a big fan of Rule 5 draft

Shane Victorino, right, shared a laugh with Red Sox manager John Farrell last weekend. AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Rule 5 draft is one of those little-understood procedures in baseball where mostly fringe talent every winter is transferred from one organization to another.

For Shane Victorino, it was much more. It was a career-changer.

"I'm a big advocate, a big fan of that draft," Victorino said. "I'm an advocate for anything where a kid gets an opportunity. For me, it happened twice."

That's right. Victorino was selected in the Rule 5 draft twice after being left unprotected twice by the team that drafted him, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The first time was in 2002, when he was selected by the San Diego Padres and made the big league team but was returned to the Dodgers less than two months into the season. Rules stipulate that a Rule 5 player must remain on the major league roster for a full season or be offered back to the team from which he was selected.

It happened again, after the 2004 season, when he was taken by the Phillies. The Dodgers declined an invitation to take him back. Victorino won the International League MVP in 2005 and was in the major leagues to stay the following season.

"Look at some of the names of guys who have gone Rule 5," Victorino said. "Jose Bautista was a guy. Johan Santana was a guy. Dan Uggla was a Rule 5 guy. Fernando Vina was another guy. I pay attention to little things like that."

Victorino was drafted in the sixth round by the Dodgers in 1999. It wasn't until his second year of pro ball that he was persuaded to try switch-hitting. He was in Yakima, Wash., playing Class A ball where he said the first person to suggest he become a switch-hitter was hitting coach Damon Farmar, a former minor leaguer who switch-hit himself. Farmar is the father of Jordan Farmar, the former Laker.

"Jordan used to come all the time to be the bat boy," Victorino said.

Victorino, who had grown up batting from the right side, was receptive to the idea, but at 19, the Dodgers also were asking him to switch from the outfield to second base. That's a lot of information to process at the same time.

"I struggled with it," Victorino said. "I went to Instructional League, and then they called me that winter and said, 'Shane, we're moving you back to the outfield.'"

Victorino stuck to hitting right-handed in Class A ball in Wilmington, N.C., in 2001, but the topic was raised again the following season in Double-A by Jacksonville hitting coach Gene Richards, the former big league outfielder. Batting from the left side, Richards said, would make best use of his speed.

"Gene Richards asked me if I'd ever switch-hit," Victorino said. "I told him I did it for half a season. I said, 'Gene, it is way too frustrating.'

"He said, 'I see you as a typical outfielder whose got speed but don't really have one aspect of your game that stands out other than speed. You're just a typical right-handed hitter. Why don't we try it?'

"I go, 'We have to go through this again?' But we did it in spring training and the first half of the year. Just drills in the cage. Nothing on the field, just in the cage. One-hand drills with a sledgehammer, basic drills to get the mechanics of the swing."

Batting exclusively right-handed, Victorino was selected to the Double-A All-Star Game.

"I get back," Victorino said, "and Gene says, 'You ready to go?' I said, 'Yeah, I'm ready to play.' He said, 'No, you're hitting left-handed in the game. We're starting tonight.' That was it. I started that half-season then went to Fall League and had a great Fall League."

But that's when the Dodgers left him unprotected for the first time. The Padres took him, but Victorino struggled and went back to the Dodgers. Richards told him, he said, it would take three to five years to master switch-hitting. The Dodgers left him unprotected, the Phillies pounced, the Dodgers declined to take him back, and Victorino flourished, winning International League MVP in his first season in the Phillies' system.

He was right on schedule. It was his third year of switch-hitting. He was playing center field in Philadelphia every day the next season, 2006, and was an All-Star in 2008, when he helped lead the Phillies to a World Series title.

"I thank Gene Richards all the time," he said. "Looking back on it, I wouldn't do anything different.

"I'm 10 years into it, and I'm still learning some of the mechanics. I always do the drills I did when I first started, trying to [learn the mechanics of] that swing. It's still a work in progress for me 10 years later, eight years in the majors."