Ah, baseball’s Rule 5 draft, where hope springs eternal. Every year, every GM in the league hopes to pilfer a future superstar from some unsuspecting organization lacking the foresight or roster management skills to protect him by placing him on the 40-man roster. The reality, of course, is very different. Very few of these prospects ever pan out; most of these players are left unprotected for good reason, but the Twins have been very lucky to strike gold twice in the Rule 5 draft: Johan Santana in 2000 and Shane Mack in 1989. Mack has been forgotten in recent years, mostly because his peak didn’t last all that long and he hasn’t appeared in the majors since 1998. However, Mack was instrumental in the Twins’ magical run to the World Series in 1991, and when he was healthy, there were few better outfielders in the American League.
Mack was a standout player at UCLA, batting .361 with 158 runs scored, 29 home runs and 142 RsBI (he was inducted into their Hall of Fame in 2002), and impressed San Diego’s scouts so much that they selected him in the first round of the 1984 draft. He spent five seasons with the Padres, batting .291/.298/.445 with 71 doubles. 15 triples, and 37 home runs. He was called up to the majors in 1987, but batted a disappointing .239/.299/.361/.660 in 267 plate appearances. He didn’t show much improvement in 1988, batting .244/.336/.269/.605, and failed to make the team out of spring training in 1989. With Tony Gwynn firmly entrenched in right field, the Padres didn’t have much use for Mack, and naturally they didn’t even blink when the Twins plucked him from their system in December of 1989.
It would be easy to rag on the Padres for losing patience with the young outfielder, but to be fair, Mack was also hurt quite a bit during his time in Minnesota. In five seasons with the Twins, he made more than 500 plate appearances just two times (not counting the 1994 season, which was strike-shortened), in 1992 and 1993. When Mack was healthy, however, he could really hit, batting .309/.375/.479/.854 with a 130 OPS+, worth 18.5 rWAR and 19.2 fWAR. He had one of his best seasons in 1991, batting .310/.363/.529/.893 with a 140 OPS+, second-best on the team behind Chili Davis’ 141. The Braves managed to keep Mack off the bases in the World Series, but he absolutely destroyed the Blue Jays in the ALCS, collecting four runs on six hits, including a double and a triple, and driving in three runs in 21 plate appearances.
It’s hard to say exactly how Mack’s career would have turned out had he not hit free agency during the 1994 strike. He was in the midst of the best season of his career before the work stoppage, batting .333/.402/.564/.966, and would likely have earned a nice fat contract in any other season. Instead, he ended up playing in Japan, signing a 3-year deal with the Yomiuri Giants. He managed to find work in the States again after that, inking a one-year deal with the Red Sox in 1997, though he was never more than a utility outfielder the rest of his career. He still put up solid numbers in a reduced role, however, batting .315/.368/.438 with the Red Sox. Unfortunately, this wasn’t good enough to net him anything more than another one-year deal, this time with Oakland. Mack didn’t even finish out the first week of the season with the The A’s , who traded him to Kansas City in April. He finished the season with a decent .280/.345/.449/.794 line, then signed with the Padres in December of 1998. Mack never played in another major league game, and elected to retire at the end of the season.
Erin is a contributing writer for Twinkie Talk. You can email her at erinm725 [at] gmail [dot] com.