The Cleveland Indians announced on Thursday the addition of five minor league prospects to the organization’s 40-man roster, protecting them from inclusion in the Major League portion of December’s Rule 5 draft.
Such moves may seem inconsequential, given the difficulties presented for claiming clubs to keep selected prospects on the Major League roster for the duration of the year without sacrificing from the goal of winning. This drafting process is done to help prevent teams from hoarding talent in the minor league systems while giving these prospects the opportunity to reach the MLB level.
Teams must protect qualified players from exposure to the Rule 5 draft by placing them on the 40-man roster or risk the player being selected by any of the other 29 clubs at a cost of $50,000. This move must happen within three to four years of their original signing with the club, depending on the age they were at the time of their first contract. Players 18 and younger prior to June 5th in the year of their signing have to be protected after four minor league seasons. For all prospects 19 or older after the cutoff date, they must be protected after three seasons.
Last season, the Indians did not have any players selected in any portion of the Rule 5 draft, which includes additional selections at the Triple-A and Double-A levels.
In the draft of 2012, the club lost pitcher T.J. McFarland to the Baltimore Orioles and reliever Hector Rondon to the Chicago Cubs. Both teams were able to fulfill the expectations outlined for keeping the respective players. The Indians selected first baseman Chris McGuiness from Texas with the fifth pick in the draft, but were forced to offer him back to the Rangers at the end of Spring Training when they were unable to keep him on the 25-man MLB roster. Cleveland had hoped to work out a deal with Texas to maintain his rights, but no agreement was made. McGuiness was traded following the season to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Indians protected a third baseman, a converted catcher, and three pitchers prior to Thursday’s deadline for such additions. All five of the players were eligible for the draft, although just two have reached the Triple-A level so far in their minor league development.
The top name on the list may be Giovanny Urshela, the Indians’ young third base prospect.
The Columbian-born Urshela has climbed through the minor leagues while being touted for his defensive work. His offensive game has improved some over the last three years, putting him much more on the Indians’ radar.
In his sixth professional season with the Indians this year, he hit .280 with 18 home runs and 84 RBI while spending time at both Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus. He hit .270 with eight homers and 43 RBI in 116 games in 2013, all at Akron, and hit .278 in 114 games with 14 homers and 59 RBI in 2012 with the Carolina Mudcats. His walk total last season was more than double the total he had accumulated in any single season and his power and run production were career bests, showing that offseason work in the weight room had paid off.
Urshela ended the season ranked 13th on the Indians portion of MLB.com’s 2014 Prospect Watch. He dodged a bullet this week when it was determined in an MRI in Cleveland that he would not require surgery on what amounted to be a sprained left knee suffered while legging out a hit during a game in the Venezuelan Winter League earlier in November. He could factor in the Indians’ future as early as the 2015 season if Lonnie Chisenhall remains with the club and continues to be a defensive liability at the hot corner.
Twenty-two-year old Tony Wolters joins the 40-man after a successful conversion from infielder to catcher to help the Indians at an organizationally-thin position. Wolters was one of many names in a crowded infield and returned to his roots, moving back behind the plate where he had played some in high school.
Wolters was the Indians’ third pick in the 2010 draft and had Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Ronny Rodriguez, and Dorssys Paulino in front of him at times throughout his early development.
He has spent time at four different levels of the organization in his five years with the club. He spent a second season at the Advanced A level in Carolina to help with his move back behind the plate in 2013 and he logged 94 games with Akron at Double-A last year. In his 124 games at catcher, he has made just three errors, and all of those occurred in his first transition year at the position. He added 150 innings in the middle infield for the RubberDucks in 2014, making him a versatile utility player. A bit of a light hitter at the plate, he hit just .249 with a home run and 34 RBI.
Wolters received a number 18 rank by MLB.com for Indians prospects.
Big right-hander Cody Anderson is one of the three pitchers added. The 24-year-old, a 14th round draft pick by the Tribe in 2011, struggled for the first time in his fourth season in the organization and third full season.
Anderson became a prospect to watch in 2013, as his conversion from outfielder and reliever to starting pitcher began to look like a success. He spent the year primarily in Carolina, posting a 9-4 record with a 2.34 ERA in 23 games that season and made three starts with Akron. He was recognized as a mid-season and post-season All-Star that year, as well as an MiLB.com Organizational All-Star. He was awarded the Bob Feller Award as the Indians’ top minor league pitcher following the season.
Last year, after a pre-season rank of fourth in organizational prospects, he fell to eleventh at the end of the season after a 4-11 record in 25 games. He had a 5.44 ERA, a WHIP of 1.48, allowed opposing hitters to compile a .285 average, and saw a decline in his strikeout rate and an increase in his walk rate.
Despite the rough year, the Indians will hope that he can rebound and use a mid-90’s fastball, part of a four-pitch arsenal, to get back on track.
Another right-hander, Shawn Armstrong, may be one of the next of the young relievers to join Terry Francona’s bullpen bunch in 2015.
The 24-year-old Armstrong has been on the fast track to some degree, flying through three levels in the 2012 season after appearing in just two innings of one game at Mahoning Valley in 2011 after his selection in the 18th round of that year’s draft.
He worked a combined 45 games in 2012 with Lake County, Carolina, and Akron, earning a 2-3 record and posting a 1.60 ERA with four saves. He struck out 78 batters in 67 2/3 innings and allowed opposing hitters to bat just .191 against him. His ERA jumped in a full season of work in Double-A the next season, as opposing hitters batted .252 against him on the way to a 4.09 ERA, but he still maintained a nice rate of strikeouts, erasing 43 batters in such a way in 33 innings.
He made his Columbus debut late last season and had a 5.40 ERA in five games. He was 6-2 with 15 saves with the RubberDucks while posting a 2.12 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in Akron earlier in the season.
Armstrong is a two-time mid-season All-Star at the minor league level.
In his fourth season with the Indians organization, Ryan Merritt may have fully arrived on the scene.
The 22-year-old left-handed starter handled the Carolina League with ease while playing for the Mudcats in 2014, finishing the season with a 13-3 record and 2.58 ERA in 25 starts. He worked 160 1/3 innings, struck out 127 batters while walking just 25, and kept runners off base. His 0.95 WHIP and .216 batting average against were both the lowest of his brief career.
For Merritt, it was really just his second full season of work with the Indians’ farm system after appearing in just four games in the Arizona Rookie League following his draft pick selection in 2011 and just 14 games of work with Mahoning Valley in 2012. He played 24 games with Lake County in 2013 and another pair at Carolina before getting a full season of work with the Mudcats in 2014.
Merritt is a commodity the Indians have little of in their farm system – a quality left-handed pitching prospect.
With the addition of these five young men, the Indians 40-man roster is now full at 40 players, meaning that barring other roster moves prior to the Winter Meetings, the club will be unable to select a player in the Rule 5 draft next month.
Photo: Kyle Robertson/Columbus Dispatch
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This isn’t a particularly encouraging piece. Is there someone we’re forgetting?
It is easy to suggest that the ‘farm system” holds some prospects, but who are they? If there aren’t any, what then!