Looking Back on the Indians and the 2016 Rule 5 Draft

It looked as though the Cleveland Indians would be quiet during the Major League portion of the Rule 5 draft on Thursday in the final activity from the annual Winter Meetings, but the club traded reliever Shawn Armstrong to the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday afternoon for international bonus pool money, opening up one spot on the team’s 40-man roster. With a spot now available, the Indians could grab an unprotected player from one of the other 29 clubs.

Last December, the Indians did try to steal away a potential candidate for their 2017 roster when they selected left-handed minor leaguer Hoby Milner from the Philadelphia Phillies organization with the 27th pick (15th overall).

At the time, the Indians had only one southpaw in the big league bullpen – Andrew Miller. Kyle Crockett had put in some time with the club for a third straight season, but he was not thought to be a viable option for the team in 2017 and would appear in just four games for the Tribe over the course of the year. The Indians had some options in the minors, including the unproven Tyler Olson and a pair of left-handed starters, Ryan Merritt and Shawn Morimando, but none had the track record to be able to be relied upon at the start of the season, especially the latter two, who were needed as depth starters on the farm.

Milner had reached the Triple-A level for the first time in his career in 2016, but his best numbers came at Double-A Reading, where he earned a 1.84 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. His strikeout rate with the Phillies’ top farm club at Lehigh Valley (12.8) gave the Indians some hopes that he could sneak his way into their bullpen.

However, before that could happen, the Indians tapped into the free agent market, signing veteran lefty Boone Logan to a one-year contract with an option for a second season. With the experienced hurler in tow, Milner’s chances of sticking with the Indians by the end of spring became fleeting, especially after a poor showing in camp when he posted a 9.00 ERA over seven innings of seven outings.

Milner was returned to the Phillies on March 24. He did find his way to the Majors with Philadelphia as the year progressed, but that was far more possible on a young, rebuilding Phillies team that could afford to take a flyer on an unknown commodity. He was added to the team’s roster on June 24 and appeared in 37 games, failing to factor in a decision with a 2.01 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP in his half-season of action.

Santander - Greg Fiume/Getty Images
Santander – Greg Fiume/Getty Images

One of the bigger surprises for the Indians out of the Rule 5 draft last year was the loss of young Anthony Santander to the Baltimore Orioles. The switch-hitting outfielder, just 22 at the tiem of his selection, had never played above the High-A level for the Indians organization after signing with the club as an amateur free agent on July 2, 2011. Injuries had been the primary issue for the prospect, as he had never appeared in more than 72 games in a minor league season for the Tribe until a breakout season with Lynchburg in 2016. That year, he took the field 128 times, slashing .290/.368/.494 with 42 doubles, 20 homers, and 95 RBI.

Injuries kept him out of the Orioles lineup and on the 60-day disabled list until August 18. Upon his return, he made his way into 13 games, hitting .267 in 31 plate appearances. The O’s reportedly have no interest in returning him to Cleveland and the Indians would likely take him back instead of working out a trade for the outfielder, leaving Baltimore likely to stash him on their bench until completing the requirements of his Rule 5 selection.

The Indians also took a hit to their pitching depth on the farm during the minor league phases of the draft, as Trevor Frank (San Diego) and Jon Fitzsimmons (Arizona) were taken early in the first round of the Triple-A portion of the draft and relievers Grant Sides (Arizona) and Nick Maronde (Miami) went in the second round.

Frank spent the bulk of a third straight season at the High-A level, going 4-4 with a 4.23 ERA for Lake Elsinore. He did make a pair of appearances for the Padres’ Triple-A El Paso club as well.

Fitzsimmons did not last long with the Diamondbacks, cut near the end of spring training, and instead he started his 2017 season with the Double-A Mobile affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels. He spent eleven games there before moving back to High-A Inland Empire and was later given his release. He returned to his native Canada and pitched in the Canadian-American Association for Quebec, going 1-0 with a 0.96 ERA in eight relief appearances.

Sides did remain with the Diamondbacks organization, starting the year at Double-A Jackson and making six appearances there before a promotion to Triple-A Reno. He allowed six runs in two innings and later found himself pitching in independent ball, working in five games for York of the Atlantic League before making 45 appearances for Kansas City of the American Association.

Maronde was the only one of the four minor leaguers selected with prior big league experience, having worked in 33 games for the Angels between 2012 and 2014. It did not matter, however, as he did not appear in a game for the Marlins organization in 2017 despite being one of the club’s nine non-roster invitees to spring training. Instead, he worked as a baseball instructor, a managing member of BT Stables, LLC, and, in November, he co-founded Superfecta Realty, LLC.

Photo: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

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