Indians Could Lose Valuable Prospects in Rule 5 Draft


Rule 5 Draft Could Hurt Indians

Wednesday night was the deadline for teams to add minor league players to their 40-man rosters in order to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft. The prospects who make the cut receive a lot of attention, but sometimes the moves that aren’t made have just as big of an impact.

After designating infielder Cord Phelps for assignment to clear room on the roster, the Indians chose to protect five minor leaguers with their remaining spots:

Feb 22, 2013; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians catcher

Carlos Santana

(41) talks to starting pitcher

Giovanni Soto

(76) during the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Chaney took an in-depth look at those prospects and the impact that they might have on the Tribe, but what about the other eligible players?

The way the Rule 5 Draft works is fairly simple. Unless they are added to the 40-man roster, players who signed with the team at age 18 are eligible after five seasons, and those who signed at age 19 and or older are eligible after four. Those who are left unprotected can be selected by a different team during December’s Rule 5 Draft, for a fee of $50,000.

It’s a low-risk situation for teams with open roster spots. The only catch is that the player must stay on the 25-man roster for the entire season, or be offered back to his original team for $25,000.

For example, the Indians selected Chris McGuiness of the Texas Rangers in last year’s Rule 5 Draft. Despite an impressive spring training, they couldn’t find a spot for the young prospect on their major-league roster, and McGuiness was returned to his former team. In contrast, the Indians lost both T.J. McFarland and Hector Rondon last season after they were drafted and kept on their respective teams’ 25-man rosters all season.

The players who are drafted aren’t always well-rounded minor-leaguers. A team could be attracted to someone’s defense or ability to steal bases, ignoring their struggles at the plate, if they think that the player will grow into the rest of their skills. McFarland and Rondon were both starters in Cleveland’s minor league system but were used as relievers last year.

This year, the Indians had a number of Rule-5 eligible players throughout their farm system, and while the majority of them will be safe, three players in particular stand out as unusual candidates to leave unprotected. Although there are only so many spots available on the roster, there are a few types of players who always seem to attract consideration during the draft and could be at risk this December. 

The Lefty Starter: Giovanni Soto
Losing Soto would diminish the Indians’ starting pitching depth even further, but he might make an interesting selection for a team in need of left-handed bullpen help. Soto, who pitched for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic last spring, only pitched 8.2 innings in Columbus before being sidelined in May. It can’t just be blamed on the WBC – Soto has had a history of injury trouble, and has only pitched more than 70 innings twice in his five-year career. When healthy, he’s managed to post a career ERA of 3.14, with 3.4 walks and 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings. Soto also garnered some attention for throwing a no-hitter while playing with Akron in 2012. Even with his length injury history, teams are likely to be interested in a left-hander who can pitch out of the bullpen for them. Rule 5 picks are allowed to spend time on the disabled list if necessary, as long as they spend 90 days on the active roster throughout the season, so his health might not be as much of a deterrent as it seems. 

The Future Gold-Glover: Giovanny Urshela
Urshela has been widely regarded as one of the best defensive third baseman in every league he has played in. However, his bat is nowhere near major-league ready. He spent his 2013 season in Akron, hitting .270/.292/.384 with 8 home runs. The disappointing season followed a 2012 campaign in Carolina where he hit .278/.309/.446 with 14 home runs. While he still needs time to improve at the plate, a rebuilding club like the Houston Astros might be willing to take a gamble on his future. If he can learn some plate discipline and continue to improve his power, he has the potential to become a major-league starter. At any rate, he might be worth a bench spot as a defensive replacement on a team with no better internal third base options.

The Speed Guy: LeVon Washington
Like Soto, Washington has been plagued by injuries for much of his professional career. Aside from four games with Carolina, the outfielder has yet to play above Lake County. When he is on the field, however, Washington has been more than impressive. He split time between Arizona and Lake County this season, hitting .348/.444/.552, with 16 stolen bases, 5 home runs and 26 extra-base hits. He’s certainly had his share of struggles, but the talent is there and another team might be willing to gamble $50,000 and a roster spot on his speed and potential. Even if lack of experience causes him to struggle at the major-league level, he could probably be a fit somewhere as a fourth outfielder next year.

Other notable names on the eligible list include catcher Alex Monsalve and first basemen Chun Chen, but neither player should attract serious interest from other teams.

Like all teams, the Indians are forced to leave good players unprotected every year. They just have to hope that those prospects’ flaws will be enough to keep other organizations away.