Aug 27, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher T.J. McFarland (66) pitches during the fifth inning Tampa Bay Rays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Tampa Bay Rays defeated Baltimore Orioles 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Today, November 20th, is the deadline for teams to add players to their 40-man roster and protect them from this December’s Rule 5 Draft. Most years the draft comes and goes without much fanfare as very rarely do the Indians ever lose a player that isn’t returned. It has happened a couple times most notably when the Orioles took T.J. McFarland. The Indians roster is currently at 35 members meaning they could add up to five players without having to create move by cutting or trading anyone. This does not mean the Indians will necessarily add five players though. Listed below are some of the players that could be added by day’s end, broken out into categories based on their likelihood of being added. The near certainties, or players that would be huge surprises if left off the roster; the on the fence players, or players that have around a 50-50 shot at being added; and the longshots, or players that would be shocks if they were added.
The Near Certainties
Giovanny Urshela – 3B (24 games, 5 HR, 19 RBI, .300/.347/.567, 147 wRC+ at AA; 104 games, 13 HR, 65 RBI, .276/.331/.473, 120 wRC+ at AAA)
A week ago Urshela seemed like a lock to be added to the Indians 40-man roster. Unfortunately for Urshela and the Indians his 2015 season is in some doubt due to a knee injury he suffered while playing winter ball. Early reports are it could be a PCL tear, which could sideline him for six months. A big blow to a guy that figured to have a real shot at making the big league club out of spring training thanks to his plus defense at 3B.
Even with this injury though there would appear to be a very good chance of him being rostered before the deadline. Urshela is Rule 5 draft eligible again this year and while he was passed over last year, hoping for a repeat may be too optimistic. 3B is not the deepest position in the big leagues right now and with the lack of offense in the game defense is valued more now than it probably has been in a while. Also, if Urshela is going to miss 3-4 months of the big league season it would allow the team taking him to hide him on the 60-day DL for the first half of the year. Prediction: Rostered
Shawn Armstrong – RHRP (6-2, 15 saves, 44 games, 51 IP, 2.12 ERA, 2.63 FIP at AA)
Armstrong was virtually lights out at AA Akron this season, holding opponents to just a .209 batting average while striking out nearly a third of the batters he faced. He got a taste of AAA as well though only 5 innings of work. Bullpen arms, especially those that can rack of the K’s, are some of the most sought after commodities in the Rule 5 draft these days. Prediction: Rostered
Cody Anderson – RHSP (4-11, 25 starts, 125.2 IP, 5.44 ERA, 4.99 FIP at AA)
Baseball America recently named Cody Anderson the Indians’ 10th best prospect for the 2015 season. While his 2014 season was a major disappointment following his stellar showing at High-A Carolina in 2013 (2.34 ERA, 3.04 FIP), he is still one of the best arms in the Tribe system (ranked 2nd best SP prospect by Baseball America). While Anderson likely opens in AA again he should see time in AAA at some point in 2015 and a team desperate for pitching could stash him as a 5th starter/long-man in the bullpen on their big league club. He may not have TOR potential but solid mid-to-back of the rotation guy, similar to where House was a couple years ago when he was rostered (though House had a much better year before being rostered). Prediction: Rostered
On the Fence
Ryan Merritt – LHSP (13-3, 25 starts, 160.1 IP, 2.58 ERA, 3.47 FIP at High-A)
Merritt had a one of the best 2014 seasons of any Tribe farmhand. The lefty averaged a little over 6 IP per start for the Carolina Mudcats. His strikeout rate improved from 2013, up to 20.1% and his walk rate remained extremely low at just 4%. Not an overpowering pitcher but one that was effective thanks to pinpoint control. Holding Merritt back is the fact that he has yet to throw a pitch above A-ball. While this hasn’t stopped the Indians in the past, Merritt’s ceiling may be lacking. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff that teams look for in the Rule 5 draft. However, he is a lefty and perhaps a team desperate enough for pitching and willing to live with some major growing pains could take a chance on him. Prediction: Not Rostered (one of the toughest predictions for me)
Will Roberts – RHSP (12-12, 27 starts, 161 IP, 4.08 ERA, 3.99 FIP at AA Akron)
Roberts is an interesting option for rostering. He is a very big kid but that hasn’t translated to good strikeout numbers. He counters that though with a very low walk rate. Could be a bigger bodied Josh Tomlin like starter. A guy that’s good to have around but isn’t going to be anything more than a #5. I truly question whether he could actually stick on a big league roster right now given his stuff doesn’t seem to be a great fit in a bullpen. However, some team could see him as a potential swing man/starter. Prediction: Not rostered
Giovanni Soto – LHRP (0-2, 1 save, 37 games, 53 IP, 3.23 ERA, 2.73 FIP at AA)
Soto was originally acquired for Jhonny Peralta when the Indians traded him to the Tigers. Soto has had some good years with the Tribe organization and even threw a no-hitter for the Aeros back in 2012. Unfortunately, 2013 was a lost year for the lefty due to injury or else he may have already been rostered and have made his major league debut. Viewed as a reliever now, he could find his way to the big league roster despite the presence of Marc Rzepczynski, Kyle Crockett, and Nick Hagadone already there. Soto’s fate may also be tied to that of fellow lefties Scott Barnes (who is out of options) and Nick Maronde. Indians already have five left-handed relievers on the roster, do they have room for six? Prediction: Not rostered unless Barnes is designated for assignment (yes I’m cheating a bit here)
Tony Wolters – C (94 games, 1 HR, 34 RBI, .249/.319/.314, 78 wRC+ at AA, 15 games, 0 HR, 8 RBI, .255/.333/.309, 82 wRC+ in AFL)
Originally a middle infield prospect, Wolters made the move behind the plate a couple years ago, which has only added to an area of strength in the Tribe farm system. Wolters has taken well to the position and given his versatility to play the middle infield positions could be a realistic Rule 5 draft pick for teams looking for a super-utility player, despite his bat leaving much to be desired. Prediction: Rostered
Joseph Colon – RHSP (8-7, 25 starts, 138 IP, 3.39 ERA, 4.04 FIP at AA)
Colon has been eligible before but after a solid showing at AA, this if the first time any serious thought is likely to be given to rostering him. Despite the good numbers, some negatives were a very lackluster K-rate (just 16.6%). Outside of a two game stint with Lake County in 2013 Colon’s K-rate has never reached 20%. His ceiling just doesn’t appear to be there and in the age of power bullpen arms he doesn’t appear to be a guy teams would target to transition to a big league bullpen role in 2015. Another safe bet to be left off the roster. Prediction: Not rostered
While I won’t say it’s impossible that any of these players get rostered or taken in the Rule 5 Draft if left unprotected, none seem likely at all. Sturdevant had a very good year but is also 28 years old already. Gallas has hit wherever he’s played but has also been old for the levels in which he’s played. Smith, Myles, and Washington all profile as 4th outfielders right now and none have the power a team would seek or the elite speed. Needless to say I’d be very shocked if any of these players were protected. Prediction: None are Rostered
While the Indians have five open roster spots, I see the Indians only rostering four guys as things currently stand with the potential for a fifth if the Indians want to remove someone from the roster. Only adding four gives the Indians more flexibility to add a player down the line to the big league club via free agency or trade. For me this is a pretty weak Rule 5 class the Indians have. Truly no one is a “must add” other than maybe Urshela and given his injury even he may not be a lock. Still some very intriguing players on this list and some solid talent that the Indians should hope to keep around.