While the Indians haven’t made any big additions this off-season (beyond returning Michael Martinez), they were busy around the rule five eligibility deadline in November, adding four players to the 40 man roster from the farm system to protect them from rule five selection. The players who joined Eric Haase, who had been added previously to avoid his pending MiLB free agency were Yu-Cheng Chang, Eric Stamets, Willi Castro and Julian Merryweather.
In whole, these adds make sense. Because a rule five selection has to stay with the MLB team for the entire season or be offered back to their original franchise, the easiest players to take are relief pitchers, then utility infielders and other bench options. While currently a starter, it would be easy for a team to store Merryweather as a reliever for a year while continuing his progression as a potential MLB starting pitcher. The other three players, beyond Haase, are all primarily short stops, but all have played extensively at least one other position. As for Haase, he needed to be added to avoid free agency (the Indians will likely lose more than 20 other players through that process and only Haase was protected), but he could potentially have stuck as a back up catcher, especially for a team that could potentially carry three.
Now that we know who the Indians can’t lose, it should be noted that the Indians will not be participating in the draft this year as their roster already stands at 40. This is a little disappointing as former Indians farm hand J.P. Feyereisen has been left exposed by the Yankees (among other talented minor leaguers), but the Indians feel they are better off protecting Shawn Armstrong and Rob Refsnyder and they may very well be right.
This leaves the players who are left unprotected by Cleveland and it is a extensive list. According to Todd Paquette (@IndiansPro), there are 35 rule 5 eligible players currently within the Cleveland system, however most are likely extremely safe. Players like Kieran Lovegrove, Michael Peoples, Mitch Brown, Emmanuel Tapia and Ivan Castillo who have either not reached the upper levels or have played poorly there. With that, much of the list can be safely ignored, at least until next year when many of these players will become MiLB free agents and all will be eligible for the rule 5 draft again.
Last year, 12 of the 18 players taken in the rule five draft were pitchers with the others being two short stops, two outfielders and two catchers. Both catchers were taken by Cincinnati and only one stuck as they obviously went into the draft with a different goal in mind than most teams. Looking at this year, the Indians don’t have many position players that could fit into the utility man role that most teams are trying to fill in the draft.
One player who could fit, however, is Richie Shaffer. The outfielder was claimed off waivers last season and cleared waivers to stay with the Indians in Columbus for the entire 2017 season. He can play both outfield, third and first base, making him versatile enough to hang on the bench. He also hit 30 home runs last year in AAA, something that could stick out if teams ignore the fact that he had a .535 slugging percent at home and .396 on the road. He has had a few shots in the majors without great success, but given his profile, he could be a great fit on an NL team as a pinch hitter. In particular, the Rockies (who have only 37 players on their 40 man) could use someone who can simply blast when the hitting situation is favorable.
The only other player who some may fear losing is Nellie Rodriguez, but chances are he’ll be safe for another season. Coming into 2017, Rodriguez seemed like one of the Indians premier power prospects, but he struggled greatly in Columbus, with his power numbers dropping, unlike his teammates Shaffer and Stamets. As a first baseman only, he doesn’t hold much value as a bench player and is unlikely to be chosen. In fact, with Bobby Bradley expecting to his AAA next year, he’s much more likely to be lost simply by being released than by another team taking him in the draft.
The majority of players both eligible for the draft for the Indians are relievers, but they may have caught a break in that many had a rough season in 2017. Those most likely to be taken are left hander David Speer and right handers Cameron Hill, Leandro Linares, Argenis Angulo and Louis Head. Of these, Head is the most advanced, but the Indians have had multiple openings to either add him to the 40 man or even promote him to the big leagues and Cleveland has continued to pass him by. Linares and Angulo both have great upside, but are at least a full season away from being truly MLB ready and will likely be safe for another year from rule five selection.
More likely than any of the pure relievers, the Indians could lose a current starter who could be converted into a reliever. I’ve already written about how Shao-Ching Chiang may be converted by the Indians into a relief role with a similar form to Dan Otero on the current squad and another team could see this potential despite having yet to play above AA. Similarly, Sean Brady isn’t a K-master either, but has great control and could be hidden as a long reliever in most Major League bullpens.
The final player who could potentially be selected has both the biggest argument for being taken and the biggest argument for being avoided. Rob Kaminsky pitched all of five innings in 2017 before going down with a shoulder injury that cost him the rest of the season. There is almost nothing known outside the organization about Kaminsky’s injury and whether or not he’ll even be able to pitch in 2018, but this could be a bonus for a team selecting him. Much like Anthony Santander, who was taken by the Orioles in the 2016 rule five draft, a team could potentially select Kaminsky, store him on the DL for the first half of the season, then bring him up after rehabbing him in the minors. That makes him a safe selection with a potentially high ceiling despite his high level of risk.
One thing is for sure, the Indians will not lose a top 10 prospect in the 2017 rule five draft like they did last year. Based on BurningRiverBaseball’s top 50 prospect rankings, the top prospect that is eligible and hasn’t been protected is Mike Papi at #20, then Chiang at #22. In the end, with most teams more concerned about protecting their prospects rather than poaching those of other teams, the Indians will very possibly avoid losing anyone this year and, if they do, it shouldn’t hurt the franchise greatly.