Friday afternoon, the Cleveland Indians set their 40-man roster in advance on the Rule 5 Draft. Earlier, BRB’s Justin Lada broke down how the Rule 5 Draft works, and laid out all the players that Cleveland might want to protect with a roster spot. Ultimately, Cleveland only opted to protect one of their top prospects, Francisco Mejia.
Widely regarded as a Top-100 prospect in all of baseball, it was a no-brainer for the Indians to make sure he couldn’t be picked up another team. Just 21 years old, Mejia famously carried a 50-game hitting streak between Low-A Lake Country and High-A Lynchburg last year, the longest in the minor leagues in 62 years. As if carrying the streak through a promotion wasn’t enough, Mejia also was the center-piece of the vetoed deal for All-Star catcher Jonathon Lucroy at the 2016 trade deadline.
Mejia only played 42 games at High-A, but he dominated there, slashing .333/.380/.488. While he may not start next year in Double-A Akron, pending injury or a sudden drop off in performance, Mejia will reach Akron in mid-2017. Now on the 40-man roster, Mejia will likely get his first taste of MLB action in late 2018 or early 2019.
However, the Indians addition of Mejia to their 40-man roster wasn’t their only move: they also added left-handed pitchers Tim Cooney and Edwin Escobar off of waivers from St. Louis and Arizona, respectively. To make room, Cleveland outrighted veteran catcher Chris Gimenez, who played in 68 games with Cleveland in 2016, slashing .216/.272/.331.
With the moves, it is clear Cleveland is taking their usual approach of casting a wide-net to improve their pitching staff. As things currently stand, the Indians only lefty starting pitcher is Ryan Merritt (who probably isn’t ready to be an MLB–starter), while their only lefty in the bullpen is Andrew Miller, so it isn’t a surprise that the Tribe is looking for more lefty options.
Both Cooney and Escobar are intriguing pickups for Cleveland. Cooney didn’t pitch last season for St.Louis due to shoulder-surgery, but was very good for six starts in 2016, posting a 3.58 FIP, along with an 8.3 K/9 and a 2.9 BB/9. Historically, the Indians are among the best at rehabbing pitchers, so picking up Cooney could pay huge dividends for Cleveland without any risk.
Escobar doesn’t have a solid MLB track record like Cooney, but he is a former Top-100 prospect who was known to be a strike-thrower with a solid fastball and changeup. He has dealt with injuries and struggled recently, putting up a 5.92 FIP in AAA in 2015 and a 5.94 FIP in 23.2 innings with the Diamondbacks in 2016. Still, perhaps if Escobar is healthy, a change of scenery and new coaches could help him return to form.
Unfortunately, the Indians roster moves from Friday were very typical. Aside from protecting arguably their top prospect in Mejia and making their usual low-risk, high-reward moves, Cleveland continued to hold on to obscure 40-man players like Austin Adams, Michael Martinez, and Jesus Aguilar instead of protecting younger prospects like Anthony Santander, Nellie Rodriguez, and Luis Lugo. Last year, they lost Catcher Tony Wolters to the Rockies, in a year where they could have used him. Hopefully this year, the Tribe doesn’t lose out on other quality prospects in favor of holding on to players with no upside.