While there was some worry that the Indians could lose a major name in the rule five draft this year, the bigger prospects survived the 18 picks in this year’s MLB phase. However, the Indians did lose one player, relief pitcher Jordan Milbrath to the Pirates with the 8th overall selection. The Indians did not take a player in the MLB phase.
Milbrath has been with the Indians since being taken in the 2013 draft out of Augustana College, but had not yet reached AAA. He split the 2017 season between Lynchburg and Akron, but didn’t particularly stand out with a 3.90 ERA and 9 H/9 in 30 AA innings. A leap straight to the majors may be a bit much for Milbrath, but his increasing K rate over the last two seasons made him worth the risk for Pittsburgh. After not having a K/9 above 9.0, he hit 9.4 between Lynchburg and Akron in 2016, then 10.0 this year with the same two clubs.
For the Indians, this can’t seem much of a loss. Already 25 years old, Milbrath was striking out hitters considerably younger than himself and they have a large selection of future relievers available ahead of him including Cameron Hill, Leandro Linares and Louis Head, all of whom were also available to claim in the rule 5 draft.
While the Indians sat out the first round, they did make a selection in the AAA phase of the rule 5 draft, snaring R.C. Orlan from Washington. Orlan is in a similar situation to Milbrath as a 26 year old who hit AA for the first time in 2017 and struggled some while pitching there. Orlan has the benefit of being left handed and he has always been a high K rate pitcher with a 9.3 career mark including a mark above 10.0 in both 2014 and 2015.
Orlan has extreme right/left splits (.169/.266/.265 vs LHH, .275/.326/.542 vs RHH) yet was used more against right handers than left handers in 2017. This could be a positive sign for the Tribe who may be planning on using him in a more traditional LOOGY fashion.
Also in the AAA phase of the rule 5 draft, the Indians lost two low level player while another very recent Indian was taken as well. First, Martin Cervenka who left the team as a minor league free agent earlier this off-season and signed with San Francisco was taken by Baltimore. Cervenka spent 2017 with Lynchburg and has yet to really stand out offensively, but he does have a claim to fame as being from the Czech Republic. No player born in the Czech Republic has ever made it to the majors and no player born in the region (formerly Czechoslovakia) since Carl Linhart in 1952.
As for the current Indians taken in the AAA phase, Junior Soto went to New York and Ivan Castillo to Toronto. Castillo has played mostly at short stop in his Indians career, but has been used of late as an organizational utility man, playing second and third base and filling in at whatever level needed him most at the time. This included a couple games in AAA last year and games in Lynchburg for three straight seasons. He finally reached AA for a more permanent stay in 2017, but didn’t see much success at the plate. In fact, he has never had much success at the plate with his value coming from his baserunning, versatility and defense. In the end, the Indians may be better off without Castillo, however, as they have quite a few middle infielders already slated for AA and AAA next year including Eric Stamets, Yu-Cheng Chang, Willi Castro, Tyler Krieger and Mark Mathias.
Soto has a higher ceiling than Castillo, but has enough flaws in his game to make him expendable. Having seen him for multiple years in Arizona, it was always apparent that he had huge power potential and it first appeared in Lake County this year where he hit nine home runs. He also is a fine left fielder with a strong arm, although looks out of place when used in center. His biggest problem, however, is his strike zone. The lanky outfielder struck out 61 times last year to just 6 walks, a continuation of similar rates the two previous seasons in Arizona.
While Soto does have that power potential, he has a similar profile, but lower ceiling, to Oscar Gonzalez and Will Benson. As the lesser talent of the trio of outfielders, the Indians could afford to move on early from Soto and focus on those with the higher ceilings.
There wasn’t a lot of movement in the rule 5 draft this year for the Indians, but in general it has to be seen as positive. Milbrath was likely going to be an afterthought in Cleveland, but now has a chance to make the MLB club with Pittsburgh. At the same time, a change of scenery and possibly usage could be good for Orlan. Finally, Castillo was buried in the depth chart among short stops in Cleveland to the point where he likely would have been cut by the end of next season. Now, he has new life in a new organization. While nowhere near as advanced as Castillo, Soto will also get to move beyond what he has done so far and prove himself to a new organization. By bringing in new blood and giving these other players another chance with a new organization, this really is a positive for everyone involved.