Indians Protect Five Players From Rule 5 Draft
In advance of the annual Rule 5 Draft on December 12 at the Winter Meetings, MLB teams had a deadline of midnight on Wednesday to add eligible minor leaguers to their respective 40-man rosters. Any eligible player not added can be drafted by one of the other 29 teams for $50,000.
A drafted player must remain on his club’s major league roster for the entire season or else the drafting team is required to place him on waivers. If the player is unclaimed on waivers, the drafting team must offer him back to his original team for $25,000.
Although it’s uncommon to unearth a superstar from the Rule 5 Draft, past examples of draftees who have had success in the majors include Roberto Clemente, Johan Santana, Joakim Soria, and Dan Uggla, so there is at least the possibility of finding a big league regular in the draft.
This year, the Indians added 5 minor leaguers to their 40-man roster to protect from the Rule 5 Draft: first baseman Jesus Aguilar, relievers Bryan Price and Austin Adams, infielder Erik Gonzalez, and outfielder Carlos Moncrief. These five players are now ineligible to be drafted by another club. Katrina Putnam profiles which unprotected players the Indians could lose in the Rule 5 Draft.
To clear space on the 40-man roster, infielder Cord Phelps was designated for assignment. A third round pick of the Indians in 2008, Phelps hit .267/.333/.443 in 287 plate appearances for AAA Columbus in 2013.
To me, the least surprising addition to the 40-man roster is Jesus Aguilar (pictured). A powerful first baseman, the 23-year old Aguilar hit .275/.349/.427 for AA Akron (when they were still called the Aeros) in 2013, adding 16 home runs and 105 RBI. I thought that he would have been added last year, but the Indians chose not to protect him and he went undrafted.
Aguilar is currently tied for the lead in the Venezuelan Winter League with 10 home runs, ranks second with 31 RBI, and ranks seventh with a .945 OPS. There is debate over whether Aguilar can be a successful everyday player in the majors, but his bat at least makes him an intriguing option moving forward.
Speaking of intriguing hitters, Carlos Moncrief also seemed likely to find himself protected from the Rule 5 Draft.
A converted pitcher, Moncrief struggled initially after becoming a hitter in 2010. However, he had a great season in 2013, also for AA Akron. He hit .284/.354/.470 for the Aeros in 2013, also chipping in 17 long balls and 75 runs batted in. Moncrief also swiped 15 bases, so there is a lot to be intrigued by with him. He recently turned 25 and might not be a star in the major leagues, but he has shown drastic improvement on offense and offers a lot of potential.
Another converted player is Austin Adams, who was originally drafted as a shortstop by the Brewers in the 27th round of the 2008 draft. After the Brewers failed to sign him, the Indians drafted him in the 5th round the following year. Due to an injury history (including shoulder surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2012 season), the right-handed Adams is strictly a reliever now. However, he has settled into his new role, posting a 2.62 ERA in 55 relief innings for Akron in 2013.
Adams strikes out a lot of hitters (12.7 K/9 in 2013), and is typically good at limiting walks. Although he posted a walk rate of 4.7 BB/9 in 2013, the last thing to come back to a pitcher after surgery is usually control. His walk rates in his last two seasons have been a lot higher than in his previous four, but I don’t think it should be too big of a concern. Adams is 27, which slightly limits his upside, but as I recently wrote in a piece about the recently-acquired Colt Hynes, that isn’t as much of an issue with relievers as it is with other players. Adams has terrific stuff, and he’s an intriguing candidate to potentially fill one of the Tribe’s available bullpen spots in 2014.
The other pitcher added by the Indians is Bryan Price. Not to be confused with the new Reds manager of the same name, Price was a first round pick of the Red Sox in 2008. He was part of the Indians’ return from Boston for Victor Martinez, which also netted the Indians reliever Nick Hagadone and ace Justin Masterson.
Price used to be a starter, but his struggles there led the Indians to move him to the bullpen in 2010. He’s thrived in that role, most recently pitching to a 2.44 ERA in 59 innings for AAA Columbus after being promoted from Akron, where he posted a 0.56 ERA in 16 innings. Price is a terrific strikeout pitcher, but also has great control, as he racked up a total of 92 strikeouts while only walking 16 batters with Akron and Columbus in 2013. Price is also 27, but seems ready to have an impact on the Indians’ bullpen very soon, likely sometime this season.
The final player protected from the Rule 5 Draft by the Indians is infielder Erik Gonzalez. He is actually a bit of a wild card, as I really hadn’t heard much about him before the Indians added him to their 40-man roster. The move seems a bit puzzling at first, considering the Indians’ logjam of minor league infielders and the fact that Gonzalez hit only .254/.293/.417 between Class A Lake County and Class A+ Carolina. However, Gonzalez currently ranks second in the Dominican Winter League with a .351 average.
Our own Mitchell Below describes him as “a developing player worth keeping,” citing his steadily increasing power numbers, speed, and versatility (he has extensive experience at all four infield spots, and he has played the outfield before as well). I don’t think that the 22-year old Gonzalez would have been at risk of being drafted, but stranger things have happened and I agree with Below’s assessment. Besides, I didn’t agree with the Indians’ decision to add Danny Salazar to the 40-man roster a few years ago, but we all know how that has turned out so far. I’ll trust the Indians on this one.
I feel that the Indians made sure to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft who can help them in 2014, especially Adams and Price. Aguilar and Moncrief might be a year or so away from impacting the majors, but they both possess a lot of upside and could be promoted during roster expansion in September. Gonzalez is certainly a wild card, but there is a lot to like about him and I trust that the Indians have a lot more knowledge of their players than a sophomore in high school who can’t grow facial hair. (That would be yours truly, for those of you who don’t know.)
These five players are all worth keeping an eye on in the future. So do your homework, Indians fans. Maybe one of these five guys will be a major league regular someday.