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11/17/09 5:29 PM EST
Indians have roster calls to make
40-man promotions protect prospects from Rule 5 Draft
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- While the Indians aren't expected to go outside the organization to make any significant additions to their roster this winter, they do have some significant in-house additions coming later this week. Friday is the last day teams can protect their Rule 5-eligible Minor Leaguers from being exposed in the Rule 5 Draft, which takes place Dec. 10 at the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis. And the Indians have no shortage of candidates to consider for such protection. As of Tuesday, the Tribe had seven spots open on its 40-man. By week's end, free agents Jamey Carroll and Tomo Ohka will both officially be cleared from the roster. Conversely, right-handers Jake Westbrook and Anthony Reyes, both of whom are on the 60-day disabled list following Tommy John surgery, will have to be reinstated to the 40-man. It is possible that the Indians would choose to designate Reyes for assignment, because he is not expected to pitch competitively until the middle of the 2010 season, at the earliest. That would free up an eighth spot for the Indians to protect somebody else. While nothing is official until it's official, it's believed the Indians have already decided who to protect and who to expose. But that information likely won't be revealed by the club until just before the deadline. So, for now, there are quite a few guys in the Indians' system patiently and eagerly awaiting the news on their fate. Of the 44 names on the list of Rule 5-eligibles, Jordan Brown's certainly stands out. Brown, as many Tribe fans will remember, was not called up to the Indians in September, despite capturing the International League batting title with Triple-A Columbus. The Indians claimed they didn't have enough meaningful at-bats to offer Brown, and it was generally assumed that his growing pains on the defensive end at first base and left field held him back. But Brown is a lock to be protected this week. The Indians simply can't afford to just give away his bat to another club in the Rule 5. They currently have Brown playing full-time in left field in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he was batting .330 with three homers, five doubles, three triples and 20 RBIs in 29 games. The Tribe's outfield and first-base picture at the big league level remains crowded due to the acquisition and ascension of Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta. But Brown will remain with the organization and try to fight his way into the mix. Another lock to be protected on the position player side is outfielder Nick Weglarz. His Arizona Fall League stint was cut short recently when a lingering stress fracture in his left shin continued to bother him, forcing surgery. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Weglarz, who batted .227 with an .808 OPS at Double-A Akron this season, should be fully recovered by the start of Spring Training. Jason Donald is also a lock. The Indians acquired the middle infielder as part of the trade that sent Cliff Lee to the Phillies. And while Donald's progress was hampered by a back injury that cut his season short at Columbus, he could still compete to be a part of the Indians' middle infield out of Spring Training or in the first half. On the pitching side, it's a safe bet that right-hander Jeanmar Gomez will be protected. He was, after all, the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year at Akron this season, going 10-4 with a 3.43 ERA in 22 starts, including a perfect game in May. From there, it's a guessing game as to who will get added to the 40-man roster. One name to watch this week is that of left-hander Kelvin De La Cruz. Yes, he missed the vast majority of the season with an elbow issue. And yes, he hasn't pitched a game above the high-A level at Kinston. But the 6-foot-5 De La Cruz has wicked stuff, including a fastball in the upper 90s, and he's exactly the type of guy a desperate Major League club might take a chance on in the Rule 5. The Indians have De La Cruz, who is fully recovered from the elbow ligament strain, pitching for their Dominican parallel league team to build up his innings. Right-hander Carlton Smith is another intriguing candidate for protection. The younger brother of Corey Smith (the Tribe's ill-fated first-round pick in the 2000 Draft) is a sinkerball-throwing reliever who went 6-2 with a 2.72 ERA in 37 appearances at Akron this season. Left-hander Chuck Lofgren put his name back on the radar with a strong showing at Akron in '09 (3-1, 1.48 ERA in eight starts), but his rough transition to Triple-A (6-10, 5.31 in 17 starts) doesn't help his cause. Right-hander Yohan Pino was an interesting addition to the organization in the Carl Pavano trade with the Twins. While his fastball velocity leaves a bit to be desired, Pino has a cutter, slider and changeup, and he went 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in two starts for Columbus after the trade. Other pitchers on the bubble include right-handers Josh Tomlin, Steven Wright, Frank Herrmann, Neil Wagner, Erik Stiller and Paolo Espino and left-hander Ryan Edell. Back on the position-player side, the Indians are impressed with what shortstop Carlos Rivero is doing against Arizona Fall League pitching. Through 20 games, Rivero was batting .325 with a .902 OPS. He's 20 years old with projectable power, and he might be in line for a promotion to the 40-man. Third baseman Wes Hodges, on the other hand, saw his stock take a dip this season as he battled shoulder fatigue and a wrist injury at Columbus and never got fully on track. Still, a healthy Hodges was a tremendous run-producer at Kinston in '07 and Akron in '08, and the Indians have to keep that in mind. Matt McBride was a highly regarded catching prospect when he was drafted 75th overall in 2006, but shoulder fatigue necessitated a move to first base and the outfield, and he lost at-bats to the likes of Weglarz and Beau Mills (who, for the record, is not yet a Rule 5 candidate). McBride, therefore, might be exposed. Other position players on the bubble include shortstop Josh Rodriguez, who missed most of '09 at Akron because of injury, and outfielder Jose Constanza. In addition to the names mentioned above, the Indians have 24 other players eligible for the Rule 5, but they are less likely to be protected.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.