Cleveland Indians 2016 Rule 5 Draft and Roster Decisions

Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Indians have decisions to make regarding the 40-man roster before the deadline passes, making players eligible for the 2016 Rule 5 Draft.

Today is the deadline for teams to add players to their 40-man roster to protect them from the 2016 Rule 5 Draft. The Cleveland Indians will have until 8 p.m. to finalize their roster and, like many teams, have some big time prospects that need to be added or risk being lost in the Rule 5 Draft later this offseason.

Last season, the Indians added five players to the roster, including Rookie of the Year Finalist Tyler Naquin and pitcher Mike Clevinger.

The Cleveland Indians’ 40-man roster currently stands at 38; however, two of those roster spots are held by Michael Martinez and Chris Gimenez, who can easily be designated for assignment (Martinez was earlier this year by the Indians in fact). Last year the Indians also cut reliever C.C. Lee at this time to create an extra spot so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see someone like Jesus Aguilar and/or Austin Adams let go as well.

In any case, here’s a look at a few of the players the Indians could look to roster before tonight’s deadline.

The Near Certainties

Francisco Mejia – C (60 games, 7 HR, 51 RBI, .347/.384/.531, 165 wRC+ at A; 42 games, 4 HR, 29 RBI, .333/.380/.488, 140 wRC+ at A+)

Mejia was signed as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic back in 2012. He made his debut in 2013 and has been a hot name ever since. He’s an offensive-minded catcher who was in the national news this summer thanks to a 50-game hitting streak.

The 21-year-old switch-hitter can hit for average and power as he hit over .330 at both Class-A Lake County and Advanced-A Lynchburg this season while slugging 11 home runs at the two stops.

He was also recently named the top prospect in the Cleveland Indians’ system by Baseball America. He’s been named a top prospect in all of baseball by several publications over the last couple years as well. In addition to being a great offensive catcher, Mejia has proven to be a very solid defensive catcher as well. He threw out 43-percent of would-be base stealers at both levels this season.

Despite not seeing Double-A yet and likely starting the 2017 season back at Lynchburg, Mejia is a guy that is a virtual lock to be added today. Sure, he’s still got a lot to work on including his game calling, but the upside is way too high to even think about exposing him to the Rule 5 Draft. Never say never but it would be a major shock if Mejia wasn’t on the 40-man roster this season.

Prediction: Rostered

Mar 13, 2016; Surprise, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians first baseman Jesus Aguilar (36) hits an RBI single during the first inning against the Kansas City Royals at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Good Bets

Nellie Rodriguez – 1B (132 games, 26 HR, 85 RBI, .250/.352/.474, 129 wRC+ at AA)

Rodriguez was originally a 15th-round pick by the Cleveland Indians in 2012. The 22-year-old first baseman spent all of 2016 at Double-A Akron where he slugged a career-high 26 home runs, despite playing in pitcher-friendly Canal Park.

The big right-hander added 28 doubles and two triples, giving him 56 extra-base hits on the year, just one shy of his 2015 and 2014 totals (57 each year). Rodriguez is far from the best hitter in the Tribe system, but he’s been consistent if nothing else.

He showed enough in 2016 that if the Indians felt the need they could start him in Triple-A Columbus at the outset of the 2017 season, though a return trip to Akron isn’t out of the question either.

He is not the best defensive first baseman out there though he doesn’t embarrass himself. He does lack the ability to play any other position, which is why he falls in the “good bets” category and not the “near certainties” like Mejia. The Indians did choose to not roster Jesus Aguilar the first time he was Rule 5 Draft eligible and he was a similar profile player as Rodriguez.

However, Rodriguez has much quicker hands and the swing looks like it could play at the major league level more so than Aguilar’s. It would be a pretty big shock if Rodriguez wasn’t on the 40-man roster come this weekend.

Prediction: Rostered

Anthony Santander – OF (128 games, 20 HR, 95 RBI, .290/.368/.494, 137 wRC+ at A+)

Santander was originally signed by the Cleveland Indians as an amateur free agent back in July 2011 out of Venezuela. The 22-year-old switch-hitter spent the previous three seasons mostly at Class-A Lake County before a major breakout season in 2016 at Advanced-A Lynchburg vaulted him up prospect boards, making him a name Tribe fans should remember.

He built off his impressive, albeit short, 2015 season where he posted a .866 OPS in just 72 games between Lake County and Short-Season Mahoning Valley.

Always thought to have some raw power, Santander finally showed it off in greater detail in 2016 belting a career-high 20 home runs along with 42 doubles, which nearly doubled his previous career high of 22. Despite not playing above A-Ball, Santander appears a good bet to be rostered thanks to his upside with the bat.

He also has experience at both corner outfield spots and played nine games at first base in 2016. He is far from a defensive stalwart which could scare teams off but versatility and pop are things teams can crave this time of year. Santander could also start the year at Double-A Akron and a team really looking to rebuild could try to stash him on the bench all year.

Prediction: Rostered

Could Luis Lugo be the next Danny Salazar? Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

On the Fence

Luis Lugo – LHSP (8-5, 26 games, 26 starts, 136.0 IP, 4.04 ERA, 4.25 FIP at A+)

Signed out of Venezuela in 2011 as an amateur free agent, Lugo spent his second straight season at Advanced-A Lynchburg in 2016. The 22-year-old lefty stands 6-foot-5, and has the build to be a big league starter.

He set a career high in starts and lowered his ERA for the second straight season. However, his strikeout rate also dropped for the second straight season. After posting an outstanding 27.1-percent strikeout rate in 2014, Lugo struck out just 19.8-percent in 2016, which was down from his 21.7-percent in 2015. He did lower his walk rate ever so slightly this season but still walked just over nine percent of hitters.

Lugo was a fringe top-30 prospect in the Indians system heading into the 2016 season and nothing much has changed. His size and stuff will be enticing to teams but not pitching above A-ball despite reaching Advanced-A on opening day in 2015 is a bit of a red flag.

A team may think they could stash him in the bullpen and see if his stuff plays up there. Lugo is one of the tougher decisions the Indians have today. He’s still a couple years away if left as a starter but perhaps he puts everything together in the bullpen and gets to the big leagues much quicker.

The Indians have added some surprise pitchers over the years with Danny Salazar and Dylan Baker coming to mind. Smart money is probably on the Indians leaving Lugo off the roster though without a lot of options this year they could feel a spot is warranted. A “coin-flip” decision for me here…

Prediction: Rostered

Jeremy Lucas – C/1B (95 games, 12 HR, 48 RBI, .252/.346/.420, 118 wRC+ at AA; 4 games, 0 HR, 0 RBI, .250/.250/313, 55 wRC+ at AAA)

Lucas was originally a 12th-round pick by the Cleveland Indians in the 2012 draft. The 25-year-old right-hander was Rule 5 Draft eligible last year but was not rostered. He’s an offensive-minded catcher who has some power (.173 ISO in 2016) but his real value comes from his plate discipline as he posted a walk rate over 11 percent for the third time in four professional seasons.

He’s not a guy you want behind the plate every day as he spent time at first base and designated hitter, but he did throw out 32-percent of would-be base stealers in 2016.

I wouldn’t expect Lucas to be taken as it would be hard to see him sticking with a big league team all year. However, catchers that can hit have value and the Indians saw first-hand last season how lack of depth behind the plate can hurt. The Indians never really replaced Tony Wolters on the roster and perhaps Lucas could fill that role as the third catcher on the roster.

Prediction: Not Rostered

Sep 10, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Perci Garner (66) delivers a pitch during the sixth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Minnesota Twins won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Longshots

Michael Peoples RHSP, Trevor FranksRHRP, Jake Lowery – C, Eric Haase – C, Sicnarf Loopstok – C, Ronny Rodriguez – UT,  Mitch Brown – RHSP, Jeff Johnson – RHRP, Josh Martin – RHRP

Last year, Perci Garner was on this list of “longshots” to make the roster. Although he was not rostered at the time, he eventually did find his way onto the Cleveland Indians’ big league roster and made his debut with the club after a solid 2016 season in the bullpen. I’d be a bit surprised if any of these players made the roster today but all have a case to be made.

Peoples and Franks have appeared in the Arizona Fall League this year and have had success in the minors. Lowery, Haase, and Loopstok are catchers who could provide depth while Rodriguez is a utility man that can play all over the diamond. Brown is a former second-round pick who has struggled as a starter but could possibly be used as a reliever. Johnson was a guy who many thought would be rostered last year but wasn’t while Martin was taken by the San Diego Padres in the Rule 5 Draft last year but returned to the Indians.

Prediction: None Rostered

Conclusion

Unlike some years where there are several prospects that jump out as “must adds,” this year there is really just the one player that the Indians need to add and that’s Francisco Mejia. Nellie Rodriguez and Anthony Santander are both impressive players and while I expect both to be added it wouldn’t be a monumental shock for either to be added.

One reason this year seems weaker is that one of the better Rule 5 Draft eligible players was already added to the roster in Adam Plutko. Plutko was added late in the regular season to give the Tribe depth and thus was not on this list. Similarly, relievers like Garner and Joseph Colon have added depth to the point where some of the relievers could find it hard to crack the roster.

While I could see the Indians losing a player like they did last year, I also wouldn’t expect anyone lost to be a major loss for the organization. I don’t see a Hector Rondon in here though one never knows.

So who do you think the Cleveland Indians should add before the Rule 5 Draft? Did I miss someone?  What players (if any) do you think should be removed?  Let us know in the comments section below.

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