The 2016 Rule 5 Draft came and went just as fast as it got here, but it was a busy one and the Indians ended up losing five total players in the system and gaining one player.
In the Major League phase, the Indians selected left-handed reliever Hoby Milner from the Phillies and the Indians lost outfielder Anthony Santander to the Orioles. In the Triple-A phase the Indians lost a lot of players, losing right-handed reliever Trevor Frank (Padres), right-handed reliever Jon Fitzsimmons (Diamondbacks), right-handed reliever Grant Sides (Diamondbacks) and left-handed reliever Nick Maronde (Marlins).
Here are lots of thoughts and insight into all the players added and lost:
- Clubs paid $100,000 to select each player in the Major League phase, up from the $50,000 it used to be. Every player selected in the Major League phase must now spend the entire 2017 season on the 25-man active roster or disabled list or be offered back to their old clubs after passing through waivers. In the Triple-A phase, clubs paid $24,000 to select each player. All four of the players the Indians lost are gone for good as they are now 100% the property of their new clubs with no roster restrictions (Good luck to all of them!).
- The pickup of Milner is something I actually expected the Indians to look for in the Rule 5 Draft. I felt that if they did anything Rule 5-wise, it would be for a possible left-handed relief option. Everyone knows they are in search of a left-handed middle relief arm and will probably bring several options to spring training to sort through before settling on one for opening day. Kyle Crockett is probably going to just be a depth arm this year and Ryan Merritt will pitch in the rotation at Triple-A Columbus, so they will probably sign a lot of veterans to minor league deals with non-roster invites to Major League camp to see who sticks. Milner adds yet another option to the mix that should grow by another two or three arms as the offseason progresses.
- Milner is interesting. He is older at 25-years of age and has a lot of experience with 144 games pitched in the minors with 92 of them at Double-A and he did make 11 appearances at Triple-A this year. He is a former starter who was moved to the bullpen in 2015 and he showed immediate improvement in all of his numbers upon a move to the pen. As a starter, he had a 6.3 K/9 rate from 2012-2014, and a move to the pen in 2015 didn’t see much change as he only had a 5.8 K/9, but this past season he racked up a 10.5 K/9 in 49 combined games between Double-A and Triple-A. The spike in strikeouts wasn’t the result of a significant increase to his stuff; it was an adjustment to his delivery that he and the Phillies made at the end of the 2015 season in August that took hold where he became a sidearmer. It took a little time to perfect and he went to winter ball last offseason in Puerto Rico to work on it some more, and then things clicked this past season.
- Milner is a thinly built pitchability lefty with very good command who has some deception in his delivery. The stuff is average as his fastball sits at 88-90 MPH and tops out at 91 MPH and has an average curveball and changeup. The fastball plays up because of his command and the angle he creates with it, and the changeup is the better of his two secondary offerings with some good late fading action and he does a good job of making it look like his fastball out of his hand – though he throws his loopy curveball a lot and is essential for a lefty reliever. He’s your typical “crafty” lefty starter who was re-invented in the bullpen with a unique arm slot to play up his pitchability, stuff and the good angle he creates from the left side.
- Because of Milner’s advanced pitchability, ability to command the fastball and lots of minor league experience in the upper levels, I think he will be given every opportunity to stick with the Indians. He’s being looked at as a potential loogy kind of pen arm to specialize against left-handed hitters. This is a very nice pick up by the Indians and a good risk to take on a potentially blooming solid left-handed middle reliever who they could control for a long time and at a low cost - especially when you consider the cost of relief pitching in the free agent and trade market.
- The loss of Santander is not unexpected. When I had written my piece on who the Indians should protect on the 40-man roster several weeks ago, I noted that he and catcher Francisco Mejia should be protected. The Indians ended up only adding Mejia to the 40-man roster and decided to take the risk of exposing Santander, and to this point that move has backfired (a little). Now, this is just the beginning of this process as there is a long way to go for him to stick with the Orioles and chances are more than likely he returns to the Indians. His lack of experience above High-A and his position as a corner outfielder was a big reason he was not protected, but one of the other big reasons he was left unprotected is because he underwent significant shoulder surgery after the season. He’s long had shoulder issues as this is now at least his second surgery to his shoulder and third or fourth injury overall to his arm/shoulder area.
- The Indians seem to be banking on the fact that Santander will not stick on the Orioles roster because he’s too inexperienced (no experience above High-A), is not ready for the grind of a full Major League season (this season was the first time he ever played more than 72 games in a season) and his durability issues (he’s had several surgeries and many other injuries he has had to overcome the last four years). Now, the Orioles can simply put Santander on the 60-day disabled list, but at some point he is going to need to be on the Orioles active 25-man roster for a total of 90 at least days – be it in 2017 or into 2018 – which does not seem likely. He’s not a center fielder so he doesn’t offer a lot of flexibility in that regard, though he might be able to be a corner utility bat that plays both outfield corners and some first base. Even if he spends half the season on the 60-day disabled list, I just can’t see him spending half the season on the active roster, especially coming off injury and his inexperience and durability issues as a player.
- Santander is a good talent as he has the power, athleticism and defense that a team likes from a corner outfielder. After missing the better parts of three seasons from 2013-2015, he came back healthy for the most part this season and hit .290 with 20 HR, 95 RBI and .862 OPS in 128 games at High-A Lynchburg. He re-established himself not only as one of the Indians best prospects, but one of the better hitting prospects in baseball, and is why the Orioles are taking a shot on him. The question moving forward with his recurring shoulder issues is whether he can stay in the outfield and might have to be a first base-DH option moving forward, which will limit his value and versatility. How he responds to his recent surgery will dictate a lot of that.
- While it is great that Santander is getting an opportunity with the Orioles, the unfortunate reality here is that it probably hurts him in the long run. He’s being uprooted in the middle of his rehab and is going to a team that does not fully understand all of the injuries and issues he has battled the last four years. This could end up ruining all of the momentum he built up from this past season. I just hate seeing an injured player taken in Rule 5 and be at the risk of the shenanigans of manipulating the roster rules the next year or so and thereby potentially stalling his progress while a team tries to stash him on the 60-day disabled list. I am not saying that will happen as Santander’s shoulder surgery is not like an ACL injury to the knee or Tommy John surgery to the arm where a guy is out for the better part of a year, but it is something that could impact the start of his season and result in the Orioles stashing him on the disabled list in order to get as long a look at him as possible. At the same time, he loses potential development time had he remained with the Indians and possibly been back on the field much quicker. I just wish injured players were off limits in the Rule 5 Draft. The same thing happened with Ryan Goleski several years ago after he had offseason surgery, got picked in the Rule 5 Draft, struggled in the spring and then came back to the Indians and continued to struggle and eventually lost his place as a prospect.
- In the minor league phase, while it is tough to lose all four pitchers, it should be noted that none of them were high level prospects and were more pitching inventory in the system. Remember, a club makes a reserve list of players to protect from the Triple-A phase, a listing that is some 40-players long. So in addition to prospects already protected on the 40-man roster and prospects protected on the Triple-A reserve list, the Indians felt they protected their top 50 or so prospects. As always, upper level inventory pen arms are usually left off the reserve list due to the inventory not just in the system already but in all other systems around baseball.
- The most notable loss was Frank. He was probably the best prospect of the four lost and most surprising as there was some value because of his consistency, command and performance throughout his career, but with the lack of a plus fastball and no real standout secondary offering it is tough to see his strikeout rate continuing as he gets to Triple-A or even big leagues against more advanced hitters. Even still, the guy knows how to pitch and has the mentality to pitch in the bullpen, so when you combine that with the ability to command a solid average fastball that sits in the low 90s and occasionally shows plus at 93-94 MPH along with a solid average slider, he is still interesting.
- Sides had no Major League path with the Indians and was going to be a free agent anyway after this coming season, but does have the size and power arm that interests teams and could always be a late bloomer. He’s sort of the opposite of Frank as he has the stuff with a plus fastball and average slider, but lacks the command of both of them and has had some durability issues in his career. Maybe a change of scenery helps get him going and gives him that little extra to get over the hump as a pen prospect.
- Maronde had sort of lost his place and was more just a filler arm in Triple-A and Double-A for the Indians with no chance of getting to the big leagues, so this is a good chance for him to get a good opportunity with a new organization. Fitzsimmons was picked up late in the year from independent ball so wasn’t really an important prospect for the Indians, but it shows he has created some value for himself and will get an opportunity with his new team.
- What these losses will do is provide some opportunities to several other pen arms in the system who otherwise might have been a spring training release or had to stay back a level to start the season. I would also look for the Indians to sign several minor league free agent arms to help replenish some of the pen depth at the Double-A level.