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Cleveland Indians and the Rule 5 draft: Who will be protected, who may be left exposed

The Indians have four spots open on the 40-man roster to use to protect prospects from the Rule 5 draft. Who will they add before the November 20 deadline?

Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Baseball's Rule 5 draft, which allows teams to pick players from other teams' minor league systems who are not on the 40-man roster, is set to take place next month during the Winter Meetings. In addition to not being on the 40-man roster, a player needs to have been signed by his team before they were 18 and spent five years in the current system, or signed before they were 19 and spent four years in their current system in order to be eligible.

The Rule 5 draft is broken into three phases. The first, the MLB phase, is where teams can select a player and place them directly on their 25-man (Major League) roster. If a player is chosen during the MLB phase, the selecting team must pay a $50,000 fee to the team they chose the player from. In the Triple-A and Double-A phases, as long as a player is eligible to for the Rule 5 draft, they can be selected by another team for a lesser fee without having to go on that team’s 25-man roster. However, they must be placed directly on the selecting team’s 40-man roster. Meaning if a team does not have an open spot on their roster, they cannot participate in the draft.

As for the Cleveland Indians, they have several players heading into their first year of eligibility. Do not worry about top prospects like Bradley Zimmer or Clint Frazier, though. Not only are they too young to be eligible, but top prospects like that are normally placed on the 40-man roster for obvious reasons if they do not reach the Majors by the time they are eligible. With the Indians signing of Michael Martinez on Friday, they are now left with four open spots on their 40-man roster. If they want to participate in the draft they will need to leave at least one spot open, so that leaves them with three spots potentially to fill in with players to protect from the Rule 5 draft.

The top candidate--and almost a no-brainer to protect--is Tyler Naquin. The 2012 first-round pick may not be living up to lofty expectations, but he still considered one of the organization’s top prospects and he made it as far as Triple-A in 2015. Naquin could be making his way to the Major League roster as soon as next year, depending on how well he performs in Triple-A, so adding him to the 40-man roster before November 20 is an easy decision for the Indians.

The other relatively easy choice is Mike Clevinger. Acquired in 2014 when the Indians traded Vinny Pestano to the Los Angeles Angels, Clevinger had a great season in Double-A for the Akron Rubberducks. He threw for 158.0 innings, the first time in his career he has thrown more than 50.0, and he could be arriving in the Majors as soon as 2016 in a reliever role, or maybe a bit later if the Indians opt to mold him into an effective, long-term starter.

After those two, it gets a bit fuzzier. Other than Naquin and Clevinger (who were fringe at best), the Indians have no minor league players likely to be chosen in the MLB portion of the draft, so they will not be getting that $50,000 fee. However, they could have a couple going in the minor-league portion of the draft, which is where teams usually choose players just to fill out their organizational needs.

James Ramsey is heading into his first year of Rule 5 eligibility, but he may not be worth the roster spot. To this point he does not look like more than a dreaded "AAAA" player, and even then he did not look great in Triple-A this season. With Naquin coming sooner rather than later and Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier coming further down the road, keeping another fledging outfield prospect may not be worth a 40-man roster spot if someone else decides to take him.

Relief pitcher Perci Garner had a great first year in the Cleveland Indians organization, throwing in 17 relief appearances with a 2.39 ERA and a 2.37 FIP. He--along with Todd Hankins, Clint Frazier, and Yandy Diaz--are currently getting work in the Arizona Fall League. He has struggled in the AFL, but stats are not usually particularly important; the main focus is development. Garner is not likely to be selected by another team, so do not expect him to be added to the 40-man roster anytime soon.

Dorssys Paulino is a prospect that used to have exciting potential, but the shortstop turned left fielder had a lot of trouble getting out of A-ball. He spent three years playing for the Lake County Captains before being shifted to the outfield and finally getting a promotion to the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats. He hit well there (157 wRC+), but he is not likely to be selected by another team, so do not expect him to make the 40-man roster before Friday.

Similar to Mike Clevinger, Luis Lugo is another young pitcher heading into his first year of Rule 5 eligibility. Despite being in the Indians organization since 2011, Lugo just reached High-A ball this year. However, he has a lot of potential and finished 2015 as the Tribe’s No. 18 prospect, according to MLB.com. I do not see the Indians adding him to their 40-man roster, but another team could swoop in and take a flier on him in the Rule 5 draft.

Listed by MLB.com as the Tribe’s No. 16 prospect, Shawn Morimando has an outside shot to make the Majors as early as 2016. He pitched well for the Double-A Akron Rubberducks in 2015 and could start 2016 in Triple-A. With so many potential starters coming down the pipe, not to mention the already-stacked Major League staff, Marimando could be left off the 40-man roster and selected by another team in the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 draft.

Outfielder Luigi Rodriguez will likely not be added to the 40-man roster by Friday (or selected by another team), but he is an intriguing prospect that will be exposed come draft time. He has struggled to make it out of High-A ball, but in his third straight year at the level in 2015 he hit for a .293/.335/.492 slash with great defensive potential at all three outfield spots.

The deadline for adding players to the 40-man roster is this Friday, November 20. The Rule 5 draft will take place during the Winter Meetings, which run from December 7 to December 10.