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Indians add to 40-man roster ahead of Rule 5 deadline

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Some top prospects are now safe from prying teams

The Cleveland Indians have added five players ahead of tonight’s deadline to protect prospects from the Rule 5 draft: infielders Gabriel Arias, Ernie Clement, and Nolan Jones and pitchers Eli Morgan and Carlos Vargas.

The Rule 5 draft will take place on Dec. 10 and will allow clubs to select prospects from other teams who have not yet made it to the majors and are not on a 40-man roster. Specifically, a player must either have been signed at 18 years or younger with five years in the minors or have been signed at 19 or older and have four seasons in the minors to be eligible for the draft. If selected in the draft they must remain on the receiving team’s major-league roster for the entire year, or 90 days of service time spread across multiple years if injured list stints are involved.

For a team like the Indians, who have a deep draft class finally starting to make it to the upper levels of the minors, it means they have a couple quality players to protect. Most notably this time around was their top prospect, Nolan Jones.

Jones, a 22-year-old third baseman/outfielder, has dominated every level of the minors at an advanced age — something the Indians front office values highly in prospects. In 2019, Jones slashed .253/.370/.466 with eight home runs against Double-A pitching as a 21-year-old. He was poised to start 2020 in Triple-A and potentially compete for a major-league role, but instead he was stuck in Eastlake at the team’s alternate training site. A third baseman by trade, he is expected to slide into the outfield with José Ramírez manning the hot corner for the foreseeable future.

Signed by the Padres as a 16-year-old in 2016, Gabriel Arias already requires a spot on the 40-man roster despite not making it past High-A. His defense at short is already polished (Jim Callis called his arm and fielding tools the best in the Indians system), but his bat still has a ways to go. Again, he has not seen pitching above High-A besides what he saw at the Padres’ and Indians’ alternate sites this season, but he did hit 17 home runs and slashed .302/.339/.470 as a 19-year-old.

Ernie Clementi s a hustle machine who, as Tito so eloquently put it, plays “like he’s got a jet up his ass”. Needless to say, he impressed his manager in spring training this year, and if nothing else is a competitive infielder with a high floor who can play every position and would be a shame to lose for nothing.

An eighth-round pick in the 2017 draft, Eli Morgan has gotten nothing but results as he’s worked his way through the Indians’ minor-league system. Even without dominant pitch outside of his deceptive changeup and a fastball that barely touches 90, he had the sixth most strikeouts in the minor leagues since the start of 2018.

Carlos Vargas, in the same vein as Gabriel Arias, has not made it far into the minors (he reached Low-A in 2019), but he just turned 21 last month and already has a fastball that sits in the mid- to upper-90s and might touch 100 someday. He is a starter for now, but with his velocity and violent delivery he might be better suited for the bullpen in the future.

Among the notable names left exposed to the Rule 5 draft are outfielders Will Benson and Oscar Gonzalez, infielder Jose Fermin, and pitcher Luis Oviedo,