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Indians have decisions as Rule 5 Draft approaches

Third baseman Urshela, catcher Wolters among prospects who could be selected
MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- Teams are tasked with mapping out plans beyond just the Major League roster during the course of the offseason. This week, clubs are facing a deadline that flies under the radar, but one that can have implications in the coming season and for years to come.

Before the clock strikes midnight on Thursday night, Major League teams must decide which Rule 5 Draft-eligible players will be added to their respective 40-man rosters. The Indians currently have five open spots on their roster and a handful of interesting prospects currently exposed to the Rule 5 process.

CLEVELAND -- Teams are tasked with mapping out plans beyond just the Major League roster during the course of the offseason. This week, clubs are facing a deadline that flies under the radar, but one that can have implications in the coming season and for years to come.

Before the clock strikes midnight on Thursday night, Major League teams must decide which Rule 5 Draft-eligible players will be added to their respective 40-man rosters. The Indians currently have five open spots on their roster and a handful of interesting prospects currently exposed to the Rule 5 process.

Having more eligible players than available spots makes for some tough decisions.

"It's difficult," said Carter Hawkins, the Indians' director of player development. "Our vision for all of these guys is as a Major League player contributing in Cleveland. So any time you have to make a decision about potentially losing somebody who you feel like can make an impact in Cleveland one day, it makes it really difficult."

The Rule 5 Draft allows teams to select unprotected players from other organizations, but the drafted players must remain on the selecting team's Major League roster for a full season. Drafting a player comes with a $50,000 fee, and the team must offer the player back to his old team for half the cost if the player is removed from the active roster at any point during the season.

Eligible players include those who signed before turning 19 years old and have been in an organization for five years, or older signees who have been in an organization for four years. This year's Rule 5 Draft will take place on Dec. 11 in San Diego during MLB's annual Winter Meetings.

Two prospects who stand out from Cleveland's eligible position players are third baseman Giovanny Urshela and catcher Tony Wolters.

The 23-year-old Urshela, who is No. 13 in the MLB.com prospect rankings for the Indians, hit .280/.334/.491 with 18 home runs, 36 doubles, six triples and 84 RBIs between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus last season. He hit .398 with a .979 OPS in 27 games in the Venezuelan Winter League this offseason before a left knee injury sidelined the third baseman on Saturday.

Urshela, who will be examined in Cleveland by a team doctor on Friday to determine the extent of his injury, is considered an above-average defender at third base. This past season, his offensive production improved due to an altered approach in the batter's box and behind the scenes.

"He's always had great bat-to-ball ability," Hawkins said. "He rarely struck out. He also rarely walked, though. He was extremely aggressive and he continues to be very aggressive, but he was aggressive in and out of the zone. This year, he started being really aggressive in the zone. So he started to drive pitches that he was able to drive.

"Couple that with some gains that he had on the strength-and-conditioning side -- he got more physical. He got a lot stronger. He made a huge effort last offseason, and you saw big strides offensively."

Video: Top Prospects: Tony Wolters, C, Indians

Wolters, 22, is No. 18 on MLB.com's prospect list for the Indians and has spent the past two seasons converting to catcher after coming up as a middle infielder. He posted a .249/.319/.314 slash line in 94 games at Double-A this year and hit .255 with three doubles and eight RBIs in 15 games in the Arizona Fall League.

Hawkins said the transition to catching has gone well for Wolters.

"A lot of the things that made him good at shortstop and second have translated over to catching," Hawkins said. "It's just the finer points of the game that he continues to learn -- calling a game, helping a pitching staff and just having that deeper understanding of the catching position from a leadership standpoint."

Pitchers worth noting among Cleveland's Rule 5 eligibles include: right-handers Cody Anderson (5.44 ERA in 25 starts at Double-A in '14); Shawn Armstrong (2.41 ERA with 72 strikeouts in 56 innings between Double-A and Triple-A); Joseph Colon (3.39 ERA in 25 starts at Double-A), Will Roberts (4.08 ERA in 27 starts at Double-A) and Tyler Sturdevant (2.65 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 57 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A); and lefties Ryan Merritt (2.58 ERA in 160 1/3 innings at Class A Advanced Carolina) and Giovanni Soto (3.23 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 53 innings at Double-A).

"Unfortunately, we have to make these hard decisions," Hawkins said. "That's part of the game. There are a lot of players that have not been protected who end up being an impact Major Leaguer, so it's not a definite for any of these guys. It's just kind of where they are in their career at this point, and we kind of have to play the game of understanding who's most likely to be taken at a certain time."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Cleveland Indians