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Castro's Latest - Roster Moves + Acta Interview


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Haven't even had a chance to read the whole thing yet. Here's Castro's look at just what could be done in the next couple of days:


11/17/09 5:29 PM EST

Indians have roster calls to make

40-man promotions protect prospects from Rule 5 Draft


By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- While the Indians aren't expected to go outside the organization to make any significant additions to their roster this winter, they do have some significant in-house additions coming later this week.


Friday is the last day teams can protect their Rule 5-eligible Minor Leaguers from being exposed in the Rule 5 Draft, which takes place Dec. 10 at the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis. And the Indians have no shortage of candidates to consider for such protection.


As of Tuesday, the Tribe had seven spots open on its 40-man. By week's end, free agents Jamey Carroll and Tomo Ohka will both officially be cleared from the roster. Conversely, right-handers Jake Westbrook and Anthony Reyes, both of whom are on the 60-day disabled list following Tommy John surgery, will have to be reinstated to the 40-man.


It is possible that the Indians would choose to designate Reyes for assignment, because he is not expected to pitch competitively until the middle of the 2010 season, at the earliest. That would free up an eighth spot for the Indians to protect somebody else.


While nothing is official until it's official, it's believed the Indians have already decided who to protect and who to expose. But that information likely won't be revealed by the club until just before the deadline.


So, for now, there are quite a few guys in the Indians' system patiently and eagerly awaiting the news on their fate.


Of the 44 names on the list of Rule 5-eligibles, Jordan Brown's certainly stands out.


Brown, as many Tribe fans will remember, was not called up to the Indians in September, despite capturing the International League batting title with Triple-A Columbus. The Indians claimed they didn't have enough meaningful at-bats to offer Brown, and it was generally assumed that his growing pains on the defensive end at first base and left field held him back.


But Brown is a lock to be protected this week. The Indians simply can't afford to just give away his bat to another club in the Rule 5. They currently have Brown playing full-time in left field in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he was batting .330 with three homers, five doubles, three triples and 20 RBIs in 29 games.


The Tribe's outfield and first-base picture at the big league level remains crowded due to the acquisition and ascension of Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta. But Brown will remain with the organization and try to fight his way into the mix.


Another lock to be protected on the position player side is outfielder Nick Weglarz. His Arizona Fall League stint was cut short recently when a lingering stress fracture in his left shin continued to bother him, forcing surgery. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Weglarz, who batted .227 with an .808 OPS at Double-A Akron this season, should be fully recovered by the start of Spring Training.


Jason Donald is also a lock. The Indians acquired the middle infielder as part of the trade that sent Cliff Lee to the Phillies. And while Donald's progress was hampered by a back injury that cut his season short at Columbus, he could still compete to be a part of the Indians' middle infield out of Spring Training or in the first half.


On the pitching side, it's a safe bet that right-hander Jeanmar Gomez will be protected. He was, after all, the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year at Akron this season, going 10-4 with a 3.43 ERA in 22 starts, including a perfect game in May.


From there, it's a guessing game as to who will get added to the 40-man roster.


One name to watch this week is that of left-hander Kelvin De La Cruz. Yes, he missed the vast majority of the season with an elbow issue. And yes, he hasn't pitched a game above the high-A level at Kinston. But the 6-foot-5 De La Cruz has wicked stuff, including a fastball in the upper 90s, and he's exactly the type of guy a desperate Major League club might take a chance on in the Rule 5.


The Indians have De La Cruz, who is fully recovered from the elbow ligament strain, pitching for their Dominican parallel league team to build up his innings.


Right-hander Carlton Smith is another intriguing candidate for protection. The younger brother of Corey Smith (the Tribe's ill-fated first-round pick in the 2000 Draft) is a sinkerball-throwing reliever who went 6-2 with a 2.72 ERA in 37 appearances at Akron this season.


Left-hander Chuck Lofgren put his name back on the radar with a strong showing at Akron in '09 (3-1, 1.48 ERA in eight starts), but his rough transition to Triple-A (6-10, 5.31 in 17 starts) doesn't help his cause.


Right-hander Yohan Pino was an interesting addition to the organization in the Carl Pavano trade with the Twins. While his fastball velocity leaves a bit to be desired, Pino has a cutter, slider and changeup, and he went 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in two starts for Columbus after the trade.


Other pitchers on the bubble include right-handers Josh Tomlin, Steven Wright, Frank Herrmann, Neil Wagner, Erik Stiller and Paolo Espino and left-hander Ryan Edell.


Back on the position-player side, the Indians are impressed with what shortstop Carlos Rivero is doing against Arizona Fall League pitching. Through 20 games, Rivero was batting .325 with a .902 OPS. He's 20 years old with projectable power, and he might be in line for a promotion to the 40-man.


Third baseman Wes Hodges, on the other hand, saw his stock take a dip this season as he battled shoulder fatigue and a wrist injury at Columbus and never got fully on track. Still, a healthy Hodges was a tremendous run-producer at Kinston in '07 and Akron in '08, and the Indians have to keep that in mind.


Matt McBride was a highly regarded catching prospect when he was drafted 75th overall in 2006, but shoulder fatigue necessitated a move to first base and the outfield, and he lost at-bats to the likes of Weglarz and Beau Mills (who, for the record, is not yet a Rule 5 candidate). McBride, therefore, might be exposed.


Other position players on the bubble include shortstop Josh Rodriguez, who missed most of '09 at Akron because of injury, and outfielder Jose Constanza.


In addition to the names mentioned above, the Indians have 24 other players eligible for the Rule 5, but they are less likely to be protected.





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And here's a bunch more from CastroTurf. Check out the link at the bottom to read all about Acta's love for pizza while chowing down with the beat reporters:


* Acta voiced the importance of the Indians adding a veteran starter in free agency. But he stressed that is has to be "the right guy" and not just someone who's going to come in and block the progress of the Indians' young arms. When I asked Acta if the Indians will still look for a starter if Westbrook proves he's healthy and ready to come back, he replied, "We might still [get a pitcher], because you have to cover yourself. You can never go into Spring Training short on pitching."


* Will the Indians add anyone to the bullpen? "We're very happy with what we have," Acta said. "That being said, there's going to be about 200 players out there."


* What else might the Indians look for in free agency? Acta said a utility infielder (as expected) and possibly a right-handed bat who can help out at first base, if Matt LaPorta isn't completely up to speed by Opening Day. Acta said the Indians have also discussed the possibility of bringing in a veteran catcher to handle their young arms, though they also saw last year that having two veterans in Victor Martinez and Kelly Shoppach on the staff didn't exactly cure what was ailing the pitching staff. Acta said that Shoppach is still in the Indians' plans at this moment. Obviously -- and these aren't Acta's words -- that has the potential to change by the non-tender deadline.


* I'll caution you that none of the above translates into the Indians' suddenly becoming major players in the free agent market. This is merely Acta's wish list, and he admitted that, if asked, he could come up with a list longer than anything you'd submit to Santa Claus. The Indians won't have the resources to fulfill every need.


* Internal candidates Jon Nunnally and Dave Hudgens are the only remaining candidates for the hitting coach position. Acta will visit with them in Venezuela the first week of December and make his decision at that time.


* The only other two positions on Acta's staff will be of the bullpen catcher variety. Those will go to in-house candidates as a way for them to get their feet wet for future coaching or managerial assignments. Similar to Dave Wallace's experience last year.


* In mid-January, Acta will assemble his complete coaching staff in Goodyear, Ariz., so that they can discuss the players and also get acclimated to each other.


* Acta has already had some in-depth conversations with several players, including face-to-face meetings here in Cleveland with Jhonny Peralta and Travis Hafner in the last few days. Acta said he expressed to Peralta how much the Indians will be counting on him next year. "I think, and he admitted, that the switch of positions affected him last year."


* Though Fausto Carmona was not on the initial list of players participating in winter ball, he will, in fact, be suiting up in the Dominican in December. Carmona had made it clear to the Indians that he preferred to pitch this winter, and they eventually decided to allow him to do so. "He felt it helped him in the past," Acta said. Acta also said he doesn't expect Carmona to long more than 30 innings of work.


* Jake Westbrook will make his Puerto Rican winter ball debut in about 10 days. For now, he's still at the Goodyear complex getting stretched out, with pitching coach Tim Belcher on hand to make sure Westbrook's mechanics are in line before he pitches in games. Westbrook is slated to make five starts in Puerto Rico, and Acta will be on-hand to see him pitch in mid-December.


* Acta said he will likely play his regulars for the last 10 days to two weeks of Cactus League play. "You can't lose your last eight or nine games of Spring Training, then show up in Chicago on opening night and just turn on the switch," he said.


* Acta said LaPorta, once healthy, is likely to play more at first base than left field, and he implied that Michael Brantley will be on the big-league club. But don't expect Brantley to bat leadoff right away.


* Grady Sizemore is progressing well in his rehab from groin and elbow surgery. He is doing running and agility drills at the Goodyear complex.


* Acta is not opposed to Kerry Wood logging some four-out saves.


* The bullpen roles, aside from closer, are wide open, in Acta's mind. "We need to convey the message that roles have to be earned," he said. "[The 'pen] was not a strength of this ballclub last year, so we can't go into Spring Training with roles."


* Acta knows he's inherited a challenge, given the Tribe's payroll constraints. But he seems genuinely excited about this opportunity. "In baseball, you never know," he said. "On any given day, Aaron Laffey can beat Roy Halladay."





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