NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The downside to a deep farm system presents itself every year about this time. And the Indians, appropriately, braced themselves for the possibility of losing some of their more talented Minor Leaguers in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft at the Winter Meetings. The losses came quickly. With the seventh overall pick, the Nationals plucked first baseman Matt Whitney, a former first-round sandwich selection by the Tribe. And with the 10th pick, the Cardinals grabbed outfielder Brian Barton.
Both clubs will have to keep the two players on their big league roster out of Spring Training camp or offer them back to the Indians for $25,000, which is half of the $50,000 cost the teams paid to draft Whitney and Barton. Last year, the A's swiped outfielder Ryan Goleski and the Phillies nabbed reliever Jim Ed Warden from the Tribe, but both players were eventually returned. "We've been down this road before," Indians scouting director John Mirabelli said. "We'll let it all play out. We had two players taken last year and they were both returned to us. Both of these guys have substantial abilities. You realize this can happen to you, especially with guys who have substantial ability and substantial talent." The Indians' Major League roster is maxed out at 40 players, so they didn't have the room to draft any players. Not that they weren't interested in doing so. The Indians would have designated a player to make room on the 40-man, if they felt they could get one of their targeted players. "We had some interest in a handful of guys," Mirabelli said. "In the end, we felt a couple weren't the right fit for us. But I will tell you there were some guys we would have considered strongly." Alas, the Tribe was slotted 29th in the drafting order and found it difficult to trade up high enough to grab any of these guys. And so the Draft was about loss, not gain. What the Indians lost in Whitney is a power-hitting infielder whose promising potential has been compromised by a broken leg he suffered in Spring Training of '03. The 2007 season was Whitney's best since that injury, as he made the move from third base to first and batted .308 with 64 RBIs in 71 games at Class A Lake County and .288 with 49 RBIs in 57 games at Class A Kinston. But considering the 23-year-old Whitney has never played above the A-ball level, his Major League readiness is in question.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.