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Tribe loses Whitney, Barton to Draft

Tribe loses Whitney, Barton in Rule 5

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.

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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.

Winter Meetings

"I think [the injury] was behind him [this season]," Mirabelli said of Whitney. "I think he finally got comfortable on that leg. It's obviously been a long, long process. I think changing positions had a lot to do with it. That took a lot of pressure and a lot of things he couldn't do at third base away from him."

The 25-year-old Barton, meanwhile, has quietly put up impressive numbers the last couple years. In '07, he hit .314 with nine homers, 59 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 106 games at Double-A Akron. At Triple-A Buffalo, he hit .264 with seven RBIs in 25 games.

Barton, who was signed as a non-drafted free agent out of the University of Miami in 2004, had surgery on his right knee after the '07 season was completed. The surgery was more invasive than a scope but not as major as a complete reconstruction.

It had been rumored that the Rays were considering taking Barton with the first overall pick of the Draft, but their interest waned this week. The Cardinals reportedly plan to use him in their outfield.

"The kid has always been underrated," Mirabelli said. "We liked some of the things he could do. He's athletic, he's got some power, he's got some speed. We'll see how the injury and surgery affects his speed. He's always been a raw talent, but he's always been underrated."

Though the Indians thought highly of Barton and Whitney, their depth of talent at the Major and Minor League levels did not allow them to make room for the two players.

"A lot goes into us making these decisions," Mirabelli said. "We've got to line them up, pref them out and listen to our scouts and player development people and prioritize what we can and cannot do. We only have 40 spots."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["winter_meetings" ] }
{"content":["winter_meetings" ] }