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Tribe adds top prospects to 40-man

Tribe adds top prospects to 40-man

CLEVELAND -- With little dead weight on the 40-man roster and a long list of players eligible for the upcoming Rule 5 Draft, the Indians found themselves in a bit of a squeeze this offseason.

In the end, the Tribe hand-picked five players worth protecting from the Dec. 11 Draft. The Indians purchased the contracts of catchers Carlos Santana and Chris Gimenez, outfielder Trevor Crowe and right-handed reliever Jeff Stevens from Triple-A Columbus, and right-hander Hector Rondon from Class A Kinston.

With those moves, the 40-man roster stands at 39. The Indians left a spot open in case they make an acquisition between now and the Rule 5 Draft, which takes place during the last day of the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.

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When the Draft takes place, first baseman Jordan Brown, left-hander Chuck Lofgren and right-handers T.J. Burton and Randy Newsom are some of the more notable names eligible for selection by other clubs. If a team makes a claim on a player in the Rule 5 Draft, that player must spend the entire 2009 season on the big league roster or disabled list. Otherwise, the player must be offered back to the original club.

Santana and Crowe were no-brainers for Rule 5 protection, as both are highly regarded prospects in the upper levels of the farm system.

Acquired in the July 26 trade that sent Casey Blake to the Dodgers, Santana had one of the strongest offensive campaigns in the Minors this season. He batted a combined .326 with 39 doubles, five triples, 21 homers and 117 RBIs in 130 games for Class A Inland Empire, Kinston and Double-A Akron. He won the California League MVP Award, despite not playing in that league for the final five weeks of the season.

Santana, 22, injured an abdominal muscle in his only game of action in the Eastern League playoffs, but he took part in the Tribe's Fall Instructional League in Goodyear, Ariz., without incident.

Crowe, 25, had another slow start at Double-A Akron this season after missing the first month of the year on the disabled list. But he rebounded to post a combined .302 average with 70 runs scored, 28 doubles, four triples, nine homers, 18 stolen bases and 41 RBIs in 84 games at Akron and Triple-A Buffalo. He was the Indians' first-round pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft.

Stevens, 25, is a name to watch for the Indians' bullpen in 2009. He went 5-1 with a save and a 2.51 ERA in 17 relief appearances at Akron before joining Buffalo in June and going 0-3 with five saves and a 3.94 ERA in 19 games. He also pitched for Team USA in the Beijing Olympic Games. Stevens was the player to be named in the 2006 trade that sent Brandon Phillips to the Reds.

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Though Santana is the most highly regarded catcher in the Indians' system, the team has high hopes for Gimenez, as well. He led the organization's Minor League system in both walk percentage (16 percent of plate appearances) and on-base percentage (.421) this past season at Akron and Buffalo. The 25-year-old Gimenez, a 19th-round selection in the 2004 Draft, hit a combined .304 with nine homers and 45 RBIs in 109 games. This was his second full season as a catcher.

Rondon, a 20-year-old native of Venezuela, was a Futures Game participant this summer, and he went 11-6 with a 3.60 ERA in 27 starts for Kinston. He finished fourth in the Carolina League in wins, second in strikeouts (145), sixth in innings pitched (145) and eighth in ERA.

Brown is the most notable name left unprotected. He batted .281 with seven homers and 51 RBIs in 109 games at Buffalo this season and was the Eastern League MVP in 2007 and the Carolina League MVP in 2006.

Lofgren, who went 2-6 with a 5.99 ERA at Akron this year, was once considered one of the more promising arms in the Indians' system, but his numbers have tapered off considerably the past two seasons as he's dealt with a personal issue in his family.

Burton went 2-2 with a 3.90 ERA in 29 relief appearances at Akron and pitched for the Canadian team in the Beijing Olympic Games. Newsom went 5-2 with a 2.80 ERA with 30 saves in 59 games between Akron and Buffalo.

Last year, the Indians lost first baseman Matt Whitney and outfielder Brian Barton in the Rule 5. Whitney rejoined the Tribe in Spring Training, when he didn't make the Nationals' Opening Day roster, but Barton stayed on with the Cardinals for the length of the season and isn't coming back. Whitney recently signed a Minor League free agent contract with the Nationals.

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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