For the first time since 2002, the Indians were both buyers and sellers at baseball’s annual Rule V Draft.
Not only hoping to protect their own players as usual, but also open to adding someone from another organization, the Indians selected two players – including right-handed pitcher Hector Ambriz from the Arizona Diamondbacks - and lost two minor leaguers – including former pitching prospect Chuck Lofgren to the San Francisco Giants.
The Indians hadn’t bothered to dip a toe into the buying portion of the draft in seven years. But with the recent trade of catcher Kelly Shoppach, they had the luxury of a vacant spot on their roster.
So they selected Ambriz for $50,000 with the fifth pick in the Major League phase of the draft with one caveat - he must remain on the Indians active major league roster for all of next season or be offered back to Diamondbacks for half the original price.
In addition, the Tribe plucked outfielder Brian Horwitz from the Giants in the Triple-A phase of the draft, which was held in Indianapolis at major league baseball’s Winter Meetings.
Being an organization often well stocked with prospect minor leaguers, the Indians have a hard time protecting their young players with limited roster spots, especially after last season’s late-season trades brought so many young newcomers into the system.
So there’s always a keep-your-fingers-crossed kind of feel during the draft, with the team’s brass hoping they don’t lose some of the players they simply weren’t able to protect.
But it’s hard to put a young arm out there in left-handed pitcher Chuck Lofgren without some organization taking a flier on him, and that’s exactly what the Milwaukee Brewers did in selecting the Indians fourth selection in the 2004 draft in the Major League phase of the Rule V draft with the 11th pick.
Last year Lofgren was a combined 9-11 with a 4.15 ERA in 25 starts between Double- A Akron and Triple-A Columbus. While he’s had his share of struggles the last few seasons while dealing with family illnesses, Lofgren is just three years removed from his dominating season. In 2006 at high Class-A Kinston, he posted a 17-5 record and tidy 2.32 ERA in 25 starts while striking out 125 batters in 139.2 innings.
The next year in his first stint with the Aeros, the workhorse led all Indians minor leaguers in innings pitched (151.1) and strikeouts (130) and was second in wins (12).
Another young Indians minor league left-hander pitcher, Matt Meyer, was also scooped up by the St. Louis Cardinals in the Double-A phase of the draft. Meyer went a combined 3-2 with a 5.16 ERA in 44 appearances between Kinston, Akron and Columbus last season.
As for the Tribe newcomers, Ambriz, 25, was intriguing to the Indians. He has a combined 12-11 mark with a 4.94 ERA and 135 strikeouts in 28 games (27 starts) last season between Double-A Mobile and Triple-A Reno for the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.
The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder opened the season at Mobile, where he went 3-2 with a 2.17 ERA and 32 strikeouts in five starts before being promoted to Reno in early May. There, he owned a 9-9 record and 5.57 ERA, but also racked up 103 strikeouts in 23 games (22 starts.)
Originally selected in the fifth round of the 2006 draft out of UCLA, Ambriz owns a career minor league record of 28-35 with three saves and a 4.41 ERA. In 98 games (83 starts) he’s struck out a whopping 438 batters.
Horwitz, 27, spent last season with the Giants Triple-A team in Fresno, Ca., where he batted .290 with 10 doubles, two triples, four home runs and 26RBI in 76 games. The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder, who missed the last month of the season with a left ribcage muscle strain, was originally signed by the Giants as a non-drafted free agent in 2004 after graduating from the University of California.
Horwitz made his big league debut with the Giants in 2008, batting .222 (8-for-26) with five runs scored, two home runs and four RBI in 21 games. He owns a career minor league average of .312 with 243 runs scored, 106 doubles, 12 triples, 20 homers and 235 RBI in 543 games while batting over .300 in three of his five minor league seasons.