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03/22/08 1:44 PM ET

Rule 5 pick Whitney returns to Tribe

Prospect to begin the season with Double-A Akron

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- Last fall, the Indians prepped infielder Matt Whitney for the possibility that he'd be taken in the Rule 5 Draft.

And knowing the history of Rule 5 selections, they also warned him of the possibility that he'd begin Spring Training with one club and end it with another.

That's just what's happened, as Whitney was returned to the Indians on Saturday. The 24-year-old Whitney, who will open the '08 season at Double-A Akron, was unable to secure a big league job with the Nationals, who took him in December's Rule 5 Draft. To get him back, the Indians had to return half the $50,000 they received from the Nats when Whitney was taken.

The odds were stacked against Whitney, a 2002 sandwich-round Draft pick by the Indians, from the beginning. The Nats already had depth at both of their corner infield spots.

"There can sometimes be an inherent awkwardness [with the Rule 5 process]," Tribe farm director Ross Atkins said. "But not as much in this case."

That's because Whitney recognizes the process that comes with advancing in the Minors. The fact that he spent last season at the Class A level -- belting a combined 32 homers and driving in 113 runs at Lake County and Kinston -- didn't bode well for him being big league ready.

Whitney's promising career took a major detour when he severely broke his leg during Spring Training of '03. His climb back from that injury was a slow one. Last season, the Indians had Whitney, who was drafted as a third baseman, play full-time at first base, and that move seemed to help.

Atkins, though, said the Indians will talk to Whitney, who will report to Chain of Lakes on Sunday, about the possibility of him playing some third this year. Generally, though, Whitney will share first-base and DH duties with Mike Aubrey.

Whitney went 3-for-28 with a double, triple, home run and six RBIs in 17 spring games with the Nats.

"Obviously, we're very pleased to get him back," Atkins said. "He's a right-handed power bat, and we feel his ceiling is still very high."

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