Five Possible Early Picks By Tribe

The consensus is that pitchers, particularly lefties, are the most plentiful commodity in the early rounds of this year's draft. The Indians need pitchers, so expect Cleveland to choose a few of them early before filling in other organizational needs on the second and third days of selections. That's the easy part of projecting this draft. Nailing down who will be picked is simply a guessing game.

There are so many more variables in baseball leading up to the draft than what NFL or NBA scouts face. The biggest task is trying to forecast what type of player a 17-year-old high school phenom may or may not develop into down the road. The safer picks are usually college seniors simply because they are more experienced and have a longer track record. But a precocious high school player can sometimes become a bigger impact player.

Decisions, decisions, decisions. There's a lot more scrambling going on in the baseball draft because of other variables such as signability. That includes that high school star who may opt to go to college or a draft-eligible underclassman from a big-time university who won't sign and go back for another year. It also includes players who have hooked up with agents who can be unreasonable negotiators.

Steven Strasburg is going first overall in this draft. Everybody knows it. As Brad Grant, the Indians' director of amateur scouting said: "I'll mention no names going into this draft except to say Strasburg goes first. After that, it's anybody's guess."

The Washington Nationals hold the first pick and the ticket to Strasburg, who has put up ridiculous numbers through two seasons at San Diego State: 180 strikeouts and only 79 hits and 31 walks allowed in 134 1-3 innings. He's done it with a fastball that touches 100 mph and a devastating slider.

Indians fans don't care how great Strasburg is because Cleveland doesn't have a prayer of drafting him.

So, after the first five or 10 picks of the draft, projecting just who goes where is akin to tossing a dart out of a blimp and hitting a midge crawling on the second-base bag at Progressive Field. But we're going to take aim anyway, so if you plan on attending any of the three games this week against the Kansas City Royals, wear a batting helmet or something.

FIRST ROUND

The Indians pick 15th overall and may get a talented pitcher whose stock has fallen this season. His name is Andy Oliver, and he's a left-hander from Vermilion, Ohio, about 40 miles west of downtown Cleveland.

The 6-foot-3, 212-pound junior was one of the nation's best pitchers a year ago at Oklahoma State, but struggled much of this year after going through some legal hassles that obviously affected his mindset. Considered a consensus top-10 pick before this season, he just may fall in the draft, giving Cleveland a chance to take him.

Oliver was suspended after the 2008 season by the NCAA, basically for hiring an agent back in 2006 to represent him when he was drafted in the 17th round by the Minnesota Twins out of Vermilion High School. On Feb. 12, an Ohio judge ruled in Oliver's favor, but the NCAA refused to abide by the order until the eve of Oklahoma State's opening game eight days later.

In 2008, Oliver went 7-2 with a 2.20 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 98 innings. Then he pitched during the summer for Team USA, going 2-0 with an 0.93 ERA, fanning 23 in 19 innings.

This season, however, Oliver went only 5-6 with a 5.30 ERA. He struck out 97 in 88 1-3 innings, but also allowed an alarming 92 hits and 34 walks.

Oliver said his legal battle had nothing to do with his disappointing performance. Some scouts disagree, while others point out that part of the problem may have come from the lefty working on becoming a better overall pitcher. Instead of employing his sharp curve to supplement his 94-mph fastball, Oliver began using an inconsistent slider.

Most scouts can't forget what Oliver did in high school. As a senior, he was 6-0 with an 0.40 ERA and 108 strikeouts in only 52 2-3 innings. In his career, he was 21-4 with three saves, an 0.96 ERA and 354 strikeouts in 196 innings.

Oliver lists his favorite movie as "Major League." He doesn't have the criminal record of Ricky Vaughn, nor is he a near-sighted right-hander, but does have some court-time experience under his belt to go with a big fastball. All that could help the Indian in the future.

SECOND ROUND

The Indians have traditionally selected starting pitchers and ignored collegiate relievers, but given their bullpen woes of the past few seasons, that philosophy may change.

Jason Stoffel, a draft eligible junior from the University of Arizona could be Cleveland's choice with the 63rd overall pick.

The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder has a fastball-slider mix that appeals to big-league scouts. His inconsistency this year, however, likely will drop his draft status.

The Indians are well aware of what Stoffel can do, watching him extensively a year ago when they drafted Arizona left-hander Eric Berger in the eighth round. In 2008, Stoffel fanned 79 and walked 15 in 48 innings while compiling a school-record 13 saves. He was particularly nasty in the postseason, not allowing a run in 9 2-3 innings of pressure baseball.

As a freshman in 2007, Stoffel went 5-0 with five saves, a 1.87 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 43 1-3 innings after quite a career at Agoura (Calif.) High School. In his junior and senior seasons, he went a combined 16-4 with 146 strikeouts in 134 innings and earned several academic achievement honors.

Don't discount Stoffel's scholarly ability. The Indians love to add brainiacs to their system, even if they have struggled a bit on the field, as Stoffel has done this year.

Through Monday, he had a 2-1 record, 11 saves, but a 4.67 ERA in 39 appearances out of the bullpen. In 54 innings, he had 55 strikeouts and allowed 44 hits and 25 walks.

THIRD ROUND

A baseball team does not live on pitching alone. By the third round, the Indians will have seen enough good hitters taken by other teams to get in on the fun. By now, the dart throwing projections get very erratic. So here are two good-looking possibilities for Cleveland's choice:
Ohio University outfielder Mark Krauss
Indiana University catcher Josh Phegley

Krauss, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound junior who bats left-handed and throws from the right side, demolished Mid-American Conference pitching this year. He hit .402 (84-for-209) with 27 homers and 70 RBI and became the first Bobcat player to be named MAC Player of the Year.

The Indians got a good look at Krauss last summer when he led the Cape Cod League in RBI (34) and on-base percentage (.434) while batting .344 (fifth in the league). Everybody knows how much the organization treasures a hitter who will work a pitcher deep into a count and Krauss has shown that ability.

Some scouts are wary of Krauss's numbers, saying they were put up against lesser competition in the MAC. They point to former first-round choices such as John Van Benschoten by the Pirates out of Kent State and Brad Snyder from Ball State by the Indians. Both were highly touted hitters, though the Pirates switched their first-round pick to the mound and he has been beset by injuries. Snyder never quite developed after being a first-round pick by Cleveland in 2003 -- though he's doing well (.319, 12 homers, 35 RBI) at Triple-A Iowa in the Chicago Cubs system this year.

Krauss also played a bit of third base and first base, but projects as a corner outfielder, most likely in left field as his arm is only average. Whether or not a three-time All-MAC pick can advance to the majors is the debate among scouts.

Phegley, a 5-11, 215-pound junior, was a first-team All-Big Ten pick and semifinalist for the Johnny Bench Award and Golden Spikes Award after hitting .344 with a team-high 17 homers and 66 RBI for the Hoosiers.

He also was a semifinalist for the Johnny Bench Award presented to the nation's best collegiate catcher as a sophomore, when he threw out 24 runners trying to steal and finished second in the nation in batting with a .438 average.

The Indians were well aware of Phegley's talents in high school, when he was named Indiana's Mr. Baseball in 2006 after hitting .592 with 13 homers and 50 RBI at Terre Haute North.

While Phegley's offensive numbers could lead to his being selected in the second round, some believe he may drop in the draft due to conditioning issues. Not that he doesn't try and keep himself in shape, but some scouts believe he has already lost a great deal of mobility and has no speed. In essence, that means he's already got DH skills at age 21 and some teams just don't touch a player whose athleticism is waning at an early age.

OR ...

Should the Indians insist on picking yet another pitcher with their third selection (No. 94 overall), then Phegley's college teammate Matt Bashore is a possibility.

The junior left-hander went 7-5 with a 4.08 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 95 innings this spring. He also gave up 98 hits, walked 30, had 12 wild pitches and hit 10 batters.

Scouts love his smooth delivery and near-perfect frame (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) for a pitcher along with his 94-mph fastball, good curve and developing splitter/changeup.

Bashore put it all together in his final appearance of the season when he earned Most Outstanding Player honors at the Big Ten Tournament with an impressive performance against Minnesota. He allowed only two hits and two walks while striking out nine over seven scoreless innings in a 12-3 win on May 21 over the second-seeded Golden Gophers that put the upstart Hoosiers into the semifinals.

JUST SAY NO ...

Some publications are forecasting Vanderbilt left-hander Mike Minor as the Indians' first-round selection ... and with good reason.

The Indians have a history of picking soft-tossing, control-oriented lefties such as Jeremy Sowers (2004 from Vandy) and David Huff (2006 from UCLA).

Minor has similar stuff, gets rave reviews for his "pitchability", composure, and pickoff move.

That's all admirable. Give me some hard-throwing pitchers with a little bit of a wild streak in them. Hitters don't get comfortable against them. Then again, neither do pitching coaches -- unless they find a way to harnass that ability and turn it into a consistent winner. Then everybody -- except opposing hitters -- is happy.

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