The Indians should get a good player with their first draft pick this year at No. 5 overall.
The general consensus is that this draft is plentiful in high school prospects, especially pitchers, though a little short on sure-fire stars coming out of college. That is not great news for the Indians since they need to accumulate as much near-ready talent as possible. An impatient fan base doesn’t want to wait for prep stars needing experience, instruction and time to develop.
“There’s a lot of good high school pitchers out there,” said John Mirabelli, the Indians’ assistant general manager of scouting. “The college ranks are a little thinner than what we would like.”
Scouting director Brad Grant said that doesn't matter. His intention is to take the best player available when it is Cleveland's turn, even if that means selecting a high schooler who will take longer to develop.
Grant said he has personally watched 200 prospects and that the Indians will have 900 names on their draft board.
Cleveland’s second pick isn’t until No. 56 overall due to so many selections in the “sandwich round” for teams who lost free agents. It means the Tribe must click on its first pick – something the club has not always done.
Including sandwich picks received, Cleveland has made 56 selections before the second round of past drafts – and only 29 (51.8%) played in the majors. Since right-hander Jaret Wright was taken at No. 10 overall in 1994, the percentage has been very poor – only nine of 24 (37.5%) making it. Two did it with other teams – right-hander J.D. Martin (No. 35 overall in 2001) with Washington and lefty Derek Thompson (No. 37 overall in 2000) with the Dodgers.
Only CC Sabathia (No. 20 in 1998) has developed into a star and only David Huff (No. 39 in 2006) opened this season in Cleveland. Others to play in the majors are Trevor Crowe (No. 14, ’05), Jeremy Sowers (No. 6, ’04), Michael Aubrey (No. 11, ’03), Jeremy Guthrie (No. 22, ’02) and Tim Drew (No. 28, 1997).
Still in the Tribe farm system are Alex White (No. 15 overall in 2009), Lonnie Chisenhall (No. 29, ’08), Beau Mills (No. 13 in ’07), John Drennen (No. 33 in ’05) and Adam Miller (No. 31 in ’01).
Not including their past three top choices (White, Chisenhall and Mills) since they are still in their natural development time in the minors, Cleveland is 9-for-21 (.429) in getting a top-targeted player to the majors over the past 15 years.
The organization had bad luck with injuries, particularly to its trio of first-rounders in 2003. Right-hander Miller’s 100-mph fastball was headed to Cleveland – until a finger injury ruined his career. First baseman Aubrey played briefly for the Indians, but not before missing large chunks of time with back and leg ailments. Outfielder Brad Snyder hurt his thumb and is now in the Cubs system.
So, the Indians have nothing to show for the 11th (Aubrey), 18th (Snyder) and 31st (Miller) picks that year.
The 2001 draft debacle hurt worse. Not one player ever made it to Cleveland even though the Indians had six of the top 97 picks and 53 selections overall. Only Martin and outfielder Luke Scott (ninth round, No. 227 overall) made the majors. Both did it elsewhere.
Don’t expect this year’s top choice to impact right away, though the Indians need to select a player who can move up quickly. While their philosophy has been to take the best player available on their draft board at the immediate moment, it probably wouldn’t be wise to select a raw high school player they think may develop.
Mirabelli acknowledges that, but says scouts must also weigh the risk-reward factors. The gamble of getting a prep player who becomes a superstar is tempting. Alex Rodriguez, Joe Mauer, Adrian Gonzalez and Chipper Jones are among the many current stars picked out of high school.
All were the No. 1 overall pick. The list of No. 5 choices out of high school is not as impressive.
The Indians have two top prep talents playing in their backyard. Lakewood St. Edward High School has two of the finest prospects in America in pitcher-third baseman Stetson Allie and catcher Alex Lavisky. Both want to go to college. Each has enough talent to probably turn pro this year and convince a team to pay for an education anyway.
The Indians are well aware of both players. Mirabelli’s son Tommy is the Eagles’ starting second baseman as a sophomore and often hits second, ahead of the two sluggers.
Allie, a 6-4, 225-pound right-hander, has signed a letter of intent to attend North Carolina – where White pitched before being the Indians’ top pick a year ago.
Allie can hit with power and run, but teams are much more interested in his three-pitch mix that includes a 97-mph fastball and low-80s slider. Most scouts project him as a closer – which means he would be better off going to college and gaining experience in pressure situations.
(Note: Allie went 5 for 5 on Friday, May 28, in a state regional game. He pitched and won, 7-6, but was wild early and gave up a number of walks. He made a whopping total of 143 pitches -- though his final toss of the game was clocked at 92 mph.)
With his hitting skills, it would make sense to keep that option open, though Allie muscles the ball at bat and that will become more difficult against better pitching. He’s decent in the field, but if he gets much bigger will be limited to first base or DH. Projecting him as a pitcher is wisest.
“Whatever a team wants me to do, that’s fine with me,” Allie said. “I love to hit, but if they ask me to pitch, OK. I closed my first three years and became a starter this year. I’ll do whatever a team asks. I just want to play big-league ball. That’s been my dream my entire life.”
His dad is his coach – and formerly coached current big-league stars Johnny Damon and A.J. Pierzynski as Florida prep stars before the family moved to Ohio.
Allie is fluid on the mound, though prone to wild streaks. His four-seam fastball doesn’t have great movement, but a coach could tweak a grip or arm slot and make it happen. His 92-mph cutter does run and sink. He’s got a decent changeup, which can become devastating as a contrast to a fastball that has registered 100 mph.
Can the Indians afford to gamble on Allie? It would be nice to have a truly homegrown closer anchor Cleveland’s bullpen. Some team is going to offer the big guy big bucks.
Lavisky is a 6-1, 210-pound catcher whose quarterbacking experience shows on his quick release and strong, accurate throws. He’s advanced behind the plate and has plenty of pop in his bat – hitting 10 homers in his first 14 games this year. His quick hands enable him to square up a somewhat busy swing and make solid contact – though that could change against premier pitching.
Lavisky is very mature with exceptional leadership skills. He’s always eager to play the game’s most demanding position and does so with soft hands while being light on his feet.
He has signed to play at Georgia Tech and may be savvy enough to understand that polishing his considerable skills in college could pay off with a potentially huge draft bonus in two years. Then again, he could get a big bonus this year and get started in the pro ranks.
“Mom and dad have always been about getting an education, so that’s going to happen,” said the always-upbeat Lavisky. “If everything falls right, I’d like to get my pro career started and still go to college. If this year is not exactly what I want, I would be a draft-eligible sophomore in two years, but I really believe things will work out this year.”
As good as St. Edward’s dynamic duo is, the Indians may pass on them because there’s so much overall talent available.
Several prep pitchers around America have first-round potential. Among them is Cameron Bedrosian, whose dad Steve was the 1987 NL Cy Young winner with Atlanta. At only six-foot, he doesn’t have the classic pitcher’s body and is overlooked by scouts who prefer 6-5 Floridian Andrew Cole, 6-7 Texan Jameson Taillon, or 6-6 Scott Frazier, 6-3 A.J. Vanegas and 6-5 Taijuan Walker, all from California. All are right-handers.
Kyle Richter, at 6-4, 200 pounds from California leads the lefty prep parade that includes 6-5 Jesse Biddle from Philadelphia.
There’s also a good group of college players, though Cleveland probably won’t have a chance at right-hander Anthony Ranaudo of Louisiana State or catcher Bryce Harper from Southern Nevada. They’ll likely be off the board within the first three picks.
Left-hander Drew Pomeranz of Mississippi and right-hander Deck McGuire of Georgia Tech could be available, though. Pomeranz’s big body, good curve and mid-90s fastball draw comparisons to a young Barry Zito. McGuire has an excellent sinker, curve and changeup – when he doesn’t lose command.
Right-handers Jesse Hahn of Virginia Tech and Alex Wimmers of Ohio State could go early, too. Hahn’s fastball hits the upper 90s and he has a decent curve and change. If the secondary pitches develop, he could be a quality starter. If not, the fastball makes him an advanced bullpen prospect. Wimmers throws in the low 90s and gets strikeouts with a good curve.
For years, second base has been a weakness in the Indians’ system. The last homegrown second baseman to start in Cleveland for an extended period was Duane Kuiper – more than 30 years ago. Jason Kipnis, drafted second a year ago, has been switched from outfield to the position this year.
The Tribe could take speedy LeVon Washington at No. 5 and switch him. Washington played centerfield this spring for Chipola Junior College in Florida. The lefty hitter was Tampa Bay’s first pick (No. 32 overall) a year ago and has excellent leadoff skills, pop at the plate, and can run.
Two other top infielders are shortstop Christian Colon of Cal State-Fullerton and third baseman Zack Cox of Arkansas. Colon has good range, speed and some power to all fields, but there’s a question of what he’ll do with a wooden bat. Cox strikes out a lot, but gets results when he makes contact. He’s got a strong arm and good skills at third. If he gains plate discipline, he could develop into a big-league slugger.
Shortstop Derek Dietrich of Georgia Tech and Cleveland St. Ignatius High School has strong credentials. His grandfather, Steve Demeter, is infamous in Indians history. He was acquired from Detroit for slugger Norm Cash on April 12, 1960. Cash crashed 373 homers after the trade and led the AL in batting with a .361 average in 1961. Demeter went 0-for-5 for the 1960 Tribe and spent the next 12 years in Triple-A.
Dietrich has a strong arm, is fluid in the field and hits well from the left side. He was drafted in the third round by Houston in 2007 and will likely be a first-rounder this year. In his first 162 games at Georgia Tech, he hit .330 (207 for 628) with 38 homers and 170 RBI.
The Indians probably have one chance of getting him – with pick No. 5. By the time they choose at No. 56, he’ll likely be gone.
While the Indians must strike gold with that fifth overall pick, how they fare in subsequent rounds is probably more vital to the club’s future.
Cleveland got Jim Thome in the 13th round and Brian Giles four rounds later in 1989. Slugger Richie Sexson was a 24th-round pick in 1993, when they took outfielder Dave Roberts (243 steals in 892 career games) in round 47. Relief pitcher David Riske has spent 11 years in the majors. He was picked at No. 1,560 in 1996, in the 56th round.
The Indians can’t afford to get sentimental and take a hometown talent just because they’ve seen him a lot and like him even more. Their scouts can’t make up for three decades without quality second base prospects with one pick.
They have to stay focused on the moment – with all eyes on the future.