Despite Their Reputation, the Indians are Drafting Better
By Bob Toth
Last week, I looked into the Indians’ recent draft woes, how it has impacted the present roster, and what the team has done in the recent drafts to hopefully correct the poor drafting and development over the last several years. If you missed the story last week, follow this link – Dispelling the Indians’ Draft Woes
One of the difficult aspects of drafting young players is that there is no way to predict their futures. Even being the very first person drafted is no assurance of superstardom. It cannot even guarantee a moderate level of success professionally.
It really is an impossible task to attempt to judge a draft shortly after it has happened. It is challenging to forecast the ceilings of such young players and the impact that their development, injuries, or their personal lives may have on who they become on and off the field.
It is all just educated guessing.
Such is the situation when trying to make a case for or against the talent in the Cleveland Indians’ current farm system.
Five years later, it could be stated that the Indians’ draft class of 2007 was, overall, a failure. Out of 48 players drafted, only 17 signed with the team. Just one of those players, Josh Judy, has made it to the major leagues with the ball club, and he was a 34th round pick. Bo Greenwell (6th round) and Kyle Landis (18th round) are still with the organization. Three others have departed, and the remaining eleven did not play at the professional level in 2012.
Calling that a bad draft is doing normal bad drafts an injustice.
With that said, gauging the quality of the most recent drafts is difficult. If a player’s current level in the farm system is used as a measuring stick, it may be possible to at least get a sense of whether or not there is prospective hope for a resurgence in the Indians’ minor league system.
The 2008 draft has already supplied three players who have donned an Indians uniform. Lonnie Chisenhall was drafted late in the first round, as this draft followed the Indians’ successful 2007 campaign that earned the team their last winning season and division title. Cord Phelps was taken in round three. Zach Putnam was picked in the fifth round.
Jeremie Tice (6th round), Eric Berger (8th round), Donnie Webb (10th round), Matt Langwell (11th round), Adam Abraham (13th round), Marty Popham (20th round), Bryce Stowell (22nd round) and Roberto Perez (33rd round) all advanced to Double-A or higher during the 2012 season with their respective organizations (Webb and Popham are no longer in the Indians’ system). Clayton Cook (9th round), who was expected to pitch for Akron at some point during the season, missed nearly the entire year due to an injury.
Fourteen of the 29 players drafted have advanced to Double-A or higher in their brief professional careers. On paper, it already looks substantially better than the 2007 draft that netted a total of 17 players, many of whom never played beyond A-ball.
For comparison’s sake, not a single one of the 52 players drafted by the Minnesota Twins that season (one extra supplemental pick and compensation pick) has reached the major leagues. The same could be said of the 50 players selected by the Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays.
The Chicago White Sox have seen four of their 49 picks reach the majors. Gordon Beckham (1st round) and Brent Morel (3rd round) have been the mainstays, while Arizona pitcher Daniel Hudson (5th round) made appearances with the Sox in 2009 and 2010 before being traded for Edwin Jackson. Jordan Danks (7th round) cracked the majors last season after spending two and a half years in Triple-A.
The Tigers have sent a total of five of their 50 draft picks to the major leagues. The highlight of their draft thus far has been starting catcher Alex Avila (5th round), who made an All-Star team in 2011. First round pick Ryan Perry was fast-tracked to the major leagues and worked three years out of the bullpen for the Tigers before being traded to Washington last offseason.
Playoff teams from last year – Baltimore (three), New York (two), Oakland (two), Texas (three), Atlanta (one), Cincinnati (two), St. Louis (two), and Washington (four) – have not seen significant production from their picks that have made it to the major leagues within their organization. San Francisco (four) has had by far the most impactful player from that draft, fifth overall pick Buster Posey. Indians’ pitcher Scott Barnes (8th round) was amongst the Giants’ picks that season, but he made it to the major leagues last season with Cleveland.
Eight players drafted by the Chicago Cubs that season have made it to the major leagues, but only five with the team.
Like 2008, the Indians have already seen three players they drafted in 2009 make it to the major leagues with the team. Fifty players in all were drafted and a total of 28 of these players signed with the club.
The early highlight of the draft appears to be Jason Kipnis, the team’s 2nd round pick. He was actually drafted in 2008 by the San Diego Padres in the 4th round as an outfielder, but did not sign with the club. He arrived in the Indians’ organization as a center fielder and played outfield for Mahoning Valley in his 29 games there in 2009, but he was converted to a second baseman and put on the fast track to the major leagues.
Alex White (1st round) reached the majors with the Indians briefly before being shipped with Joe Gardner (3rd round), Drew Pomeranz, and Matt McBride to the Colorado Rockies in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade. Gardner had reached Double-A Akron with the Tribe and pitched in Double-A Tulsa for the Rockies last season.
Pitcher Cory Burns (8th round) made his major league debut with the Padres last season.
Kyle Bellows (4th round), Jordan Henry (7th round), Preston Guilmet (9th round), Brett Brach (10th round), and Mike Rayl (15th round) have played for Akron. Austin Adams (5th round) had already reached Akron in 2011, but missed the 2012 season due to injury. Vidal Nuno (48th round) has reached Double-A Trenton with the New York Yankees.
Another half-dozen players from that draft are still playing at the Single-A level, one within the Rockies’ organization.
This gives the Indians five players who have reached the majors or AAA and another eight who have appeared in AA games. The numbers are quite comparable with those of 2008 already, despite having one fewer year to be elevated to that level of the ball club.
Minnesota has only promoted shortstop Brian Dozier (8th round) to their 25-man roster from the class thus far of the 51 players selected.
Kansas City has seen two of their picks reach the big leagues from the 2009 class and both pitchers, Aaron Crow (1st round) and Louis Coleman (5th round), were drafted the previous season by Washington.
Detroit has had three players of their 50 drafted make it to the big leagues, but none of the three remain with the team. The highest drafted of the three to be moved, Jacob Turner (1st round), was traded to acquire Anibal Sanchez.
Twenty-two teams have promoted fewer players than the Indians to the major leagues from that draft class. Six teams have promoted two players, nine teams have promoted just one, and the Dodgers, Marlins, Mets, Orioles, Rays, Red Sox, and White Sox have yet to see a player from the 2009 draft wear the big league gear in a game.
On the extreme side, the Los Angeles Angels have seen five drafted players make it to the majors, including three with the club. The star of the draft has been Mike Trout, who was drafted by the team in the first round with the 25th pick, acquired from the New York Yankees as compensation for their signing of Mark Teixeira.
The Indians drafted 50 players in 2010 and signed 27 of them. One of the players who did not sign, Cody Allen (16th round), was drafted again by the team the next season and has since reached Cleveland, pitching in 27 games last season as the first player from his draft class to reach the Majors in the American League.
A handful of the Tribe’s selections have made progress beyond Single-A, including their top pick, Pomeranz, who has had some opportunities to pitch in the majors already for the Rockies. No other player selected by the Tribe that signed with the ball club that season has appeared in the major leagues yet.
Cole Cook (5th round) has progressed all the way to AAA. Last season, he appeared in 22 games for Single-A Lake County and another 14 for Single-A Carolina. He also saw three games with Akron and another four in Columbus. The 24-year old right-hander is a bullpen arm after being converted from a starting pitcher after his 2011 season in Lake County.
Center fielder Tyler Holt (10th round) split the 2012 season between Carolina and Akron, batting a combined .258 with 29 stolen bases in 41 attempts.
Tyler Cannon (12th round) spent six games in Akron in 2011 but spent his 2012 season in Carolina with the Mudcats. He saw game action at catcher; first, second, and third bases; left field; and designated hitter in 2012.
The majority of the remaining players from the class are scattered between Lake County and Carolina, but may see a change of scenery to Akron during some portion of the 2013 season.
Most teams around the league have had exactly one of their players advance to the major leagues from the 2010 draft.
The Tigers lead the way with three players from the draft class to have played in the majors, including Drew Smyly (2nd round).
Half of the league has yet to produce a major league player from this draft, including AL Central rivals Chicago, Kansas City, and Minnesota.
Time will be the ultimate judge of the 2011 and 2012 drafts, but there seems to be a general excitement for several names brought into the fray. The Indians have on their 40-man roster two of the three players from the 2011 class who have appeared at the major league level already in Allen (23rd round) and Trevor Bauer (1st round with Arizona). Another 2011 pick, Shawn Armstrong (18th round), may not be too far off on the horizon. He pitched for Lake County and Carolina last season before finishing the year in Akron. He appeared in 45 games and maintained a 1.60 ERA for the season out of the bullpen, including a 0.89 mark in Akron in 17 games.
By no means does any of this indicate that the Indians have fixed the woes of years of poor drafting, as nothing could repair that damage over night. This does not compare the talent of the Indians to the talent of other teams around the league, nor does it compare the quality of the prospect drafted versus other players who were still available at the time. It simply looks at how the players that were taken have progressed once putting on a uniform as a representative of the Cleveland Indians’ organization.
What can be taken from all of this is that, unlike the example of the 2007 draft, Cleveland has been able to develop players in each of the five years since that failure. How far the players develop remains to be seen, but regardless, the team is beginning to establish depth, something they did not have much of at the higher levels of the farm system in the last several years. The possibility exists of having excess prospects, which could eventually become the trade pieces of the future or players who the team tries to convert to new positions to fill other voids on the depth chart. This could be the case at shortstop over the course of the next several seasons.
In small market baseball, you can never, ever have too many prospects. Hopefully, the Indians are heading in the right direction to obtain just such a problem.
Photo: Rick Yeatts / Getty Images