Waiting on the Prospects of the 2008 MLB Draft
Bob Toth | On 28, Apr 2013
While much of the country watched closely as their favorite NFL teams stocked up this weekend on new prospects who could pay immediate dividends on their respective football teams, it is easy to lose track of players and drafts in Major League Baseball due to the expansive minor league system utilized in the sport.
It has been five years now since the drafting of the class of 2008. One of the more intriguing players to watch for the Cleveland Indians from that class this season will be Lonnie Chisenhall.
The former first round pick (29th overall) in that 2008 draft, Chisenhall made his first Opening Day roster for the Indians this season, after appearing at the major league level in each of the previous two years. He was given the starting nod after the team parted ways with Jack Hannahan after the completion of the 2012 season. Hannahan had been presumably keeping the seat warm at the hot corner for Chisenhall for the last two years.
Chisenhall is one of several players worthy of note in the Cleveland organization that has ties to the 2008 draft class.
Undoubtedly, the Indians are preparing for the 2013 First-Year Player Draft that is scheduled to begin on June 6th, surprisingly less than six weeks away thanks to the lack of attention the MLB draft gets compared to the NFL and NBA drafts. If all things go as planned, Cleveland will continue to distance itself from its previously-earned reputation as an organization that does not draft well.
Throughout the 2000’s, the Indians swung and missed at several players that they had picked as first round talents. Names like Corey Smith, Derek Thompson, Dan Denham, Alan Horne, J.D. Martin, Mike Conroy, Matthew Whitney, Micah Schilling, Michael Aubrey, Brad Snyder, Adam Miller, Jeremy Sowers, Trevor Crowe, Johnny Drennan, David Huff, and Beau Mills have not made lasting or noteworthy contributions to the professional game of baseball.
Several of them failed to even reach the major league level, either in Cleveland or elsewhere. Many of them may be complete unknowns to the average Cleveland Indians fan.
Only Jeremy Guthrie (2002 – 22nd pick) has had a prolonged opportunity and any significant success out of this batch of “top talents” in the amateur draft, and he has done his primarily outside of Cleveland in Baltimore, Colorado, and now Kansas City.
The Indians have yet to see a truly successful first round pick since CC Sabathia in 1998.
The Indians needed to use a player like Sabathia to help supplement the void of minor league talent through trades. Some trades have worked out well in favor of the Indians – see Casey Blake for Carlos Santana; Mark DeRosa for Chris Perez; Austin Kearns for Zach McAllister. Other trades, like the Sabathia trade and the trade of Cliff Lee, failed to bring in the quantity and quality of players to make up for the established talent leaving the city of Cleveland.
The 2007 draft will hopefully mark the end of a horrendous string of bad drafting.
That draft left plenty to be desired. Of the 48 players drafted in total by the Indians that season, only 17 signed with the team. Just one – Josh Judy (34th round) – appeared in a major league game with the Indians. Corner infielder Matt Hague, an 11th round pick who did not sign with Cleveland, was drafted by Pittsburgh the following year and played sparingly down the stretch with the Pirates in 2012. Pitcher T.J. McFarland (2nd round) was selected by Baltimore in the most recent Rule 5 draft and has appeared in five games this season for the Orioles in relief.
Bo Greenwell (6th round) and Kyle Landis (18th round) are still with the organization. Greenwell was just activated to begin his season at Double-A Akron, his highest advancement in the organization during his six years with the team. Landis started this season in Akron as well.
“I think the last three years, our drafts based on the expected value of our picks have been very good,” team president Mark Shapiro said in a conversation with Pat McManamon of Fox Sports Ohio published on October 25, 2012. “The prior five to six years before that, certainly we did not have good drafts. And we’re suffering for that now to some extent.”
Things changed within the organization after the 2007 draft, and beginning with 2008, the talent joining the club has at least looked a bit better on paper. One could say it was due to the low bar set by nearly a decade of underwhelming drafts, but when compared to other teams around the league, their results have at least looked respectable. They made the necessary adjustments internally to begin to dispel their previous draft woes.
The Indians owned late picks in each round of the 2008 draft after coming off of their very successful, but ultimately disappointing, season that saw the club claim the AL Central but fall short of glory with a late collapse in the American League Championship Series against Terry Francona’s Boston Red Sox.
Chisenhall has been the early highlight of the draft for Cleveland. He is ranked 13th of the 46 players drafted in the first round (including compensation picks) in career WAR (1.4). Just two players drafted above him – Buster Posey and Aaron Crow – have become All-Stars. Crow was drafted by the Washington Nationals but did not sign; he re-entered the draft the following season and was drafted by the Kansas City Royals. Seven players drafted above Chisenhall have yet to make it to the majors and several others have had minimal experience, at best, in the big leagues.
Several big names or top prospects around the game were drafted within 15 picks after Chisenhall, including future All-Stars Lance Lynn (39th by St. Louis) and Wade Miley (43rd by Arizona). Two pitchers acquired in the offseason by the Tampa Bay Rays for James Shields – Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery – were selected as compensation picks by Milwaukee and Kansas City, respectively. Recent Indians’ killer Conor Gillaspie of the Chicago White Sox was selected 37th by San Francisco.
Trey Haley (2nd round), Cord Phelps (3rd round), Tim Fedroff (7th round), and T.J. House (16th round) are all on Cleveland’s 40-man roster. The latter three are playing at Columbus; Haley just recently made his first appearance of the season for Akron. House was just promoted to AAA. Phelps has already spent time on the Cleveland roster this season.
Matt Langwell (11th round) spent time in Columbus last season and started the season as a Clipper. Fellow member of his draft class, Adam Abraham (13th round), has joined him in the Ohio capital this season in the outfield.
Pitcher Bryce Stowell (22nd round) and catcher Roberto Perez (33rd round) are both with the Aeros. Perez was promoted for a time to Columbus to help out a roster depleted of catchers due to the injuries in Cleveland to Santana and Lou Marson.
Clayton Cook (9th round) has struggled with injuries. He reported throwing his first bullpen session during the second week of April while on the comeback trail. He had reached Carolina of Single-A in 2012 on his progression through the minors.
Several other players who had reached the Double-A level during their minor league careers from the 2008 draft class have left the organization.
Jeremie Tice (6th round) was released towards the end of Spring Training. He had played for Akron in 2012.
Eric Berger (8th round) spent time at Columbus in 2012. He was traded to Houston on April 15th for additional catching help after organization depth was exposed by several injuries to backstops.
Former Indians’ minor leaguer Donnie Webb (10th round) was in Double-A Jacksonville in the Miami Marlins organization last season. He played 18 career games at Columbus during his time with the Indians organization.
Marty Popham (20th round) is pitching for Double-A New Britain of the Minnesota Twins’ organization. It marks the fourth straight season he has appeared in Double-A action after spending parts of 2010 and 2011 between Akron and Columbus.
Twenty-one players did not sign from that draft class, including Adam Warren (36th round pick; was drafted in the 4th round by the Yankees the next year).
Ten of the Indians’ first eleven picks in that draft have reached Akron or higher. The lone exception was 4th round pick, pitcher David Roberts.
Fourteen of the 29 players drafted have advanced to Double-A or higher in their brief professional careers by the end of 2012. 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.
Twenty picks after the second round selection of Haley, the very solid closer of the Atlanta Braves, Craig Kimbrel, was selected. He won the 2011 NL Rookie of the Year Award and is a two-time NL All-Star. He has received Cy Young and MVP consideration in each of the last two seasons and has led the NL in saves. Last season, he was 3-1 with 42 saves and a 1.01 ERA. He had a disgustingly low WHIP of 0.65 and struck out 116 batters in 62 2/3 innings. Two different times last season he struck out a batter in 20 consecutive appearances.
Tigers catcher Alex Avila was selected in the 5th round with the 21st pick. He was taken 22 spots after the Indians unsigned pick Roberts.
Oakland starting pitcher Tommy Milone was selected in the 10th round with the 9th pick by the Washington Nationals, ten picks after Cook. He was 13-10 last season for Oakland with a 3.74 ERA in 190 innings over 31 starts. He threw one complete game and gave up just one earned run in six innings of work against Detroit in the 2012 ALDS.
Cleveland has acquired several other players who were members of the 2008 draft over the last few years.
First round supplemental pick Bryan Price was one of the pieces of the Victor Martinez trade that also brought Justin Masterson and Nick Hagadone to the Indians. He was selected by the Boston Red Sox with the 45th overall pick. Price has spent parts of the last four seasons at Akron. He played 13 games at Columbus last season and has already logged two games there this season as well. He is currently on the Aeros roster.
Pitcher Jason Knapp was one of the key components of the Lee trade. The Philadelphia Phillies selected him with the 25th selection of the 2nd round. Injuries derailed his career early, as he was never able to advance beyond Single-A. His injury has made the haul from the Lee trade an unsuccessful one.
Reliever Bryan Shaw was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks just two picks after Knapp. He was acquired this past offseason as part of the Shin-Soo Choo trade. He has a pair of saves and an ERA below three in his major league career.
Pitcher Scott Barnes (8th round) was one of San Francisco’s picks in 2008, but he reached the major leagues with Cleveland last year after being converted to a reliever. The left-hander was acquired by the Indians in 2009 for Ryan Garko.
Also skipped by the Indians in the 2008 draft was an outfielder out of Arizona State University by the name of Jason Kipnis. Selected with the 135th pick overall in the 4th round (23rd pick) by the San Diego Padres, he did not sign. The Indians selected him in the 2nd round the following season.
The Indians may not have had star players emerge so far from the 2008 draft, but they at least established some minor league depth and serviceable options at the end of the bench and bullpen. Outside of a handful of All-Stars that have come from this draft class, the Indians did not miss on many players.
When looking back, the good players a team misses on are often regretted as much as the bad ones they drafted. It is easier to forgive missing on a player like Kimbrel or Milone than it would have been than a Posey.
Photo: Jason Miller / Getty Images