Homegrown by the Cleveland Indians
Laurel Wilder | On 19, Jun 2014
What if there were no trades? What if player free agency were not a thing? What if the Rule 5 draft did not exist?
What if, once a player was signed, he was made to stay with that team and that organization? A team of all homegrown players – this notion would serve well for teams with strong drafts, and would allow fans more of a chance to know and connect with players from the moment they were drafted through when they retired.
Fans don’t want to waste money and emotions on a player they may not see on their favorite team for too much longer. The Indians have not had the strongest drafts since the early 2000s, choosing players who have not performed up to expectations or who have instead been better used as a bargaining chip when working out deals with other teams. However, as of late, the Indians have a fair number of homegrown players on their roster who have become part of the core of this current Indians’ team. They are players whom fans could feel confident buying their jerseys and on whom they can risk expending their emotions because, if things continue as planned, these are players who have longevity in Cleveland.
In the 1990s, the Indians had a strong roster of originally drafted players that included the likes of Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle, Charles Nagy, Jaret Wright, and Paul Shuey, among others, who gave Indians fans some of the best seasons of recent memory. However, they were all dispersed and moved along to different organizations, leaving the Indians with a chunk of poor years where their talent was not nearly at the same level. This trend seemed to begin to change, however, in the late 2000s, when the Indians took the likes of players such as Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall, players who have become well-known, prominent names when it comes to the team, players whom the team knows they can trust – and whom Clevelanders can trust, as well.
Kipnis was drafted in the second round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft out of Arizona State University at age 22. He made his professional debut with the team on July 22, 2011, when he was 24 years old. In his thus-far four big league seasons with the Indians, Kipnis is hitting a career average of .269, with 391 hits, 74 doubles, nine triples, and 41 home runs. He has knocked in 200 runs and stolen 74 bases. Last season, Kipnis was named an All-Star for the first time in his career. He hit .284 in 2013, with 17 home runs and an .818 OPS. Despite his stint on the DL this season, Kipnis is still striving to prove himself as one of the strongest players on the team. He has been making impressive plays since his return, and is hitting .255 on the season so far. The Indians recently signed Kipnis to a six-year deal, locking him down through 2019, with a team option for the 2020 season. If things continue this way, with Kipnis proving himself as a core part of this Indians lineup, it is likely fans will continue to watch him for years to come.
Chisenhall is another player fans have come to know and love in an Indians uniform, as he was the 28th overall pick and signed by the Tribe in the first round of the 2008 First Year Player Draft. Though he has bounced around throughout the levels of the organization since making his Major League debut on June 27, 2011 (about a month before Kipnis), Chisenhall, as fans know, has been having himself a monster season thus far in 2014. He is currently pre-arbitration eligible, with a one-year, $511,000 deal keeping him in Cleveland through the end of this season. Chisenhall has never played more than 100 games at the big league level (he played in 94 games in 2013), but he is using 2014 to prove that he is capable of being a player that could be found in an Indians’ uniform for seasons to come. Chisenhall is hitting .365 and, regardless of what happens at the end of the season, will forever be remembered for his three-home run, five-hit, nine-RBI night against Texas on June 9.
Perhaps one of the biggest homegrown success stories comes in the form of Cody Allen, who flew through the Indians system following his drafting in the 23rd round of the 2011 draft. Allen made his professional debut on July 20, 2012, a mere 13 months after he signed with the team. He has asserted himself this season as one of the most reliable arms in the Indians over-worked bullpen, posting a 2.70 ERA and a 3-1 record on the season. Allen’s rise through the system is only mirrored by another Tribe original, Kyle Crockett, who was drafted in the 2013 First Year Player Draft and made his Major League debut in May, making him the first player from last year’s draft class to appear on the Major League stage.
The Indians have further pitching potential that has always been with the Indians system in players such as Danny Salazar who, despite a rocky start this season, showed Clevelanders last season that he is not a talent to be ignored. Vinnie Pestano is also Cleveland-bred, and, if he can get his form back from previous seasons, can be a bullpen arm that the team can rely on.
Josh Tomlin is yet another pitcher who has been with the organization from his start, when he was drafted in the 19th round of the 2006 First Year Player Draft, even sticking with the team through his year-long rehabilitation process following his 2012 Tommy John surgery. Tomlin is quickly proving that he can still be a quality starter for the team, as he was in his early years, giving fans yet another name that they can remember and not be afraid to cheer for.
If the current success of the Indians lies with many of these homegrown players, so too does the success of future rosters. T.J. House has already demonstrated this season that he is an arm the Indians can trust, and it is likely that he will appear again in Cleveland before the season is over. Jesus Aguilar and Jose Ramirez are position players who have played with the Indians organization since their initial drafting, and have both contributed to the team at the Major League level this season. Furthermore, many of the organizations top prospects, such as Francisco Lindor, are showing no signs of slowing down their progress, giving fans even more opportunities to watch players come into their own solely as part of the Indians’ organization.
Is this to say that these players will never get traded or released by the team? Not by any stretch. However, when players have success and form a relationship with a city, an organization, and with fans, it is not always as easy to view them as options for change. If organizations want fans in seats, they want to give them players that they know and that they love. And what better way to do that than by sticking with players throughout their developmental process and giving fans time to know and connect with them?
Photo: David Banks/Getty Images