Continued Success Starts with the Draft
Danny Madden | On 15, Feb 2015
As a low budget team, the Indians really need to bank on being able to raise their players through the farm system. This requires solid coaching, good leadership, and some talented players. This puts a lot of pressure on the front office to make sure that they are going into the draft fully prepared to select the best player they can that will impact them in the future. Unlike the college drafts in the NBA and the NFL, it usually takes years for players to develop in the minor leagues before they’re ready for their time to shine in the MLB, which makes it difficult to predict if a player from the draft is actually going to ever impact the team. Over the last couple of seasons though, the Indians have been prosperous in their drafts, which has boded well for them over the last couple of seasons.
Prior to 2008, the Indians had not been very good in their drafts, and the result of their poor drafts is shown in how they performed between the 2009-2012 seasons. Between 2004 and 2007, the Indians first pick overall consisted of Jeremy Sowers, Trevor Crowe, David Huff, and Beau Mills, all of whom are either not in the majors or are not contributing much to a major league team. Huff saw some time with the Giants and Yankees in 2014, but it was only out of the bullpen instead of in a starting role like he was drafted to fill. Crowe spent most of his career being injured with the Indians, but was eventually released. He spent some time in the minors in 2014 with Detroit, but never cracked the majors with them.
Aside from their first round picks, even their secondary and later round picks are not to be seen in the majors except for Vinnie Pestano, and Josh Tomlin who is still with the Tribe. On average, it takes a player about three to four years before they break the majors, depending on scarcity of the position in the system, talent of the player, and how confident the team feels about such player. By going four years into the future of these drafts, the records of the Indians between 2008-2011 were not anything to get excited about. During this span, the Indians went 295-353, two of those seasons had 90+ lost games. Around 2008 was when the Indians really started to turn things around in their drafting abilities.
Their first round pick of 2008 was the current third basemen of the Tribe, Lonnie Chisenhall. He was just the start of what has now turned into string of consecutive years of quality picks from the draft. Along with Chisenhall, lefty T.J. House was selected in the sixteenth round, and current backup catcher Roberto Perez was also selected in the thirty-third round of that draft.
In 2009, the Tribe selected pitcher Alex White with their first round pick, who was eventually traded as part of the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, along with the 2010 first round pick Drew Pomeranz. Their second pick in the 2009 draft though was where they selected Jason Kipnis. Within two years of each other, the Indians have gone on to select two players who will be serving everyday roles in the 2015 squad. Kipnis has been such a crucial part of this team since he made his debut in 2011, that the Tribe made sure to lock him up to a six year deal during the spring of 2014. Despite having a down season in 2014, he’s still going to be a player that the Tribe will rely on in 2015, and that all started with him being drafted in 2009.
As time went on, the Indians continued to get better with their making quality picks in the draft. Their best selection over probably the last decade was with their first round pick in 2011, which was for shortstop Francisco Lindor. Lindor, 21, was ranked the fourth best prospect by MLB.com and is likely to make his debut with the Indians at some point during the 2015 season. He’ll be another player that will become an everyday asset, and he wasn’t acquired by trades or free agency, but by quality drafting by the front office. Along with Lindor, current closer Cody Allen was also selected in the 2011 draft and he has worked his way into being a centerpiece in the Indians bullpen for the foreseeable future.
The 2014 draft may have been one of the best draft classes for the Indians. They selected Bradley Zimmer and lefty Justus Sheffield in their first round, who both should be contributors to the club for a long time. Along with these two Mike Papi, Grant Hockin, and power hitting first basemen Bobby Bradley are all projected to grow into quality players. These five players alone made the Indians stand out among the rest of the teams as the ceilings for these players are incredibly high.
After 2008, it is easy to see how much the Indians have recently benefited from making quality picks in the draft. At least seven of the players on the current roster were acquired during the draft, there are more quality players in the minors that are waiting to bust onto the scene. If a small market team, like the Indians, can be prosperous from a draft, it really just benefits them for the future. They don’t have the ability to go out and sign players for crazy amounts of money like some other teams can, but if they are able to get players in the draft and bring them up through the system correctly then they don’t feel as pressured to spend money on free agents.
This is the pain that comes with being a smaller market team, but the Indians have been able to get away with not spending money. Their drafting abilities have improved, and should keep on improving based off the picks they’ve chosen in the last few years. The future for the Indians is looking great right now, but only time will tell if these prospects pan out.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images