Unlike the other two big professional sports, grading a Major League Baseball draft class cannot happen definitively for years. With many prospects coming into the professional circuit straight out of high school or from time overseas, players need time to grow and develop and to learn how to play the game at the highest level imaginable. Even college players, after playing against a higher talent base in the NCAA ranks, need time to adapt to the professional game.
Earlier this week, MLB.com columnist Jim Callis took a look back at the 2011 draft and redrafted players, based on needs and now having a better understanding of how those players selected have performed after five years of time in the pro game. In his mock-up, Francisco Lindor would have gone second to Seattle, with the Indians taking Anthony Rendon eighth and current Indians pitchers Cody Allen and Trevor Bauer each earning selections before the first round was up.
It was an interesting perspective and piece of revisionist history.
As the Indians headed into the 2011 draft, they were coming off of what could be considered a disappointing draft class in 2010. With the fifth overall pick, they selected left-hander Drew Pomeranz out of the University of Mississippi, but he was on the move by the trade deadline in 2011, headed to Colorado as the player to be named later portion of the package for starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez. Just eight players selected by the Tribe that season have reached the Majors, including Pomeranz, and several with new clubs after failing to sign with Cleveland and re-entering the draft in later years.
Pomeranz is the most successful of those who signed, but none of that came in a Cleveland jersey. Tyler Holt, the club’s tenth round pick and the 300th player drafted overall, remains the only player drafted and signed by the Indians that season to appear at the MLB level with Cleveland.
The 2011 draft held a lot of promise and a lot of big names at the top of the class. The Indians held the eighth pick and many of those big names were off of the board when it came time to select, including Gerrit Cole (Pittsburgh, first), Bauer (Arizona, third), Dylan Bundy (Baltimore, fourth), and Rendon (Washington, sixth). The Indians’ pick, then 17-year-old Lindor, has been one of the more successful players taken, even with less than a full year in the Majors under his belt now.
Following the Indians pick, several top flight players were taken, including George Springer (by the Astros with the eleventh pick), Jose Fernandez (by the Marlins with the 14th pick), Sonny Gray (by the Athletics at 18). C.J. Cron, Joe Panik, Kolten Wong, Joe Ross, Taylor Jungmann, Blake Swihart, Jackie Bradley Jr., and even this season’s breakout star, Trevor Story, came out of the first round of that draft.
The Indians missed on a pitcher in the second round, taking right-hander Dillon Howard out of Searcy High School in Arkansas. A 50-game suspension for a positive test for an amphetamine and the lost desire to pitch had him out of the game by 2014 after just 12 minor league games in the Arizona Rookie League. Righty Jake Sisco was the selection with the 97th pick overall and seventh overall in the third round out of Merced Junior College. He appeared in 51 games in the minors over three seasons, including 46 starts, but after a 7-21 record and 4.98 career ERA, he was retired by the time the 2014 season started.
Catcher Jake Lowery made the cut for the Tribe at pick number 128 in the fourth round. He remained with the Indians organization until the start of this season, when he was released.
It has not been all doom and gloom for the Indians in the 2011 draft class, after the selection of Lindor.
Will Roberts was selected in the fifth round and is still with Triple-A Columbus. Sixth rounder Bryson Myles, ninth rounder Jordan Smith, 15th rounder Todd Hankins, and 38th round pick Yhoxian Medina have bounced back and forth between Double-A Akron and Columbus this season. Reliever Jeff Johnson (tenth round) is on that Clippers roster, as well as three other current Columbus residents who have contributed to the Indians club this season – Cody Anderson (14th round), Ryan Merritt (16th round), and Shawn Armstrong (18th round).
One of the bigger steals in the draft has been their closer Allen, the Indians’ 23rd round selection out of High Point University with the 698th pick. With a Baseball-Reference.com WAR of 5.6, he trails only Fernandez (12.3), fifth rounder Mookie Betts (11.0), Gray (9.9), Cole (9.2), Springer (8.9), Rendon (8.6), 32nd rounder Kevin Pillar, and Lindor (7.3) for career WAR by players drafted in the class.
Allen’s selection by the Indians was made all the more interesting when considering Cleveland had drafted him in the 16th round the season before, but did not come to terms with him. Then, he was pitching at St. Petersburg College in St. Petersburg, Florida, but had relocated to High Point University in High Point, North Carolina, when the Indians called his name a second time in 2011, one year and seven rounds later.
His rise through the farm system was bordering on meteoric after signing quickly with the Indians and reporting to short-season Mahoning Valley. After six weeks and 14 appearances (3-1, 2.14 ERA, .183 batting average against, 42/9 strikeout/walk ratio), he was promoted to Lake County in early August. He was gone before the month ended, throwing 17 scoreless innings in seven games, allowing ten hits and five walks while striking out 28. He spent a game with Double-A Akron and another with High-A Kinston before the minor league season was done.
He started the 2012 season at High-A Carolina and appeared in just two games before a promotion to Akron. He lasted five games there and got another promotion to Triple-A Columbus before April was even over. By mid-July, he was on the mound at Progressive Field, making his Major League debut on July 20, 2012. He was the first American League player from his draft class to reach the Majors, and the second in all of baseball (joining his future teammate with the Indians, former Arizona number three pick Bauer, who debuted on June 28 of that season).
Despite 697 names being called before his in that 2011 draft, Allen beat all but Bauer to the Majors, an impressive feat no matter how you look at it.
While the Indians may have missed in the early rounds of the draft after the selection of Lindor, they have much more depth remaining from this class than the previous year’s picks. In addition to Roberts, Myles, Smith, Johnson, Hankins, Medina, Anderson, Merritt, and Armstrong all spending time at Columbus, 19th rounder Shawn Morimando is on the 40-man roster and a prospect to watch on the staff of the Akron RubberDucks. On occasion, his battery mate in Akron is Eric Haase, the club’s seventh round pick. Grant Sides, a reliever on the ‘Ducks roster, was a 12th round pick that season.
Of their 50 selections made, six have reached the Majors and five with the club. Two are regular and reliable contributors to the Indians now, while Anderson, Merritt, and even Armstrong could factor into things at some point this season and in the years beyond. Left-handed pitcher Michael Roth, who the Indians selected in the 31st round but did not sign, was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the ninth round the next season and debuted in April of 2013. He spent two seasons there and eventually returned to the Indians’ Columbus affiliate for the 2015 season before signing with Texas in the offseason.
Mike Clevinger, the Angels’ fourth round pick in ’11, is now a top pitching prospect for the Indians in Columbus.
Compared to other teams around the league, the Indians have had far better results with the 2011 draft than many other teams. Only Atlanta, Boston, the Chicago White Sox, Detroit, Milwaukee, the New York Mets, San Diego, San Francisco, Texas, Toronto, and Washington had at least five players that they drafted and signed who eventually reached the Majors.
The baseball draft is a tough one to forecast with such a long and difficult road to climb to reach The Show. Even five years after the 2011 draft, it is still an unclear and unresolved picture. While the verdict may be out on some of the remaining prospects with the club, the Indians have gotten significant production from some and can have high hopes still on others for the near future.
The 2011 draft also marked a significant improvement in the Indians’ drafting ways, a key factor for a “small market” club that has preached the importance of developing from within and supplementing slightly from the outside, with money at the heart of the discussion.
With what appears to be a successful 2011 draft and hopefully more to come in the future, the Indians can rely on their bulked up farm system for their talent instead of being as reliant as they once were in turning their high-dollar commodities into the prospects of the future by raiding other teams’ coffers. That has been the manner in which the team acquired some of its biggest stars and contributors in recent memory, including names like Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco, Yan Gomes, Corey Kluber, and Carlos Santana.
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer