Indians Lose to Dodgers; Aggressive Direction in 2017 MLB Draft

In the Clayton Kershaw start on Tuesday, the Cleveland Indians lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers, 7-5. Despite what the high score would indicate, Trevor Bauer was rock solid against a strong Dodgers lineup. However, hiccups from Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw,1 and Dan Otero would prove too much for the Indians offense to overcome. Alas, with yet another frustrating Tribe performance in Tuesday night’s effort, let’s shift the focus to player development and the 2017 MLB Rule IV Amatuer Draft.

OK, right after we take a peek at Daniel Robertson’s first MLB home run (351 MLB plate appearances).

2017 MLB Draft

The Major League Baseball draft is one of unmatched imprecision with anything outside the a Top 5 to Top 10 pick being as much art form as it is a dart throw. This is not a heavy-handed jab at scouting but rather an honest appreciation of the unpredictability of drafting and development of 17 to 22 year old kids. The Indians have been more successful of late finding Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, Lonnie Chisenhall, Cody Allen, Bradley Zimmer, Clint Frazier, and more in the past decade of the draft (mostly in the higher rounds).

One of the things draft analysts attempt to do when mocking players to teams and considering process is to attempt to isolate patterns. What are individual organizations valuing and how will that impact their approach to the draft? While this is informative, it comes with significant limitations be it changing scouting departments, analytics integration, or director changes, ala the Indians shift from John Mirabelli to Brad Grant; a massive upgrade.

Grant has held down the Indians director of scouting role since 2007 and has overseen a collection of highly successful drafts. Sensing a pattern with Grant is difficult as his initial first-round pick involved that of a troubled youngster named Lonnie Chisenhall.2. Of course, Kipnis was a productive college player with a work ethic that was unmatched. There was Drew Pomeranz, a college pitcher with a fantastic curveball and at times a frustrating makeup. The reserved college bat in Tyler Naquin, the young gleeful shortstop in Francisco Lindor, the toolsy prep outfielder Clint Frazier, and the giraffe like college outfielder Bradley Zimmer. Prep pitchers, see Sheffield, McKenzie, and Hillman.

The Indians only modus operandi had appeared to be that it has none and only seeks value. Yet, in the 2016 and 2017 drafts, the Indians have gone in an aggressive, youth and tools based approach in the early rounds.

In 2016, the Indians selected two prep position players with their first two picks: Will Benson a freak athlete with enormous raw power who was 17 on draft day and Nolan Jones, newly turned 18 year old athlete who plays a polished 3rd base. Each player has been handled with kid gloves with the transition to Mahoning Valley once their season begins in late June.

2017 is similar at the top. The Indians first pick was No. 64 in the second round because their first pick was utilized in the Edwin Encarnacion signing.  At No. 64, the Indians took a consensus Top 50 player in the draft, Quentin Holmes. Holmes has 80 speed, with many haphazardly comparing him to Billy Hamilton. Needless to say, Holmes has an elite tool which not only helps run creation but provides the basis for above average defense in center field. Holmes, like Benson, has not turned 18 before draft day emphasizing the Indians interest in players young for their competitive level.  Second-round compensation pick Tyler Freeman is an 18 year old shortstop who probably profiles as a utility infielder long-term depending on the development of his bat. Finally, the Indians took a swing at another prep lotto ticket in the third round named Johnathan Rodriguez, a young 17 year old outfielder with excellent athleticism and a bucket of tools that could build the barn of any scout’s dreams.

The Indians have invested major assets in prep-high school position players in 2016-2017, which will undoubtedly impact the direction of the franchise near 2020. There are two final points of emphasis. First, while prep players are more risky, the gap in risk between a college bat and high school bat is thinner than long implied. Second, this is a bet by the Indians organization that taking toolsy, young position players with strong makeups will play up the organizations developmental competencies. Only time will tell if they are correct.3

  1. With a huge assist from second baseman Jason Kipnis booting a would-be double play ball []
  2. Kicked off South Carolina’s baseball team for breaking into a dorm room in pursuit of electronics. []
  3. The Indians obviously have invested in other specs including a couple of interesting pitchers but the dominant portion of their top end assets are what I examined. []