25 years ago, the Cleveland Indians moved into Jacob’s Field in the Gateway Complex on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. Other ballparks have been built and torn down since across the nation, while the Tribe has managed to invest in beautification and modernization to keep what is now Progressive Field the crown jewel of the North coast.
Harken back to before teams of Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Albert Belle, Omar Vizquel, and Charles Nagy enthralled all of Northeast Ohio. Cleveland Municipal Stadium had the urinal troughs, wooden chairs to bang against rusted steel frames, and horrific baseball teams on a dirt diamond draped across the outlines of fall football, which shared usage within the lake-shore cement monolith.
Now realize the last time the Indians drafted– and signed– an outfielder who achieved at a minimum a 12.0 bWAR for his entire career was when the team still called The Muni home.1
The only caveats above include Jason Kipnis being drafted and developed as a second baseman, though he has spent a small amount of MLB service time in center field. Lonnie Chisenhall as drafted as a third baseman. After flaming out at the position for the Tribe, he spent less than a month in Triple-A before locking down the fat-side of a right field platoon. Chris Gimenez played five different positions even in his first season in the minors.5
The best outfielders the Indians drafted then are Desmond Jennings, who the Tribe took an 18th round flier on in 2005 only to have him not sign, and Luke Scott, who was traded after two seasons in the minors for Jeriome Robertson (12.21 ERA, 9.19 FIP for the Indians in 14 innings pitched). The only other player of any significance even drafted by the Indians on this list is Ryan Church, who WFNY’s Scott Sargent detailed a few years back.
Even worse, 12 of the 21 seasons– not counting 2015 and beyond– saw no outfielder drafted ever make a positive bWAR contribution of any kind at the MLB level. For a small market ballclub that depends on the health of the farm system to draft and develop talent, it is a gigantic crater in the either the evaluation or development of outfield prospects (or likely both). The front office has been forced to identify and obtain young outfield talent through trades. Here, the executives from the team have done well to add star players such as Grady Sizemore, Michael Brantley, and Shin Soo Choo over the years, among others.6
Perhaps Bradley Zimmer or Greg Allen break the string of not obtaining outfield value through the MLB Rule IV Draft for the Indians. Maybe Will Benson becomes everything the Tribe saw in him when he was drafted in 2016. But, the front office targeting Leonys Martin, Oscar Mercado, Jordan Luplow, Jake Bauers, Brandon Barnes, Daniel Johnson, and Matt Joyce as additional options there since the 2018 trade deadline means they are not counting on it.