The Cleveland Indians need to build through the draft!
This is the recent mantra of beat writers and bloggers alike.
So now that EVERYONE is on board with that 10 years after it should have been obvious to anyone who understood baseball, let's move on to the real problem:
How do you have a successful draft?
Let's step back almost 2 years to 2010. The Indians had what I and others called the best draft in baseball that year...on paper. I mean, they drafted guys like Drew Pomeranz, LeVon Washington, Tony Wolters, Kyle Blair, Cole Cook in the first 5 rounds. All solid picks. They followed that with great talents Alex Lavisky, Robbie Aviles and potentially good ones Jordan Cooper, Tyler Holt and Michael Goodnight. Consenus top 250 prospects in that draft class. They also drafted, but did not sign, Cody Allen, who they re-drafted and signed in 2011. Two years later, a draft that looked so good now looks like a bust.
What went wrong with the 2010 draft and how can we fix it?.
Drafting top prospects, to me, comes down to scouting and player development. If you break a draft down, here is what I think you have:
The first round pick is more about HOW well the guy will do in the majors, not whether he will make the majors. In many cases the downside is if the guy has a position switch. For example, Trevor Crowe and Jason Kipnis were drafted to be turned from outfielders to secondbaseman. One change took, the other didn't. Crowe did not have first round value as an outfielder. Kipnis had second round value as a secondbaseman. Thus we got good value for Kipnis and bad value for the Crowe pick. Pomeranz was a great first pick. He has talent and was almost major league ready when drafted. Check. The Indians can hit the dunk shot. Phew!
In the second through 5th rounds, it is about finding first/second round value in players who have talent but have something that turns evaulation people off (including bloated bonus demands compared to perceived talent). It can also, for the more conservative clubs, be about finding role players (5th starters, good setup men, 3rd/4th outfielders, complimentary/platoon players) who MAY turn into more. Washington was a great second round pick. Wolters was worth the gamble and Blair and Cook seemed like solid, safe picks who were bound to net us 4th/5th starters or setup men. But these players haven't developed and, in all cases, stalled early.
In rounds 6-10 it is about drafting the guys who slipped out of the first two rounds AND about finding those guys who could be good role players in the majors. For the guys projected as role players, they have 1 to 2 tools that may play up in pro ball. If a miracle happens and they are coached up in pro ball to be more than that, it is a plus. Still, a great defender or a guy with a great changeup or slider or an arm-strength pitcher is what teams should look for if they are not taking flyer picks. Lavisky and Aviles gave these rounds upside and Holt, Goodnight, Cooper and Dischler gave us some guys who had a good chance to be role players down the road. Nick Bartolone was a real stretch as the 6th round pick but was supposed to be a defensive wizard like Kyle Bellows was in the 4th round a year earlier and Mark Thompson was in 2007. Frankly, the Indians suck at drafting glove-first college players and developing them into hitters who can get out of the low minors..
The rest of the draft is supposed to be about finding that guy who might overachieve. The Indians are GREAT at finding relief prospects in rounds 6-50. They are pretty terrible at finding any other type of player in those rounds, at least ones they can sign (see Lincecum and Desmond Jennings). That's OK and gives them something for the last 40 or so picks every year. I can't say the Indians found any of those guys in this draft but time will tell. Historically they have been pretty good here so, even if they weren't in this draft, it isn't that important and doesn't really address what the REAL problem is with their drafts.
So, to repeat, what went wrong? To get a good draft all you have to do is draft and spend aggressively.. Take a lot of risk, overpay in rounds 2-10 and you have good potential instead of potential bit players. Then it comes down to player development. Kyle Blair has been a mess since he was drafted. So has Cole Cook and Tony Dischler was before he was released this spring. Goodnight and Cooper have been mediocre, exactly what they were in college. Lavisky and Wolters are slow developing although I think those two, plus Aviles, will likely be the top of what this draft brings to the Indians. But none of these guys are spiking in performance. You would guess 1-2 would look like real steals. But they don't
Frankly, the Indians are not developing this good talent into good players. They can develop less talent (Cody Allen, Matt Langwell, Tyler Sturdevant, Tony Sipp, Kyle Landis, Frank Herrmann, Vinnie Pestano, etc.) into ML options but they don't seem to be able to develop those talented 2nd-8th round guys into good ML players AND, when they take flyers on guys in those rounds, they ALWAYS fail. Trey Haley, Cord Phelps, Bellows, David Roberts the pitcher, Ben Carlson, Jeremie Tice, Joe Garnder, Bo Greenwell, Jonathon Holt, all were overdrafts who flamed out early or stalled or underperformed as they reached higher levels.
Either these were bad picks or, more likely, they were bad player development examples. Maybe we aren't drafting coachable players or our player development staff isn't identifying what strengths these guys have and shoring up the weaknesses and cultivating those strengths. I don't know. However, when you have a 2010 draft like the Indians did and placed MULTIPLE blue chip prospects into the organization and have it, less than 2 years later, look like a potential bust, that is not good. That is KC Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates, epically bad. Plus, when your scouts and scouting director are making strange draft picks and these guys fail early, there likely is a disconnect between player evaluation and player development.
The 2010 draft was VERY telling about the Cleveland Indians. The Indians need to fix their player development issues and they need to draft players who are more coachable. If you HAVE to build from the draft, you have to have both elements working well and in conjunction. The Indians don't.
That is my view from the cheap seats.