Are you excited for Thursday’s draft? Oh probably not, and that’s because MLB’s June draft is likely the least popular of any North American sport 1 .
But alas, Thursday is the first round of the MLB Draft, which has since moved to primetime to try and attract a more solid viewership. For the Cleveland Indians, they’ll be picking at their highest selection since 2010 thanks to their awful collapse last season — No. 5 overall.
Sitting at such a prime position, then lacking a second-round pick due to the free agent signing of Nick Swisher, the Indians are in a do-or-die position: Can they finally stop their slide of abysmal draft picks and actually get one right? What has the team’s track record looked like over the last decade-plus? Who are the possible targets at that position? Let’s dive into some baseball draft talk.
The Tribe’s drafting results
There are many ways one can look at MLB drafting results. It’s still a very imperfect science. Today, I’d just like to give a brief glimpse of a view different ways of looking at drafting success. It’s obviously arbitrary. And the data sources still require more spreadsheet work. But this will provide a preliminary outlook at what’s happened recently.
As the narrative goes, the Indians’ drafting abilities took a turn for the worst by the mid-to-late ’90s, with much less homegrown talent coming up through the system and leading to the end of the dominant run of teams. By all factors, the data backs up that claim.
However, as one caveat, I’d like to give the team credit for these two separate categories: 1) Trading for prospects in other organizations and making them better. What do Omar Vizquel, Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, Carlos Santana, Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Brantley, Justin Masterson and Chris Perez 2 all have in common? None were originally acquired by the Indians, despite their noted successes with the team. Cleveland’s done a phenomenal job of picking lower-level talent and converting it into long-term MLB production.
Also, 2) Signing international prospects. There had been talks ever since the new Collective Bargaining Agreement of a new international draft that would drastically change the way non-United States players jump over to MLB. But such talks have been delayed indefinitely. So, the old system remains of just signing the best players possible and doing immense scouting. Overall, the Indians clearly have been above average per their resources available.
But now that the positives are out of the way, it’s time to look at the drafting results. Let’s start with this MLB-wide chart, per Baseball-Reference.com:
|Begin||End||# Picks||% Majors||WAR/Majors|
We all know what WAR means, right? Good, I didn’t want to have to review that again today too. But overall, this chart should be depressing to you. Or, if you’ve read or watched Moneyball, then maybe it’s just slightly sad. These are all of the June draft results from 1965-2012. Obviously, some of the more recent draft picks haven’t made it yet to the majors. But the points still stand, if albeit maybe at a slightly lower scale than what they’ll end up being in 10-15 years.
So even with a top-15 pick, historically, the odds of said player actually reaching the major leagues is only about 70%. And once reaching the major leagues, the average WAR production is only 11.6, which is about the equivalent of two All-Star level seasons.
For each increment of 15 picks as illustrated above, the overall odds trend downwards in an exponential fashion. The top-15 are by far the best; then there is as large of a gap between 1-15 and 16-30, as there is between 16-30 and 106-120.
Now, let’s take a Cleveland-centric focus. The chart below shows the Indians’ drafting record in the first 10 rounds from 1996-2006:
|Year||Top-10 WAR||Top Pick #||Top-10 Best|
|1996||0.2||28||Paul Rigdon (0.6)|
|1997||0.1||28||Dustan Mohr (2.4)|
|1998||59||20||CC Sabathia (55.8)|
|2000||5.4||26||Joe Inglett (4.9)|
|2001||13||17||Luke Scott (12.3)|
|2002||20.8||22||Jeremy Guthrie (18.8)|
|2003||10.6||11||Kevin Kouzmanoff (6.8)|
|2004||2.2||6||Jeremy Sowers (1.6)|
|2005||2.7||14||Jensen Lewis (2.3)|
|’96-’06||110.5||127 picks||30 made Majors|
In total, among these 127 picks, 30 made the majors. That obviously includes many more picks below the top-120 picks overall, but still is quite poor overall. In total, those 30 players that made the highest level combined for 110.5 WAR — but more than half of that is from one player (CC Sabathia, 55.8).
In two of these 11 seasons, there was no player drafted in the first 10 rounds that eventually posted a positive WAR in the major leagues. In seven of these 11 seasons, the combined WAR of the first 10 round Cleveland draftees was less than 5.5 overall.
Looking at just the 37 Cleveland picks in the first two rounds from 1996-2006, only two players drafted by the Indians have contributed more than 2.0 WAR in their entire MLB career: Sabathia and Guthrie. A total of 14 other players made the majors, but they had a combined -2.4 WAR in the big leagues.
Some of the infamous names didn’t make it into the chart above, as I alternatively included the best WAR player from those first 10 rounds instead. Obviously, the caveat here is that I’m missing some of the lower-round players where the Indians have had some success over the years. But the point still stands: The drafting has been awful. And the early results even starting from 2007 haven’t been that positive either 3 , despite the tempting narrative of Brad Grant’s success.
The prospects in 2013
So enough with dogging on the Indians for what they really haven’t done that well on for the last 15-plus years contributing to an inadequate rebuilding project after inadequate rebuilding project because of the utmost importance of the draft for mid-market teams. Nah, we’ll move on for today.
What are the MLB Draft big boards looking like for Thursday’s first round? Here’s a quick glimpse at a few:
Because of the intricacies of the draft spending structure, it’s near impossible to mock draft in MLB through the first five picks, let alone much more than that. This consensus top 8 above should provide a basic structure for how the draft will begin; but by the end of the 40th round, there will be 90% players that most very smart sports people have never heard of before.
However, when looking at some of the mock drafts out there, a majority have the Indians taking the 6-foot-3 Moran out of UNC. He’s had phenomenal production this season, with four times as many walks as strikeouts. But scouts question his future position in the league as he’s not very skilled at third base. Also, should the Indians be drafting another college-centered bat, with relatively limited upside for growth in the future?
The sexy choice for the Indians would be if one of the top three players in the draft miraculously falls into their laps because of team’s aversions to spending early. Without a second-round pick, Cleveland will have to be careful about how it allots its first-round slot money, but those top three players are a cut above everyone else.
From there, I’d probably even prefer the 6-foot-3 Meadows more than Moran. He’s bigger and has more upside than both him and Frazier. Meadows still requires a lot of development work coming out of high school with limited production, but he projects to have above-average hit and power tools that line him up for a future corner outfield position.
All in all, Cleveland drafted conservatively last year in nabbing Tyler Naquin with the No. 15 pick. It’s time for a splash or some hope and promise to add to the fold, a la Francisco Lindor at No. 8 in 2011. May we see a pitcher instead of the presumed hitter? May one of the top-three actually fall to No. 5? We shall see, but for the Indians, this draft again is vitally important in building a sustained contender for the long-term.
AP File Photo/Mark Duncan
- I could even understand the argument for the NHL, MLS and WNBA drafts being more exciting. Heck, I was even reading a few WNBA mock drafts this year. [back]
- Obviously, this list doesn’t include some of the failed Cliff Lee-CC Sabathia trade returns. But by and large, the Indians have done quite well in these trades over the years. [back]
- The point I was debating with TD at the Indians game on Thursday: Jason Kipnis is the only high-profile position player drafted by the Indians to have any sustained success in the majors in the last 15 years. It’s sad but likely true. [back]