For many years, the Cleveland Indians have had a hard time in the MLB First-Year Player Draft. Throughout the past decade, the Tribe has taken players who have become busts like Trevor Crowe and Beau Mills. The Indians only have one player on their roster whom they have selected in the first round of the draft (Lonnie Chisenhall). For many years in the early rounds, the team would select college players with big production. This is all fine and good, but as a team you must weigh the stats with the potential of the prospect’s skills improving. Potential is hard to forecast and determine, but as a scouting department, it must be discussed.
In the early rounds of the draft, the Indians have gone with “safe” picks who mostly have come from college. From 2003 through 2010, the Tribe selected nine of their eleven first round picks from college. The selection of strictly college prospects has really hurt the Tribe because it caused them to miss out on many top talents from high school like Adam Jones and Homer Bailey. Major League Baseball is full of players from both high school and college and so teams should not avoid one route from another. Organizations must evaluate the talent without any restrictions or preconceived notions. Then after the evaluation of the prospect’s skills, the team should look at his production and the level of opponent they did this against. This proclivity to select “safe” college players along with just bad scouting has caused the Indians to miss on many of their top picks in the recent past.
But it appears as though the Indians have finally learned from their rough past and have changed the way they approach the draft. Since 2011, the Indians have selected shortstop Francisco Lindor from Montverde Academy (FL), outfielder Tyler Naquin from Texas A&M University, outfielder Clint Frazier from Loganville High School (GA). This past week, the Tribe added to that list by selecting outfielder Bradley Zimmer from the University of San Francisco (CA) and pitcher Justus Sheffield from Tullahoma High School (TN). So the past four years, the Indians have selected three high school players and two college players in the first round. This is a good sign for Indians fans because the team is not going strictly the college route while shying away from the younger high school players.
The biggest change for the Indians is their approach to risk and ceiling. For many years, the Indians selected low risk players with not as much upside as other potential prospects. They did not want to go with the prospect who could blow up and be a huge bust. But, especially these past two seasons, the Tribe has abandoned that thinking and gone with more potential type players. Clint Frazier was definitely one of those players who has high upside type talent. Frazier is a five-tool prospect with a high ceiling according to many experts. But he is not fully developed and must improve his skills in order to reach his ceiling. He came directly out of high school so he has a lot seasoning to do. The Indians are projecting that with his makeup and talent he can grow into his skills and be the player they thought he could be.
In this year’s draft the Indians continued the new philosophy of selecting the more upside type players. Bradley Zimmer is a talented hitter with five-tool talent. Zimmer is projected to have power but he has not developed it well enough yet to stay for certain. So, the Indians think his other skills are good enough to get him through the minors while he improves his ability to hit for power. Justus Sheffield is another player who does not have a polished game yet. Sheffield has the beginnings of very good pitching ability but must refine his pitches to be a MLB-caliber player. So, the Indians have definitely gone with high risk/high reward players.
The Cleveland Indians are trying to buck the trend of bad drafting with their new philosophy. They want players who have more potential and talent that can develop. The 2014 draft was a major example of their new thinking and people have taken notice. Keith Law of ESPN gave the Indians his highest compliments by saying they had the one of the best drafts this year. Law remarked about the Indians’ draft and philosophy saying, “Overall, it’s an outstanding haul, a mixture of probability and upside that adds both arms and polished bats to the system.” The Tribe is hoping that this new philosophy can translate to more players who can make it to the big leagues and be difference makers for them.