The 2014 MLB Draft Reveals Indians New Philosophy

mlb 2014 Draft

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.

Indians First Round Picks Since 2011 

2011 – SS Francisco Lindor
2012 – OF Tyler Naquin
2013 – OF Clint Frazier
2014 – OF Bradley Zimmer
2014 – LHP Justus Sheffield

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.

  • saggy

    i nearly always feel that teams should draft with this philosophy. In baseball there is so much that has to go right over the course of 2-4 years for the player to end up contributing at the big league level, so why not have the guy with the biggest upside?

  • markn95

    I admit to being as clueless about the MLB Draft as most people in America. Maybe it’s because the Indians don’t pick in the top 10 every year like the Cavs and Browns have done for the last 5-10 years, respectively. So there’s not much reason to pore over mock drafts. That’s not to say the minor leagues aren’t fun to follow, because once the Tribe picks a player, I’m all in on the guy. I took a few minutes over the weekend to look at the Indians’ top 5 or so picks and they are definitely intriguing. Zimmer, Papi, and even Bradley all look like they could be good major league hitters. Zimmer especially has a lot of upside for a college player–maybe we got the best of both worlds there. And Sheffield and Hentges are solid upside guys. Brad Grant has been an improvement over Mirabelli as scouting director but his one weak spot has been starting pitching, particularly high schoolers. Dillon Howard is the obvious bomb but guys like Trey Haley and Mitch Brown have also been high round disappointments (although Brown still has a little time to come around). I’ll give him credit for T.J. House and Pomeranz but those guys are only now coming into their own. Hopefully, they are a sign of better things to come. If Grant can bolster his portfolio of SP prospects, then this farm system will really begin to take off.

  • Steve

    “For many years, the Indians selected low risk players with not as much upside as other potential prospects”

    A common refrain, but how true? The team spent a bunch of money on Guthrie, a guy with a ton of upside, and Snyder, Miller, Aubrey as well. Yes, their draft picks have seriously busted, but I’m not sure it’s because they went too conservative.

  • Joe Gilbert

    Beau Mills was all numbers with limited upside. Alex White also had great production in college but the only had limited upside because of his limited pitch selection. Only had two major league pitches. They chose these guys over upside players with multiple tools like Mike Trout, Jason Heyward, and Shelby Miller.

  • Harv 21

    I remember their commenting that Aubrey was already a pro-type hitter, just heat and serve. Seems the drafting philosophy and/or scouting of position players was so poor that they couldn’t even do what every other team does, occasionally stumble on a lower round guy who ends up excelling in the majors. The futility lasted so long there had to be something systemically wrong.

    I looked at their draft history and 2 things jump out: 1) in the early 2000s they devoted a ton of the highest round picks to pitchers. Almost like the philosophy was that it was sufficient to find good position players on the cheap overseas (Peralta, Martinez) or poached in trades (Sizemore, Brantley). 2) Before Kipnis in ’09, I didn’t see one decent starting position player going all the way back to John McDonald (12th round ’96) who was ok and Sean Casey (2nd round ’95) who was a star for the Reds. They stumbled on Ryan Garko in between but he was meh and just around for a minute and that was it. Thirteen years! Amazing fultility, just astonishing.

  • MrCleaveland

    On its face, it makes sense to think that college players might have an edge over high school phenoms, so I can’t knock that kind of thinking. Especially with some of the crazy money first-rounders are now getting. You want to give all that money to a high school kid? Pretty risky.

    And BTW, 29 other teams passed on Adam Jones and Homer Bailey. Just sayin’.

    Finally, are there any MLB teams that consistently draft well? Do any hit on even 50% of their first rounders? I would be surprised if there are.

  • Joe Gilbert

    Homer Bailey was selected #7 right after Sowers. I am not saying that they need to hit all of them and yes most teams don’t hit on 50% of them. But the Indians, since 2000, only have two quality first round picks that have played in the MLB for more then a couple years (Guthrie and Chisenhall). Guthrie is playing for someone else and Chisenhall is finally producing after a couple of years of below average play. Indians need to get more then this out of their drafts.

  • MrCleaveland

    Yeah, I agree that they do need to get more. But it’s pretty much all guesswork. A crap shoot. A roll of the dice. A spin of the wheel. The luck of the draw. A flip of the coin. Rock paper scissors . . .

  • Joe Gilbert

    True it is a lot harder to pick in the MLB. But must get better.

  • Steve

    Yes, they took guys with lower upside too. I’m saying that they’ve taken a mix, and it’s hard to pin their lack of success on any one thing.

    If only everyone knew what the upside of Trout, Heyward, and Miller were like they do after the fact.

  • Joe Gilbert

    True. I wasn’t trying to say that this was the only culprit. It just is one of the bigger problems along with just overall bad evaluating of talent.

  • mgbode

    I’d list the St.Louis Cardinals and all of their drafted players making an impact for MLB clubs, but I don’t want to cry today. I believe it was Jon (due to his affinity for that club) but it may have been Jacob that wrote up an article last year going over those details.

  • mgbode

    well, we kept throwing out rock but the rest of MLB knew it and kept covering us with paper.

    Rock, rock, Good ole rock, nuttin beats rock.

  • Steve

    I guess I’m just not so sure. Yes, they drafted poorly, and that was a huge flaw in building their team through the 2000s. But figuring out where the fault lies is so hard.

    I think that a guy like Trout shows just how hard it is to figure out draft picks once you get past about #5 or so. Everyone saw he was an impressive athlete, but the NJ talent is nowhere near like it is where they can play ball year round. Was he just beating up lower competition or could he actually play?

    The Tribe missed on low risk guys, they missed on high risk guys, they missed on guys that every scout out there loved. I wonder if the fault lies not with the scouts but with the player development. But there doesn’t seem to be a spot where their picks seem to flame out more than others, and they’ve actually done a good job with their international prospects.

  • Jeff

    Time will tell, but I think the Indians have been doing a better job of drafting over the past three years. If the farm develops and becomes one of the best, the proof will be in the pudding.

    This year didn’t hurt. They were successful last year, so they were at the back half of the first round, but they got a falling Zimmer due to the run on pitchers. Then they picked up both the sandwich pick for losing Ubaldo and the competitive balance pick. They got to add a lot of potential to the org. Frankly, that OF looks like it could be scary awesome if even half the guys in the system develop. They’ve got Naquin nearly here and performing well in Akron. Frazier hasn’t been as strong, but it looks like they have him working on plate discipline. His K rate has slid a little bit with his OBP differential climbing upwards. I think they’re trying to get him to be more selective and patient.

  • nj0

    It needs to be mentioned that the new slotting system minimizes (though does not completely eliminate) concerns about a player’s signability. Before Lindor, you have to go back to 2001 to find a year where we used our first pick on a high school player. I suspect that is because prep players had more leverage in negotiations and can walk away to college if a team wouldn’t pay them what they felt they deserved. Before the new CBA, I think our front office was very concerned about that sort of thing (and not busting the bank) so they gravitated to college players.

  • nj0

    I get your point, but you forgot Pomeranz. Not that one player changes anything all that much.

  • mgbode

    which was proven to be a mistake, btw. there were a few papers out there that demonstrated the ROI on draft picks was incredibly more efficient than elsewhere in MLB (even accounting for bust-factor). so, if we would have thrown more money into the draft than the MLB-team, it actually would have helped us out long-term.

    now, we did figure this out the last couple seasons of the old-CBA and were among the league leaders in draft $$$ paid.