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2008 Draft wrap

June 10, 2008
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In this final draft article of the year (no player or front office interviews this year folks, I am taking the summer off from that) I wanted to cover a number of things:

a) summarize the Indians 2008 draft
b) compare our draft to that of other teams
c) talk about next steps forward starting with how to handle this year’s draft choices
d) talk about next steps forward for the Indians

Before I get started, however, I wanted to discuss my main (but not only) source of information. Baseball America has been focusing on mainly the draft for 25 years. They have a lot of people with a lot of experience putting together their draft information and they have the experience to get it right. What they CAN do is know the difference between the worth of the 73rd best player in California and the guy who is the best player at the 107th slot in the 2008 draft. What they CAN’T do is tell you whether Connor Gillaspie or Jake Odorizzi or Tim Melville or Brett DeVall will eventually have the best professional career. But no scout can, if they are honest. There are just too many variables with guys that close in ability. So, you will never catch me nitpicking choices like that. However, Baseball America, with a quarter of a century of experience at this, is a GREAT coarse to semi-fine predictor of these things and is the best in the business at what they do. So, as you read what I write on the draft, realize that is how I use BA, and how I think it is best to use them. Now down off the soapbox and on with the report.

Summary of the draft

I have already summarized the first day of the draft in my Friday morning article. In short, it has all the earmarks of a disaster. The Indians completed the draft later the past Friday. They took 44 additional players on Friday and, as has been their history under John Mirabelli, used every one their picks which, of course, is a good thing because if you don’t draft players your chances of getting a major leaguer out of that draft slot is exactly zero. In Friday’s portion the Indians drafted only ONE player from the Baseball America (BA) top 200 draft prospects. His name is TJ House, a left-handed pitcher from Picauyne HS in Mississippi who BA ranked as the #100 prospect in this year’s draft. The only problem, as is the case with a lot of high profile guys drafted late, was summarized by BA when they wrote “a high price tag and a strong commitment to play baseball at Tulane has made House unsignable, keeping most teams away”, meaning that the likelihood of signing this kid for a reasonable draft amount (say $350,000, 3rd round draft money) is almost zero. The Indians, overall, had close to the fewest top prospects drafted (see table below) and, if you include players who were included in the top 250 players that Baseball America ranked, the Indians finished in a dead heat for last. Also, two of the four top prospects (according to Baseball America) they drafted (Haley and House) are considered as very difficult to impossible signs and a third (Putnam) will probably have to be signed for much over his slot due to his draft slot and his ranking during the year and he has some significant problems to his game, the combination of which led to him falling from his ranking of 50th to his draft slot of 171. This means that it is more than likely that the Indians will (a) have to overspend on Haley and/or House and/or Putnam or (b) they will wind up with as few as one top prospect (Chisenhall) signed out of this draft when they should have wound up with much more, considering how their competitors in baseball are likely to do.

It is impossible to know whether the remaining draft choices the Indians made of Friday will amount to anything. In a vacuum, just looking at their scouting reports, there are a few intriguing players. However, stepping out of that vacuum and looking at every team’s late round picks, each has a few of these intriguing prospects and, in fact, ALMOST EVERY team has more of these intriguing prospects on their draft list than the Indians did.

The Indians opened the draft by selecting a convicted criminal. On pure talent alone hearing from a scout (who said Chisenhall was not going to last past the supplemental first round) and from John Manuel of Baseball America (who wrote me that Boston would have selected Chisenhall had we not done it), I am willing to concede that his bat is a very good tool. However, he has no position as scouts say he can’t stay at shortstop, he won’t have enough power to move to third base or first base and he doesn’t have enough the speed/power combination to play in the outfield. Thus he will most likely have to be a good offensive (without any speed) second baseman or will have to make the difficult switch to catcher that almost no player who sees a path to the majors at another position will make. After that they drafted mostly low- to mid-level talents who most likely will make good organizational players with small few being major league relievers or position reserves and a handful of talented players who think they are worth a lot more than they really are.

As I said, this has the potential to be one of the worst drafts, in terms of overall talent, in the history of the Cleveland Indians. We could easily have had a much better draft (on paper) and it would have cost only about $2.3 million more than what our draft would cost (assuming we sign the top talents we selected), the amount of utility infielder Jamey Carroll’s salary. One thing is for sure. If they don’t sign Haley and House this WILL be among the, if not THE cheapest draft for any team in the major leagues this year and for the Indians since maybe 1999 and that, indeed, may be the problem here, as we will discuss below.

Comparing our draft to that of other teams

Using Baseball America’s top 200 list of 2008 draft prospects I put together the chart below showing how many top prospects each team in the majors drafted this year. I have broken these down into the overall number of top prospects picked and the number drafted on the second day of the draft when a team like the Indians should have been taking more chances. I have also included the extra picks a team had in the top 5 rounds in parentheses next to the team name as this impacts a team’s ability to draft high profile players as those extra picks are all in the first 5 rounds and teams with more early round picks are more likely to select top prospects as more are available in the first 5 rounds (NOTE: A negative number indicates that a team had less then 50 picks available to them to make and, of course, how many less). Where teams were tied in number of top prospects and number of extra picks I ranked the team higher who drafted at a worse position, that is, who drafted later in each round, since it was slightly harder for them to have access to top prospects in each round.

Boston (2) 13(5)
Baltimore (0) 6(2)
Oakland (0) 11(6)
Pittsburgh (0) 6(2)
San Francisco (0) 9(5)
NY Yankees (1) 6(1)
Arizona (1) 9(3)
Houston (2) 6(0)
Milwaukee (4) 9(2)
Detroit (0) 5(0)
Minnesota (2) 8(3)
Washington (0) 5(1)
St. Louis (1) 8(2)
Chicago Cubs (1) 5(1)
Texas (0) 7(2)
Atlanta (1) 5(1)
Colorado (0) 7(2)
Kansas City (1) 5(0)
LA Dodgers (0) 7(4)
Philadelphia (3) 5(0)
San Diego (3) 7(2)
Cleveland (0) 4(1)
Cincinnati (-1) 6(1)
Toronto (0) 4(1)
LA Angels (0) 6(2)
Tampa (0) 4(0)
Seattle (0) 6(2)
NY Mets (2) 4(0)
Florida (0) 6(3)
Chi Wite Sox (-1) 3(1)

As you can see the Indians ranked near the bottom in total top prospects drafted AND top prospects drafted on the second day when teams have the ability to take chances on drafting guys. Even after drafting players in the first day who won’t command large bonuses we took only one chance on the second day, indicating primarily that what we were going to spend was spent on the first day. In my opinion House is just an insurance policy draft if we can’t sign Haley and/or Putnam at slot bonuses and so have extra bonus money to spend. Clubs do that all the time making mirror selections later in the draft in case a tough sign doesn’t want to sign or doesn’t want to sign for a reasonable amount. The lack of other tough signs being drafted on the second day means that we are pretty sure we can sign most if not all of the rest of our picks in the top 8 rounds or so.

Steps Forward on This Year’s Draft

I will be brief here as I have made these points already. All evidence would indicate that Haley, Roberts and Phelps are not worth their slot bonuses, not even close. My suggestion to not sign any of them or, if you sign them, at much reduced rates and use that money in Latin America to sign 1-2 stud prospects. In my opinion these guys are serious overdrafts and so throwing good money at them is just a waste at this point. We will get our 2nd and 3rd round picks back next year, essentially, we get to play a mulligan on this year’s draft. Obviously we sign Chisenhall who I suspect will sign for an already agreed upon lower than slot bonus but my feeling is we let Putnam go unless he is willing to sign for slot. Ditto for House. As you look at the rest of the draftees there doesn’t seem to be even one who will command a large bonus so my thought is sign as many as you can if they are cheap.

Steps Forward for the Indians

In my opinion there are three scenarios that led to this draft:

(1) The scouting department really believes that the players we drafted in early rounds are worth their draft slots and the associated bonuses.

(2) The scouting department was under orders from the club to cut the bonuses from previous years.

(3) A combination of (1) and (2).

After having looked at the Tribe’s drafts for lots of years and examining John Mirabelli’s drafts I cannot believe that he or Brad Grant, who he trained, believe that these players the Indians drafted are truly deserving of their draft slots. I think they were looking for bargain basement values as they were told they only had pennies to spend. In other words they drafted poor man’s alternatives to more highly respected prospects hoping to catch lightning in a bottle while signing these guys for fractions of the value Major League Baseball has assigned to those slots. I think this would explain taking the risk on Chisenhall. While I don’t doubt the kid can hit, choosing a player who will have to change positions in the pros where the only logical destinations would be second and catcher, when the player has not played or only played a little at those positions previously is risky enough. However, when you add his criminal past, the risk seems almost completely unwarranted for a low budget club like Cleveland and one that prides itself on bringing in character guys to the organization….unless the Indians know he is willing to sign for significantly below slot.

So, whether it is actually correct I choose to believe that the owners have slashed the draft budget. Here are our estimated draft budges (from Baseball America and other sources) for the last five years, including estimating this year’s if some of the high profile guys don’t sign:

2004: $6.5 million
2005: $6.5 million
2006: $5.2 million
2007: $2.3 million
2008: $1.9 million

I think you would have to believe that Mirabelli/Grant were idiots if you thought they would make these kinds of selections if they even had a $3 or larger budget. I am positive that these guys are brighter than this and were under orders that led them to draft guys who they could sign for way under slot, perhaps even having unofficial pre-draft agreements with Chisenhall, Phelps and Roberts on what those amounts would be.

On the other hand, if Mirabelli and Grant really believe that Haley, Phelps and Roberts were the best talents or even the best reasonably priced talents around when those picks came up and that Chisenhall’s bat overwhelmed all the negatives if he signed for a little above slot or slot, then I think it is time to look for a new vice president and a new scouting director. I don’t believe that these guys actually believe that these players were the best available or even the best reasonably priced guys available. They are too smart for that, aren’t they?

So, the solutions to me are simple.

(a) If the scouting department really believes that these guys are the best available players when their draft slots came around it is time to get a new scouting department. I hate to say this because continuity in the scouting department is essential to long-term success in the draft. However, if this year’s draft represents the evolution of our scouting department then we are going in the wrong direction.

(b) If the team is squeezing the scouting department then it is time for that to stop. You can’t draft like the Indians did on Thursday and Friday and ever reasonably imagine that you will be able to compete in the major leagues with what you get out of the draft. If this pattern continues are already questionable farm system which is totally lacking of start-potential prospects, will become one of the worst in baseball.

What do the Indians do going forward? Put themselves in a position to have a reasonable draft. That did not happen this year and in 3-4 years when we have no guys ready for the major leagues out of this draft, that will be very apparent. It has to be stopped now and we need to start with this year’s draft class and plan to do it right next year.

If you have read this far thanks for taking the time and let’s hope the Indians do a better job of drafting next year.

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