Sunday, June 03, 2012

Lazy Sunday Feeling a Draft

The first round of the 2012 Amateur Draft (the Rule 4 Draft) will take place tomorrow at 7pm and be aired live on the MLB Network. That means that you’re stuck with me for a 2nd straight Lazy Sunday, and Paulie gets another weekend off. The Indians have the 15th overall selection in the draft after picking 8th last year. For the 2nd straight season, the Indians have no compensation picks for losing free agents, so after the 1st round they do not pick again until #79 overall with their 2nd round pick, then their 3rd round choice at #110. After the third round, things go back to normal and the Tribe will select 15th in each round. The overall talent pool this year is not nearly what it was last year, as 2011’s draft class was universally regarded as one of the best in years. Still, the Indians should be able to add an impact prospect with their first round pick, just not on the level of a Francisco Lindor. As you’ll see when we get to the player previews, the crop of college bats this year is especially poor.

This year’s draft is going to be drastically different from the past because of the new rules handed down from the Commissioner’s office regarding bonuses. The Indians have a total of just $4,582,900 to spend on not only their first ten picks, but on any bonuses of over $100,000 for the rest of the draft. To put it lightly, this is a game-changer in terms of draft strategy. For example, Lucas Giolito is a high school righty that was being considered for the #1 overall pick until an elbow injury took him off the mound in March. He’s back to throwing, but not pitching. There’s a chance he could fall to #15 overall and be there when the Indians pick. He would likely demand at least a $4 million bonus, likely more. If the Indians paid him $4 million, they’d have just $582,900 to spend on the rest of their top-10 picks. If the Indians decide to go just 5% over their bonus pool, they get taxed at a 75% rate and lose their 1st round pick next year. Obviously, that’s not something the Indians (or any other team for that matter) can afford to do. I’m not going to delve too deeply into the new structure for a couple of reasons; one, I already did it and you can just click on this handy link to read my extensive thoughts. Two, because it makes me really, really angry. So check out the link for details on how BudSelig “fixed” the draft, then come back when you’ve calmed down and read therest of our little preview here.

Oh, and the other change this year is that instead of 50 rounds in the draft, there will be 40. This is where I remind everyone that Mike Piazza was a 62nd(!) round draft pick.

Before we get to the players the Indians will be considering for their first round pick, let’s take a refresher as to the rules of the game. To be eligible, players must:
·  Be a resident of the United States, Canada, or a U.S. territory such as Puerto Rico. Players from other countries are not subject to the draft, and can be signed by any team (unless they are current members of college teams in the aforementioned countries).
·  Have never signed a major or minor league contract.
·  High school players are eligible only after graduation, and if they have not attended college.
·  Players at four-year colleges are eligible after completing their junior years, or after their 21st birthdays.
·  Junior and community college players are eligible to be drafted at any time.

While it is difficult to get a read on who will be on the board for the Indians at #15, we can at least take an in-depth look at some names that could be there and that the Indians would consider with the pick. Like last year, we’ll take a look at the collegiate players that are in the mix first, followed by the high schoolers. I will again caveat this preview by telling you that I’ve never seen any of these players play baseball live, and I’m going purely off of scouting reports and video.

College Pitchers
Andrew Heaney, LHP-Oklahoma St.
Heaney is the top collegiate lefty in the draft. He has a smooth, easily repeatable delivery that easily generates velocity in the 89-92 range, and he touches 94. He delivers it from a three quarters delivery, giving the pitch nice armside run. His curve is his best secondary pitch, and it’s a hard curve with good depth and break. He compliments it with an above-average changeup to give him a starter’s arsenal, and scouts are unanimous in their belief that he has the stuff to stick in the rotation long-term. All of his stuff plays up due to his feel for pitching, as he really knows how to attack hitters and is a smart player on the mound. He’s listed at 6’2”, 175lbs but actually looks skinnier than that, so there are some concerns about his durability and chance to be a 200+ inning workhorse in the bigs. He doesn’t have one pitch that stands out as a dominant offering, but all three of his pitches project to be average or better. His ceiling is probably a #3 starter, but his floor is probably a #4 starter, so that’s a pretty valuable player when it’s all said and done. Plenty of “experts” are linking the Indians to a college arm and Heaney is scheduled to come off the board between 10-16, so he could very well end up being the selection.
Chance he’s there when the Indians pick: 40%
Chance the Indians take him if he’s there: 50%

Chris Stratton, RHP-Mississippi St.
Stratton was one of the top starters in the SEC this season after starting the year in the bullpen. He had been a starter for the past two years, then moved temporarily to the bullpen, then back into the rotation where he became the Friday starter for Mississippi State. He’s a 6’3, 190lb righty that sits between 91-94 and can touch 96. His best secondary pitch is his slider, which is already plus and could be a plus-plus pitch down the road. He also features an average and improving changeup as well as a curveball that’s not a major league pitch yet, but could develop into one down the road. Stratton is already 22, old even for a collegiate pitcher, so there’s concern that he doesn’t have as much room for development as some of the other arms in the draft. He’s seen as a safe pick, but one without an extremely high ceiling who will likely top out as a #3 starter if all goes well. He’ll likely be on the board at 15, but I think the Indians can select someone with a higher ceiling even if he is.
Chance he’s there when the Indians pick: 80%
Chance the Indians take him if he’s there: 20%

Michael Wacha, RHP-Texas A&M
Wacha is a 6’6”, 200lb righty out of Texas A&M. He sits comfortably in the 90-93 MPH range with his fastball, and can reach back for 95 when he needs to. His best secondary pitch is actually his changeup, which is a plus pitch already and has great life down and out of the zone. He reminds me of former Indians prospect Alex White coming out of college; good but not elite velocity, plus secondary pitch (in White’s case it was his splitter), and no real breaking ball to speak of. Wacha throws a hard curveball that is pretty flat, and is really more of a slurve. The refinement of that breaking pitch is going to be the difference between a potential #2 starter and a #4. He has good command to both sides of the plate, and a deceptive delivery that hides the ball well. He has a little turn at his balance point back towards 2nd base that helps him keep the ball out of sight for a split second longer, then it just explodes out of his long frame to help his velo play up. Wacha is another polished collegiate arm that should move quickly through the system, and is projected to go off the board anywhere from 10-20, putting him squarely in the Indians territory. I would not be at all surprised to see Wacha wearing a Chief Wahoo cap tomorrow night.
Chance he’s there when the Indians pick: 50%
Chance the Indians take him if he’s there: 50%

Marcus Stroman, RHP-Duke
Stroman is an intriguing prospect. He has some of the best stuff in the draft, sitting consistently in the mid-90’s with his fastball and touching 99. He has a wipeout slider that scouts see as a plus-plus pitch, a true swing and miss offering that can make hitters look silly. He also has a hard curveball, a slurvy pitch that ends up on lefthanded batters back foot. Just for fun, he throws a changeup that grades out as at least average, giving him four major-league quality pitches. So with all that said, why is there even a possibility that he’s going to be around at #15 for the Indians? Well, he stands just 5’9” tall and is righthanded, and that’s not usually a recipe for a front-line starting pitcher. Many worry that he won’t be able to stand up to the rigors of throwing 200+ innings a year in the rotation, and have him pegged for the bullpen. He served as the closer for Team USA this past summer, and his stuff plays up even more in a relief role. He’s seen as an extremely fast mover who could pitch out of a major league bullpen this year, and almost a sure thing to be at least an effective reliever. He could go anywhere from 10th to 25th, depending on whether teams see him as a starter or reliever. He should be an easy sign, and would be a tempting pick for the Indians at #15. The more I read about him the more I like him, and think he could be a steal for the club if he can remain in the starting rotation.
Chance he’s there when the Indians pick: 40%
Chance the Indians take him if he’s there: 50%

College Hitters
Richie Shaffer, 3B-Clemson
Shaffer is the only college bat that’s projected to go anywhere near #15. There are a couple that will likely go before him, and one or two that could go after him in the 1st round, but that’s about it. This draft is universally agreed to be a very poor draft for college bats. Shaffer is a 3B that projects to have 25-30 HR power once he matures. He has an excellent eye and good patience at the plate, and does a nice job picking out his pitch and driving it. Because of his pitch recognition abilities, he should be a high OBP guy as well. He uses all fields at the plate, and has a smooth, line drive swing. Scouts differ as to his defensive ability, with ESPN’s Keith Law saying “…there’s little doubt he can stay at 3rd barring injury,” and Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein reporting “…many see him as a bat-only prospect who will need to move to 1B as a pro.” The more I read about him the more he sounds like Lonnie Chisenhall with a little more pop. That sounds like a pretty valuable player to me.
Chance he’s there when the Indians pick: 60%
Chance the Indians take him if he's there: 50%

High School Pitchers
Lucas Giolito, RHP-Harvard-Westlake HS (California)
Giolito is the biggest wildcard in the draft. He could go anywhere from 2nd overall to the 2nd round. Why? Well, he’s the most talented high school pitcher in the draft, a 6’6” righty with a triple-digit arm. He sits comfortably between 94-97 and can touch 100. His secondary stuff is just as impressive, as his power curveball is ranked among the best in the draft, and he has an advanced changeup as well. The changeup is unusual for a high school pitcher, and helps make him one of the better RHP to come out of the prep ranks in years. His stuff is comparable to Dylan Bundy’s, and we’ve seen how Bundy has buzzsawed his way through minor league hitters so far in 2012. So why is there a chance that Giolito goes undrafted in the 1st round? Well, he strained his UCL earlier this year, and he’s only throwing off of flat ground right now. The UCL of course is the ligament in the elbow that’s been responsible for so many Tommy John surgeries, so that tends to worry teams. Still, if the draft rules were the same as last year, Giolito would go somewhere by the early teens for sure. But with the new rules regarding bonuses, teams with smaller commissioner-imposed budgets will have to shy away from Giolito for fear that he will spurn the lower bonus for the chance for much bigger dollars as the first overall pick three years from now. He’s got a scholarship to UCLA waiting, and if he’s healthy he’s virtually assured of being the top selection when he’s eligible again after his junior year. If it’s last year, I would say that the Indians would jump on him in a heartbeat if he’s there at 15. But this year, they can’t afford to take him unless they negotiate a deal at or near slot ahead of time. The Indians slot for their 1st pick is just $2,250,000, compared to $7,200,000 for the first pick in the draft. If Giolito decides that he wants to get his professional career started and sign for less than $3,000,000, great. If not though, the Indians would be better off passing on him and letting another team take that risk.
Chance he’s there when the Indians pick: 40%
Chance the Indians take him if he’s there: 10%

Matt Smoral, LHP-Solon HS
Smoral is a local kid who, like Giolito, is a bit of a wildcard due to an injury he suffered this year. The big difference is that Smoral’s injury was a stress fracture in his foot, not a strained ligament in his pitching elbow. Smoral is a 6’8”, 225lb lefty who sits between 90-93 with his fastball and touches 95. He throws from more of a three-quarters delivery, which helps him get really nice arm-side run on his 2-seamer. He compliments the plus fastball with a slider that is already average and flashes plus, and most scouts see it as growing into an out pitch at the next level. His third pitch is a changeup that needs a lot of work, as it is a pitch he didn’t really need to refine in order to dominate high school hitters. Smoral is a high risk, high reward guy as scouts didn’t even get to see him pitch his senior year, but he has the frame and the velocity to tantalize front offices around baseball, and the fact that he throws lefty is just icing on the cake. Smoral has had injury issues besides the foot, which concerns some that he’s just not going to be able to stay healthy long-term. I’ve seen him go anywhere from 9th to 20th in mock drafts, so there’s clearly a wide range of opinions out there. I haven’t seen him linked to the Indians anywhere, but that doesn’t mean they won’t consider him if he’s on the board at 15. 
Chance he’s there when the Indians pick: 80%
Chance the Indians take him if he’s there: 20%

Ty Hensley, RHP-Edmond Santa Fe HS (Oklahoma)
Hensley doesn’t have the skills of either of last year’s prep arms out of Oklahoma, but Archie Bradley and Dylan Bundy both have future #1 potential, so it’s nothing to be ashamed of to be considered a cut below that class. Still, Hensley is a power arm with a good chance to be in the front end of a major league rotation someday. He sits between 91-94 with his fastball and has touched 98, and the fastball is his best pitch. His main secondary offering is his power curve, a 12-6 offering that looks like it’s falling off a tabletop when it gets to the plate. His changeup lags behind both of those pitches, as like most prep arms he didn’t need to work on it much to get through high school batting orders. Hensley doesn’t have the cleanest delivery out there, as his motion is downright violent and isn’t easily repeatable. That will likely get cleaned up as he gets coached up at the next level, but it means that he could have unlocked potential in his frame and be able to throw even harder. Hensley projects to come off the board somewhere in the 12-20 range, but he’s really not the type of player the Indians target, so I doubt he’ll be on the North Coast after tomorrow night. There’s an awful lot of risk here, and the ceiling isn’t so incredibly high to make the gamble worthwhile.
Chance he’s there when the Indians pick: 80%
Chance the Indians take him if he’s there: 10%

Lance McCullers, RHP-Jesuit HS (Florida)
The son of a big league pitcher, McCullers is a real boom or bust prospect. He was primarily a hard-throwing reliever and shortstop until his senior year, when he cleaned up his mechanics and improved his command enough to be a starting pitcher. He has plus-plus velocity, sitting between 93-96 and has touched triple digits with his four seamer. In addition to the four seamer, he throws a two-seamer that sits in the low-90’s with nice arm side run. He has a hammer curveball that is already above average and projects as plus, a pitch that he used to make high school hitters look downright silly in some of the footage I’ve seen. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but he has a developing changeup that he didn’t really need in high school, but it’s a pitch that he’ll need if he wants to stick in the rotation as a pro. His delivery has been cleaned up, but is still a little rough around the edges, as his lower half gets well ahead of his arm and he sometimes needs to rush too much to catch up. It’s an interesting delivery that generates a lot of hip torque, and we’ll see if coaches at the next level try to tweak it or just leave well enough alone. McCullers doesn’t have great command, leaving some scouts to peg him as a reliever down the road. But he’s still just a high schooler, and an arm like his will be given every chance to stick in the starting rotation. Whoever selects him does so accepting some level of risk, but with the potential of a big reward down the line. Personally, I’d like to see the Indians take a shot on him.
Chance he’s there when the Indians pick: 70%
Chance the Indians take him if he’s there: 30%

High School Hitters
Stryker Trahan, C/OF-Acadiana HS (Louisiana)
Trahan probably has the coolest name in the draft. In addition to that, he’s a toolsy bat-first catcher that some feel could end up in the OF long-term. He was seen as a possible top-10 pick before the spring, but didn’t have a great season for his high school team and has fallen down the boards as a result. Still, the tools are there, and the tools are impressive. He has a plus arm that will serve him well either behind the plate or in RF. His footwork is slow and he needs to clean up his release, but these things are fixable. Still, if the team that selects him decides they’d rather move his bat along through the system quicker, he can move to RF and his bat will still play. It won’t be elite the way it would be if he can stick behind the dish, but it will play. He shows average power with plus potential, and has strong, quick hands that get his bat through the zone in a hurry. He makes good, hard contact with good hip rotation to generate power, but his game has a lot of swing and miss in it, which is concerning because he’s going to be facing much better pitching once he signs. He starts from a very narrow base and has a toe-tap, both things that will likely be tweaked at the next level. Still, he has a powerful lefthanded swing and the tools to catch; that alone assures him of a spot in the first round.
Chance he’s there when the Indians pick: 80%
Chance the Indians take him if he’s there: 20%

Courtney Hawkins, OF-Carrol HS (Texas)
Hawkins is an extremely toolsy outfielder who’s considered one of the better power hitters in the draft. He’s got quick hands and an explosive swing that generates a lot of pop. He’s got a lot of swing and miss in his game though, and there’s a risk that his hit tool never develops enough to let his power materialize in game situations. He has a plus arm (he’s hit 90 on the mound) and average speed, and profiles as a classic RF at the next level. He’s shown the ability to punish a fastball, but is an extremely aggressive pull-hitter and that approach leaves him prone to being attacked with offspeed stuff, something that he’s going to see an awful lot of as a professional. High school breaking balls are nothing compared to even high-A, and he’s going to have to work on staying back on the ball and avoiding back-side leak in his swing. His swing has a lot of moving parts, as he has a toe tap and his hands are constantly in motion as he loads. You sometimes hear about pitchers not having an easily repeatable delivery; Hawkins does not have an easily repeatable swing. Still, he has outstanding raw talent and profiles as a potential all-star RF down the road. That package has most experts seeing him come off the board in the 8-12 range, and if he makes it to the Indians at 15 it will be a mild, but pleasant, surprise.
Chance he’s there when the Indians pick: 10%
Chance the Indians take him if he’s there: 90%

David Dahl, OF-Oak Mountain HS (Alabama)
Dahl has garnered some comparisons to Johnny Damon…not the current iteration of Johnny Damon, but more the vintage Red Sox version. He has solid gap power that has the potential to mature into more, plus speed and is a good enough defender to stick in CF long-term. He has a simple, compact swing from the left side that results in a lot of line drives. He hits from a very wide base and has virtually no stride, which leads to a quick and fluid weight transfer. His throwing arm is above-average, and there’s really no weakness in his game. He’s going to be an above-average defender with speed who can hit and will pop a few HR as well. He’s a good athlete who will continue to improve with experience against quality pitching. He’s more of a tools guy than performance at this point, but the tools are impressive. All in all, it’s a tantalizing package that will take him off the board in the first 15 picks, and likely in the 8-12 range. He’s a potential 20/20 centerfielder, and those types of players don’t tend to last too long. If he’s there when the Indians pick, expect them to snatch him up with a smile on their faces. But it’s looking less and less likely that he’ll be there at 15.
Chance he’s there when the Indians pick: 10%
Chance the Indians take him if he’s there: 90%

So now you have an idea of some of the prospects the Indians are considering with their first pick in tomorrow’s draft. It could be one of these guys, or the top of the board could get crazy and it could be someone else entirely. There are still more questions than answers at this stage of the game, and the draft is barely 24 hrs away. Check back tomorrow for my mock draft of the first 20 picks to see who I think the Indians actually end up with, and who I actually want them to end up with. And of course follow along during the draft on twitter (@Gotribe31), where I’ll make my predicted pick and preferred pick when the Indians go on the clock.


Clecago Joe said...

Al, I think you are still making the mistake of thinking signing bonuses are not going significantly drop. Sure a guy like Giolito will expect top 5 money and sure he has the threat of college to aid his negociations but no team is going to give up next year's #1 to sign this year's. Or risk not being able to sign their guys from round #2-10 just to sign their #1 pick. Bonuses are going to drop and that finally provides a little financial balance to teams like the Indians. All us small market fans clamor for a salary cap on the parent club. At least we are finally getting that for the draft. Sure, the first year or two of this new draft pay structure might be a little rough and we might see a larger percentage of high schoolers not sign, but once the new market is established, high schoolers will realize that they can either get a smaller bonus now or hope to get the same bonus in 3 years.

In the end, this structure will benefit the Indians, hopefully allowing them to funnel some of their draft money to the parent club. In the mean time, maybe we should avoid drafting high school players until 2014 when expectations have been set.

Al Ciammaichella said...

I totally agree that bonuses will drop. I disagree that this is something that will level the field for small market teams. Look at how much money the Indians (and other teams) put into the draft. Unless they have a top-5 pick, it's almost always less than $7 million (and that's high). Saving teams $1-2 million to put into the big league roster isn't going to help. Having kids go to school rather than become mid-round bonus babies is going to hurt, and hurt a lot.