It’s June 24, the sun is shining, and the Indians are in first place. Both Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez have been pitching well, Pestano and Perez have been nailing down the 8th and 9th innings, and the offense has, for the most part at least, been doing enough to win. They certainly haven’t run away and hid with the division lead, but they’ve avoided the “June swoon” that marked the beginning of the end of the playoff hopes for the 2011 squad. They’re an even 10-10 this month with 9 games left, enough to maintain a slim ½ game lead over the White Sox and 3.5 game lead over the Tigers. So while the referees dominate the headlines during the NBA playoffs, fans obsess over the Brandon Weeden experience in Browns OTA’s and the raging debate over the #4 pick in the NBA draft continues, maybe just sit back and appreciate what the Indians are doing this summer here on this Lazy Sunday.
The 2012 MLB draft is in the books, and we finally got a good look at how the new Collective Bargaining Agreement effected the draft process, and how the Indians decided to attack it. The first round of the draft offered more surprises than ever, as some teams took the best player available, some took a player that was more signable than talented, and some (like the Indians) seemed to split the difference. As of today, the Indians have signed eight of their top ten picks, and 17 of 40 overall. Out of the commissioner’s decreed bonus pool of $4,582,900, they’ve doled out $3,417,500. That leaves $1,165,400 to sign their remaining two picks in the top 10, plus any bonus over $100,000 for picks outside of the top 10. If the Indians go over that cap by less than 5%, they pay a 75% tax on the overage. If they go over the cap by more than 5%, they lose their first round pick next year. No one the Indians selected is worth losing next year’s first round pick, so it would be a shock if the team spent enough to suffer that penalty. So with that being said, let’s take a look at the Indians top 10 picks in the draft, how they’ve spent their bonus pool so far and what might still be to come before the July 13 signing deadline.
The Indians first round pick was Texas A&M outfield Tyler Naquin. This pick surprised many, including me as you can see when looking back at my draft preview article. I looked at a dozen players that I thought would be options for the Indians with the 15th pick in the draft, and wrote not a word about Naquin. He was selected a little earlier than most projections, but wasn’t a horrible reach. He signed quickly for $1.75 million, which is $500k under the $2.25 million slot for the pick. With the draft pool now being a zero-sum affair, it’s unfair to look at any pick in the top 10 in a vacuum, and you have to take a more holistic look at the top 10 picks and their bonuses to see how a team did in the draft. Naquin is a talented hitter with an elite arm and his bat will play well in CF if he can handle the position defensively, something the Indians scouts obviously think he can do. Naquin is already playing CF for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, the Indians affiliate in the short-season New York-Penn League. In his 2 games with the Scrappers, he’s 3-8 with a double and a stolen base. He’s a good player that the Indians were able to bring in under slot and save money for overslot signings later in the draft, a good strategy for bringing in the most talent possible in one draft with the new rules that are in place.
The 2nd round pick Mitch Brown, a RHP out of a Minnesota high school, signed for $800,000. That bonus was over the $639,700 slot for the pick, something the Indians needed to do to keep the prepster from forgoing his professional career for college. Brown was selected with the 79th overall pick, and he was a player who was rated as the 45th best in the draft by ESPN’s Keith Law and 44th by Baseball America. His fastball sits between 90-95 MPH, and he throws a cutter and curveball that could both be plus pitches as he matures. He’s got an athletic frame at 6’2”, 210lbs, and has a clean, repeatable delivery and should have no problem sticking in the starting rotation.
The Indians stuck with prep pitching in the 3rd round, selecting Kieran Lovegrove out of Mission Viejo HS in California. Lovegrove signed for an even $400,000, which is a little under the $432,700 slot recommendation. I actually thought it would take an overslot bonus to bring Lovegrove into the fold, so that was a pleasant surprise. He’s a very projectable 6’4”, 180lb righthander who already has above-average stuff. His fastball sits in the 89-93 MPH range and touches 95. That velo should improve as he fills out and adds strength to his frame. His best secondary pitch is a slider with sharp, two-plane break that he uses to dominate righthanded hitters. There are some kinks to work out in his delivery, as his stride is considered to be a bit short and he doesn’t use his lower half as well as he should, and if the Indians developmental staff can get those flaws ironed out, his stuff should pick up even more. Lovegrove is a mature kid for his age, and co-founded a charity for low-income youths who want to play baseball or softball, theGoing to Bat Foundation. He was born in South Africa and came to the US when he was just 5, and actually played cricket before baseball. Like Brown, he’ll likely not debut outside of the complex leagues until next year, but is already out in Arizona working with the Indians coaching staff. Lovegrove was the 110th overall pick, and was Keith Law’s #46 player overall and Baseball America’s #131.
Sticking with high schoolers in the 4th round, the Indians took OF D’Vone McClure out of Jacksonville HS in Arkansas. McClure is one of the two top-10 selections who has yet to sign, and is likely holding out for an overslot bonus. Slot for the pick is $314,700, and it may well take more than that to sign him away from a full ride to play baseball for the Razorbacks. He’s considered the top prep player in the state, and is a toolsy guy that has a pretty high upside but is a ways away from reaching it. He projects to have four above-average to plus tools (power/throwing/fielding/running) down the road, and some scouts compare him favorable to Austin Jackson. He’s a real boom or bust pick simply because he’s so raw, but the potential upside is significant as a two-way impact player in CF. He was ranked as the #93 player in the draft by Keith Law and #91 by Baseball America, and the Indians snagged him with the 143rd overall pick. Now all that’s left is to see if they can sign him.
After the first four picks, I really expected the Indians to take a signable senior with their 5th round selection to save some money and ensure that they could have enough scratch to sign their first four picks. They stuck with upside though, and selected Western Nevada JC pitcher Dylan Baker. Baker is a 6’3”, 215lb righthander who played his high school ball in the baseball hotbed of Juneau, Alaska. He’s seen as a future bullpen guy at this stage of his development because he only has two effective pitches, but both of those pitches are plus. His fastball sits between 90-95 MPH and touches 97. His secondary pitch is a curveball that is a 12-6 hammer, movement that is made even more dramatic coming from his high over the top arm slot. He throws an occasional changeup, but it’s a pitch that will have to come a long ways to be effective as a pro. If he learn to spin a slider or cutter to give him a weapon to attack hitters laterally across the strike zone, he could be an effective starting pitcher, possibly a #2 if the third pitch could be even average. As it is though, he projects best as a backend bullpen arm who could move quickly through the system. He signed for an even $200,000, slightly under the $235,600 slot for the 173rd pick. Keith Law pegged him as the #75 prospect in the draft, and Baseball America put him at #82 overall.
The 6th round brought the first real “signability” pick of the draft for the Indians, as they reached down to Divison II West Chester to select 2B Joe Wendle. Wendle was not ranked in BA’s top 500 before the draft, and signed for a $10,000 bonus. That’s well under the $176,600 slot for the pick, and will help the Indians sign some of the higher upside players they selected. Still, Wendle did hit .399/.479/.768 with 12 HR in college, and has the chance for an above-average hit tool down the road. He’s not a throwaway pick, but a guy who went a few rounds earlier than he would have under the old rules. Wendle was assigned straight to Mahoning Valley where he’s appeared in two games so far, going 2-8 with an RBI, a walk and a run scored.
With the signable 6th rounder in the bag, it was back to upside for the Indians in the 7th round when they selected Calhoun, Georgia HS outfielder Josh Schubert with the 233rd overall choice. Schubert signed for $250,000, which is $104,400 more than the $145,600 recommended slot for the pick. He’s another raw, athletic, toolsy outfielder out of a high school in SEC country similar to 4th round pick McClure. He’s got a 6’4”, 215lb frame that produces plus raw power, and should get even stronger as he fills out. He’s got a plus arm, and has future RF written all over him although he was a CF in high school. His senior year, he hit .447 with 6 HR and went 6-1 with a 2.68 ERA as a pitcher. He has slightly above-average speed as it stands right now, but will likely end up as no more than an average runner down the road. He hits from the right side, and prior to the draft Baseball America rated him as the #151 prospect in the country. He’s going to take some time to develop, but there’s a potential power-hitting RF here down the road.
With their 8th round pick, the Indians went back to pitching with their selection of prep righty Caleb Hamrick out of Cedar Hill HS in Texas. He’s a 6-3, 225lb power pitcher who sits between 89-93 with his fastball. His main secondary offering is a sweeping slider that flashes plus. Hamrick has yet to sign, and slot for the pick is $136,600. It will almost certainly take more than that to bring him into the fold, and he has a scholarship waiting to attend Dallas Baptist. The Indians have an additional $714,700 sitting around under their bonus cap thanks to underslot signings, so there’s room there to make him a competitive enough offer to have him forgo that scholarship and begin his professional career now.
The Indians selected Arkansas State righty Jacob Lee with their 9th round pick as another senior sign, and he obliged by agreeing to a $2,500 bonus, saving the Indians $124,500 under slot. He works between 89-91 with his fastball, and touches 93. It’s actually his 2nd best pitch behind his plus curveball, which is already above average and could be plus down the road. His third pitch is a changeup, but it lags behind both the fastball and curveball. Lee was ranked as the #307 player in the country by Baseball America, and was the #293 overall selection.
The 10th round pick was another senior, RHP Josh Martin out of Samford. He signed quickly for $5,000, a nice $120,000 under slot. He went 12-1 with a 2.96 ERA his senior year, and is a 6’5”, 234lb who touches 93 with his fastball. He actually reminds me a little of Zach McAllister from what I’ve read about him, and although he was a cheap sign it was hardly a throwaway pick.
Outside of the top 10 rounds, there are a few unsigned players that might be worth bonuses over the $100,000 cap that the new CBA mandates for selections 11-40. Their 26th round selection Justin Garza is an intriguing arm who can pour in a fastball in the 91-95 MPH range despite being just 5’10”, 160lbs. He has a four pitch mix that includes an above average curveball as well as a slider and changeup. He attacks hitters He’d been rising up draft boards late in the process on the strength of a good senior year for Bonita HS in California, so much so that Keith Law ranked him #100 and was BA’s #130 player in their final rankings. The Indians selected him with the 803rd pick in the draft, and will almost certainly have to pay him over $100k to sign him away from Cal St. Fullerton.
In the 33rd round, the Indians took multi-sport athlete Cory Raley out of Uvalde HS in Texas. He’s a 6’2”, 185lb shortstop who should have the defensive chops to stay at the position long term. He has plus speed and below-average power, but does a nice job using the whole field and sprays line drives all over the place. He’s an outstanding athlete who rushed for 1,470 yards as a QB in Texas, scoring 20 TDs and is committed to playing baseball for Texas A&M. He’s another one who will be tough to sign away from his scholarship, as he was selected well below his overall talent level; he was the #1013 selection in the draft while Baseball America listed him as the #158 player available in the draft.
So that’s a quick look at the Indians 2012 draft with signing day approaching. I’m not going to give the draft a grade or anything like that because it is just way too early to make an educated assessment, especially when I haven’t seen these guys play for myself and am just relying on what ESPN, Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America have to say about them. I’m really looking forward to following the new additions to the system as they make their debuts in Arizona and Mahoning Valley, and really can’t wait to get a look at them next spring in Goodyear. From 2008 through last year, the Indians have put together four really solid draft classes; I don’t see any reason for that to end here in 2012.