Much like the past two seasons, this will be part one of a two-part draft miniseries. Today, we’ll take a look at some of the options that the Indians will consider with their pick. Tomorrow, I’ll put up my mock draft of the first 10 picks in the draft. Because let’s be honest, very few of us care who Oakland selects with pick #24 in the first round, right? So without further delay, here are 11 players that the Indians might be thinking about with their first pick in the draft come Thursday night.
Mark Appel, RHP-Stanford
Appel was a lot of peoples’ pick to go #1 overall in last year’s draft to the Astros. He was a consensus top-5 guy in last year’s class, but due to his agent (Scott Boras) and expected bonus demands, he slid to Pittsburgh at #8 overall. The Pirates took a pretty good run at signing him, offering him an over-slot bonus of $3.8 million, but ultimately couldn’t pay him enough to play in the Steel City. So here we are again with Appel a heavy favorite for the top pick, and the Houston Astros weighing the merits of drafting (and paying) him.
Appel has top of the rotation potential. He’s a big kid at 6’5” 215lbs, and leverages that frame to generate a fastball that sits comfortably between 93-97 and touches 99. He commands the pitch well, and generates good plane making the pitch especially difficult to handle down in the zone. He complements the heater with two plus secondary offerings in his slider and changeup. Both have a future-70 grade on them, and both can flash at that level already. The slider sits between 85-87 with impressive life and tilt, while the changeup is a very deceptive pitch that just fades down and away from righthanders.
He has a very smooth, clean, easily repeatable delivery that helps with his command and allows him to go deep into games. Combining that impressive arsenal with his size and strength, and you can see why Appel is considered to be the top talent in this year’s draft. The wildcard is his agent and bonus demands, much as they were back in 2012. If a team drafts Appel and doesn’t sign him, he’d have to go pitch in the independent leagues as he has no further college eligibility. That would seem to put the leverage on the side of the team selecting him. But if a team drafts a player in the top-10 rounds and he doesn’t sign, the team loses the bonus pool associated with that pick. So that gives Appel a little leverage after all. If it were any other team besides Houston selecting #1 overall, I’d say he was a sure thing to go 1-1.
Like Appel, Gray is a big, strong RHP who makes his living off of his impressive fastball. The 6’4” 240lbs Sooner can touch triple digits on the radar gun, and was sitting comfortably between 94-97 MPH this spring. He compliments the fastball with a slider that already grades as a plus pitch, and should round out to a plus-plus offering. It looks almost exactly like his fastball coming out of his hand, showcasing very impressive late action and tilt. The best professional comp I can think of for the pitch is Randy Johnson; not saying Gray is at the Big Unit’s level yet of course, but the fastball/slider combo is similar to what has Johnson headed to the hall of fame. Gray was able to buzzsaw through most collegiate lineups with just his fastball/slider combo, so his changeup lags behind those two offerings. The change has good potential, but his command of the pitch isn’t where it needs to be to succeed as a professional. Repetitions and experience will help make the pitch more consistent, and there’s no reason why it couldn’t mature into a potential out pitch for Gray.
Gray’s delivery is smooth and consistent, but he does land a bit stiff on his front leg from time to time. It’s not a major red flag, but when he does it his control suffers, so it’s something to keep an eye on. He’s a good athlete and experience with a professional pitching coach should be able to handle the issue with little difficulty. He does a great job maintaining his stuff deep into games, and the coaching staff at Oklahoma has done a fine job protecting his talented right arm by limiting his pitch counts.
Gray threw a bit of a wrench in this process when he tested positive for a banned substance (Adderall) prior to the draft. Some think that means he will fall out of the top-3, and some think that now Houston is more likely to take Gray because the positive test means they can secure his immense talent at a discount at 1-1. His overall ceiling might even be higher than Appel’s, but he’s also less of a sure thing. He’s one of the top 3 talents in the draft, and could go anywhere from #1 overall to #6 as an absolute floor. I don’t see him getting past the Indians if he’s on the board at #5 though.
Trey Ball, LHP-New Castle High School (Indiana)
The top prep player in the state of Indiana, Ball is one of the best lefthanded pitchers available in the draft. The tall, lanky southpaw can run his plus fastball up to 97 MPH, and sits comfortably in the low to mid 90’s. The fastball comes at hitters on a steep downward plane, and they tend to beat it into the ground when they do make contact. It’s a two-seamer with nice arm-side run, and has the potential to be a plus-plus pitch at the major league level. He compliments the fastball with a curveball that’s raw but promising and a changeup that flashes plus. Both secondary pitches are inconsistent at this stage of Ball’s development, but he has the potential to have three pitches that grade at plus or better.
Ball is a very good athlete, and some teams are even looking at him as a hitter in this draft. I don’t see that happening, as 6’6” lefties who throw in the high-90’s have a tendency to stick on the mound. His delivery is repeatable but has a little bit of herky-jerkyness to it, which helps him hide the ball well and create deception for the hitter. He weighs in at right around 180lbs, and there’s plenty of room on his frame to add strength and have his fastball velocity tick up another notch or two. His long arms and legs keep him slow to the plate, and he hasn’t shown off much of a slide step. He still needs to shore up his command and work on his consistency, but it’s an enticing package that’s likely to come off the board in the first 10 picks of the draft this year.
Kohl Stewart, RHP-St. Pius X High School (Texas)
Stewart is from a football-rich area of Texas, and has a full scholarship to play QB at Texas A&M. A&M will have a decent QB under center for the next two years though, so Stewart might want to consider giving this pitching thing a try. The 6’3”, 190lbs righty sits between 92-94 with his fastball, and touches 97. The pitch has nice arm-side run, and is especially tough on righties. He has an impressive slider, and is developing both a curveball and changeup. The fastball and slider could be plus-plus pitches at the professional level, and both the curve and change should be at least average.
Stewart has some issues with his delivery that affect his command, but nothing serious that can’t be fixed with additional experience and a professional pitching coach. He’s an excellent athlete and should be able to make adjustments as needed. He’s not a finished product by any means, and there’s a lot of risk involved in an arm as raw as Stewart’s. But there’s also a lot of upside in there, as much as any pitcher in the draft. Someone is going to pull the trigger on Stewart in the top half of the draft in the hopes that his immense potential can someday headline the top of a major league rotation.
Stanek is a 6’4”, 180lbs righty who was seen as a potential top-3 pick going into this season. He was coming off of a solid summer with Team USA, and the 20-year old was seen as one of the top starters in the collegiate ranks. He had a solid but not dominant 2013 season with the Razorbacks, and while he’s not seen as a top-3 pick anymore, he should go comfortably in the top-10.
Stanek’s fastball sits in the 94-96 MPH range, and has nice arm-side run from his ¾ arm slot. He compliments the fastball with a slider, curve and changeup. The slider is a very horizontal pitch, running hard across the strike zone. It’s his best secondary offering, and one of the better sliders in the draft. His curveball is a hard, tight breaker that could develop into an above-average pitch. His changeup shows potential, but needs to be a more consistent pitch in order to be a reliable offering at the professional level. It’s a starter’s arsenal, and the four-pitch mix helps Stanek keep hitters off balance.
Stanek has a high leg kick and lands somewhat stiff on his front leg because he extends so much so early in his delivery. He has raised his arm slot a little since high school, from below ¾ to a more traditional ¾ slot, and it’s helped make his slider a more effective pitch. His command and control weren’t where they needed to be this spring, and it’s something that’s going to have to improve at the professional level. Still, his stuff is impressive, and should have him coming off the board in the top 10 picks this week.
Kris Bryant, 3B-San Diego
Most evaluators feel that Bryant is the top bat in this year’s draft, and it’s easy to see why. Bryant has passed the 30 HR mark for this season, a total that dwarfs many team totals in college baseball this year. The plus-plus raw power is (as you’d expect) his best tool, as it’s a current 70 and should play at a 70-75 level by the time he reaches the upper levels of the minor leagues. His swing is long but simple, as he hits from a wide base with virtually no stride. He basically just uses a toe-tap for timing purposes, then unleashes his hands through the hitting zone. He has plus power to all fields, driving the ball the other way better than you’d expect for a power guy.
As you’d expect from a power guy, Bryant’s hit tool suffers due to his max effort approach. He can hit a fastball a mile, but struggles a little with advanced offspeed stuff. His swing, while simple, is still long, and there’s some swing and miss in him. But if he hits .250 with 100+ K and 35-40 HR in the middle of a major league batting order, the team that drafts him is still going to be quite happy with their selection.
Bryant is an average college third baseman, and many scouts see a move off the position in his future. He’s an average runner with a plus arm, so right field seems like the logical eventual destination. But if the 6’5” 215lbs Bryant fills out much more, he’s going to be limited to 1B in the pros. That move would lower his overall ceiling, but as of now that is a worst-case scenario for Bryant. There’s a small chance he can stick at the hot corner, but his lack of range at 3B will likely see him shift to RF.
At the start of my evaluation process, I was really hoping that Bryant would fall to the Indians at #5 overall. I don’t think he’ll get there, as his massive power projection just doesn’t come around every draft and one of the top four teams (likely Colorado) will snap him up. But I’ve also cooled on him as I’ve watched video and read more in-depth scouting reports, as there’s a chance that his bat speed and swing won’t be as effective against major league pitching. I am pretty sure the Indians would take him at #5 overall if he’s there, but I’m no longer 100% sure I’d want them to.
Moran is one of the more well-rounded players in the draft, and has long been rumored as a target for the Indians at #5 overall. In 248 at bats this year, the UNC product has walked 57 times while striking out just 21. He’s hitting .351/.478/.560 for the Tar Heels, with 13 HR and 85 RBI (both team-high totals). He has an advanced approach at the plate, doing a nice job with pitch recognition/selection. He has plus power and plus hitting ability, and has done it against some of the best competition that collegiate baseball has to offer.
Moran’s swing is the polar opposite of Bryant; he uses a narrow set up and a long stride to the baseball, which makes it a little more difficult to keep his weight back. He utilizes strong hip rotation to generate his power, but the swing has a lot of moving parts and is not as consistent as you’d like to see. His swing path can vary, as his hands don’t load from a consistent spot or level. Still, Moran makes it work, and he has the raw talent so that if a professional hitting coach wants to try and make a couple of minor tweaks, Moran should be able to make the necessary adjustments.
Defensively, Moran is better than Bryant at 3B but is not seen as a potential Gold Glover at the hot corner. He should be able to stay at 3B in the pros, but a move to 1B isn’t out of the question. He’s a below-average runner, so a move to the OF is unlikely. A month ago, I thought B.J. Surhoff’s nephew would be a likely candidate for the Indians at #5 overall. But there’s a rumor going around from some pretty good sources (none of them mine, of course) that the Astros are considering taking Moran at 1-1 and offering him slot for the #4 pick to save money for the later rounds. If that happens, it could push one of the “Big Three” (Appel, Gray and Bryant) closer to the Indians at #5. The Astros did something similar in 2012, selecting Carlos Correa at 1-1 in order to get both a talented player and cost savings for later in the draft. Could it happen in 2013 as well? We’ll see very soon, but if it does then Moran could go first overall in the 2013 draft.
Braden Shipley, RHP-Nevada
Shipley is one of the top collegiate arms in this class, but is considered a tier below the top two of Appel and Gray. A converted shortstop, Shipley is actually fairly new to pitching. He became a full-time pitcher in 2012, so he probably has more room to grow than either Appel or Gray. Shipley’s fastball sits comfortably in the 92-95 MPH range, and has touched 99. He compliments the heat with a plus changeup, a pitch that usually requires a lot more experience on the mound to master. The pitch has excellent late fade away from righthanded hitters, and can be used to attack hitters on either side of the plate. His third pitch is a curveball that grades out as average, but should be able to improve with additional repetitions.
As you’d expect from a converted SS, Shipley is an athletic player who fields his position well. His athleticism helps him consistently repeat his delivery, and he has no major mechanical flaws. He can get a little out over himself at times due to his arm speed, but it’s not considered to be a major issue. As I said, Shipley is considered to be a little behind Appel and Gray at this stage of their respective careers. But he does have more room to grow than either of those experienced arms, and the Indians do love their shortstops-turned-pitchers (see Josh Tomlin and Austin Adams). He’ll need a little more work to polish off his tools on the mound, but could mature into a solid #2 starter down the road. I haven’t heard any of the top four teams on Shipley, but he’ll likely at least be in consideration for the Indians at #5 overall.
Fraizer is one of the top prep bats in this year’s draft class, possessing both plus raw power and raw hitting ability. Fraizer generates a ton of bat speed from his strong wrists and quick hands, leading to some incredible tape-measure HR in high school. His swing has some natural loft, which only helps to generate backspin and power. He has an aggressive approach at the plate that could leave him susceptible to advanced offspeed stuff, but destroys fastballs and should improve his pitch recognition/selection as he matures.
Defensively, Fraizer is a CF in high school but could end up shifting to RF as a professional. He’s an average to above-average runner with good instincts and a plus arm. He could be an average defender in CF or a plus defensive OF if he has to shift to right. There’s a little concern over his arm due to a bout with tendonitis, but he’s expected to make a full recovery and regain full velocity. His style of play would remind Indians fans of Grady Sizemore; all-out, 100% effort on every play. Scouts rave about his intangibles, and he’s a guy who leads by example every day that he’s on a baseball field.
The one drawback on Fraizer is his size. I’ve seen his height listed anywhere from 5’11” to 6’1”, but most who’ve seen him are pretty sure he’s shy of 6 feet. He’s a compact 190lbs, and while he’s a good athlete for his size, that frame doesn’t leave a lot of projection. Scouts and front office types usually take high school kids with the expectation that they will continue to grow and fill out, but that doesn’t seem like it will be the case with Fraizer.
Indians GM Chris Antonetti fueled speculation that the Indians are high on Fraizer when he flew down to Georgia to personally meet with the youngster at the end of May. He offers a tantalizing package of tools for a franchise that has been unable to draft and groom a home-grown OF talent since…what, Brian Giles? Fraizer is expected to be on the board at #5, but I wouldn’t rule out Minnesota snatching him up at #4 overall. If he’s there, he’ll be an enticing option for an Indians organization that remains light on potential impact OF.
Austin Meadows, OF-Grayson HS (Georgia)
Meadows is a high-ceiling athlete who is still fairly raw as a baseball player, but offers an alluring package of tools and athleticism that scouting directors can dream on. He’s a two-sport athlete who is committed to Clemson, and could probably play baseball or football at the collegiate level. He currently stands a solid 6’3” 200lbs, but his big, athletic frame will allow him to add another 20-40lbs once he fills out. He is a centerfielder now, but will likely end up in an OF corner once he adds all of that weight.
Meadows features a short, simple swing from the left side of the plate and has above-average pull power. As he progresses and gets bigger, scouts expect that pull power to turn into plus power from CF-RF. He hits out of a wide base with an almost imperceptible stride, keeping his swing path short and to the baseball. The swing doesn’t generate a lot of loft though, which could limit his eventual power ceiling. He’s struggled with wood in limited exposure, but his mechanically sound swing has most talent evaluators confident of an above-average hit tool down the road.
One concern about Meadows is his fringe-average arm, which would likely limit him to LF defensively if he has to move off of CF. His scouting reports have me picturing a more muscular version of Michael Brantley. A nice player, no doubt, but not a guy you’d take at #5 overall in the draft. It’s up to the Indians (and everyone else) to decide if Meadows size and strength can generate some additional power with minor swing tweaks, or if his power projection falls to the “it is what it is” category. The difference between a 30/30 player in LF and a 10/30 player in LF is massive, and players like Meadows have a tendency to get scouting directors either promoted or fired. With the power projection as an unknown, I’d prefer the Indians stay away from him in the 1st round of this year’s draft.
Hunter Renfroe, OF-Mississippi State
Hunter Renfroe was born to play right field. He has prodigious power, a cannon for an arm, and above average speed. He also has a tendency to swing and miss a lot, but he’s improved enough on the strikeouts from his sophomore to junior year to convince scouts that the power will play at the next level. Renfroe hit just .252/.328/.374 with 51 K his sophomore year, but broke out to the tune of a .352/.440/.634 line with 15 HR, 58 RBI and just 39 strikeouts as a junior. His pitch selection improved greatly, walking 34 times after drawing 21 walks as a sophomore. His stock rose appropriately, from a fringe 1st rounder to a potential top-10 pick.
Renfroe will always have a better power tool than hit tool. He handles fastballs well, but struggles with quality breaking balls. He hits out of a wide open setup, and sometimes struggles to get closed in time to handle pitches on the outer half of the plate. It’s a small mechanical flaw that can likely be addressed by a professional hitting coach. He’s going to strike out at the professional level, but he’s also going to hit a lot of home runs, and those tend to balance out the ledger.
Renfroe will be limited to RF as a pro, but he’s going to be an above-average RF. He has above-average speed, takes good routes to the ball, and is a good athlete. He also has a plus arm which will be a weapon in RF. Renfroe will almost certainly be on the board for the Indians at #5, but that’s probably a little too high to pull the trigger on the slugging OF.