Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Indians Draft Recap

The arbitrarily assigned August 15 signing deadline has come and gone, and we can finally close the book on the June Rule 4 Draft. The long, drawn out process was made longer and more drawn out by MLB’s ridiculous insistence that teams wait on announcing over-slot bonuses till the last possible second, so at about 11:45pm on the night of the 15th there were still 22 or so unsigned 1st round picks. In the end, all but one of the 1st round picks signed, and bonuses were high yet again, so the entire process by MLB was basically a joke. Unless hard slotting is implemented (which I’m not in favor of), teams will continue to ignore the Commissioner’s office recommended slot for picks in favor of signing elite talent. And they absolutely should continue to do so, because despite bonuses in the multi-million dollar range, the draft remains the most cost-effective way for small market teams to add elite talent. The Indians spent about $8.2 million on the draft this year, roughly equivalent to Grady Sizemore’s 2012 club option. Do the math…if even two players from the draft pan out to be above-average major league players, that’s 12+ years of club control for what the club might pay for one season of an injured Sizemore.

In the end, the Indians signed 29 of their 50 picks, including 15 of the first 16 and 17 of the top 20. Many of those players signed well before yesterday, but the Indians went into deadline day with four big ticket players that were holding out for a big payday. Two of those players signed, 1st round pick Francisco Lindor and 2nd round pick Dillon Howard. Lindor, a high school shortstop out of Monteverde Academy in Florida, signed for $2.9 million. Slot for that pick (8th overall) was $2.043 million, so while the Indians went over for Lindor, they didn’t exactly break the bank. Lindor’s $2.9 million deal seems almost like a bargain when you look at the bonuses doled out to the players in front of him. Prep pitcher Archie Bradley, selected 7th overall, received $5 million from Arizona. College 3B Anthony Rendon, a Boras client selected 6th overall, got $6 million and a major league deal from Washington. The top prep position player selected in the draft, Nebraska’s Bubba Starling, was given a whopping $7.5 million from Kansas City. Lindor had some leverage in the signing process as he could have attended a junior college and been eligible for the draft next year, but it sure seems like the Indians front office had a number in mind going into this process and didn’t budge very much from that figure in getting the top pick signed, sealed and delivered. Less than 20 min before the signing deadline, Baseball Prospectus prospect guru Kevin Goldstein put a scare into Tribe fans when he tweeted that the Indians and Lindor had “TONS” of ground between them and a deal, but in the end a deal got done for a very reasonable figure. I think that Lindor’s agent was holding out for much more than he got, and eventually caved and came back towards the Indians number. There was some talk late in the process that Lindor would refuse to sign, then go to a junior college in the spring and thus be eligible for next June’s draft, but it seems like the Indians front office saw that negotiating ploy for what it was and didn’t blink.

Interestingly, the Indians plan to send the 17-year old Lindor to short season Mahoning Valley for his first exposure to professional baseball rather than straight to the complex leagues in Arizona. Even for just a few weeks, that’s an aggressive assignment for the youngster, and it shows a lot about what the Indians think of his makeup to send him straight to the Scrappers. Expect him to play in the instructional league this fall as well before possibly debuting as an 18-year old in low-A Lake County next spring. Again, that would be an aggressive assignment, but it seems like Lindor has the skills and the mental game to handle it. My scouting report on Lindor can be found here, and nothing has changed since I wrote it back in June. He’s an exciting talent that is probably the #1 prospect in the somewhat depleted Indians system right now.

Howard, the top prep arm in Arkansas, signed for $1.85 million, well over the recommended $545,400 slot. Howard was seen as a 1st round talent who fell due to signability concerns and those concerns proved valid as the 67th overall pick got as much as the 10th overall pick in the draft, who signed for slot. ESPN’s Keith Law sees Howard as a “good #2, maybe a top 25-30 starter in the big leagues but below the top echelon. A bit raw but really projectable.” I don’t know about you, but I’d be pretty thrilled if the #67 pick in the draft turned into a top-30 starter in all of baseball. My scouting report on Howard from June can be found here, and again, nothing has really changed. Howard has been pitching for his Connie Mack team this summer even after the Indians selected him, so I don’t think there will be much of a rush to get him into live action. He’ll probably throw a few innings in the complex leagues before reporting to Instructs this fall. Howard is without question a top-5 guy in the system right now, possibly as high as #2 overall.

The two players who didn’t sign that are causing the most heartburn are prep lefties Stephen Tarpley and Dillon Peters. Both Tarpley and Peters have fastballs that sit in the low-90’s with the potential to pick up more velocity as they mature. Both also wanted bonuses in excess of $1 million, and for the 8th (Tarpley) and 20th (Peters) round picks, that was just more than the Indians were willing to pay. Reports are that Tarpley wanted a $3 million bonus, which would have been a similar to what Trevor Bauer got as the #3 overall pick in the entire draft. If that’s true, and his representation wouldn’t back off that figure, then I can definitely understand why the Indians weren’t able to sign him. If Lindor or Howard had fallen through, the club would have likely made a late push to sign one or both of the prep arms. Fortunately they were able to ink both of their top picks and didn’t have to throw a couple million at the high school arms. There’s a chance that both turn into 1st round picks three years from now, but there’s also a chance that one blows out his arm and the other gets a case of the yips and can’t find the strike zone. Remember, TINSAAPP, so as much as I would have liked to have seen the Indians sign both of these guys, I’m not heartbroken that they didn’t throw $4+ million at the two of them this year.

An intriguing player who signed fairly late in the process is 7th rounder Eric Haase. Haase was considered the top prep position player in the state of Michigan, and was committed to attend The Ohio State University in the fall. The Indians gave him $580,000 worth of reasons to break that commitment and begin his professional career, well over the recommended $150,000 maximum that MLB set for picks after the 5th round. Haase is small for a catcher at 5’11 and 185lbs, and will likely debut professional in the Arizona Summer League next year with a shot at playing for Mahoning Valley at some point later in the season. He’s a different player than last year’s high school catcher-turned bonus baby Alex Lavisky, as Lavisky was almost two years older and much more physically mature than Haase coming out of St. Edwards. So while Lavisky was deemed ready to start his professional career at Lake County, I doubt Haase will be on the same developmental path.

As far as the players who signed in a more timely fashion and have been playing for almost two months now, I’ve been extremely impressed with 4th round pick Jake Lowrey. Lowrey is a catcher out of James Madison University in Virginia. Lowrey signed for $220,000, pretty much at slot for that pick. He was the Johnny Bench Award winner as the top collegiate catcher in the nation this past season. Since signing with the Indians, Lowrey has played 51 games at Mahoning Valley, putting up a .254/.373/.439 line with 5 HR and 36 RBI. Perhaps most impressive, he’s walked 37 times and struck out 38, showing an advanced approach in his first taste of professional baseball. There’s a lot going on for the draftees who come straight out of college, between hitting with wood for the 1st time and establishing a routine as a professional, so it’s great to see a kid like Lowrey step right in and produce. He has a plus arm but still needs to polish his receiving skills to ensure that he stays behind the plate as a professional, but if he can be even an average defensive catcher, his bat will make him a plus prospect overall.

Another 2011 draftee who is impressing with the bat in early action is 3B/OF Jordan Smith. In 48 games for Mahoning Valley, Smith leads the team with a .858 OPS, and is hitting .335/.430/.429 overall. Smith has shown solid gap power with 15 2B, but has yet to hit a home run. The 9th round pick out of Division II St. Cloud State has a smooth lefthanded stroke an advanced approach. He’s walked more than he’s struck out (25/21), leads the team with 36 RBI and has stolen 3 bases in 4 attempts. There’s some question as to whether Smith can stick at 3B, but he has a .904 fielding % in 33 games at 3B so far this season. If Smith can’t stay at 3B defensively, the 6’4”, 205lb 20-year old should find a home in the OF. He was scheduled to play in the elite Cape Cod League this summer, but the Indians signed him away from college with a $125,000 bonus. Smith was named to the New York-Penn League all star team, a worthy honor for the kid that’s 5th in the league in batting and 7th in OPS.

The third and final active player from the 2011 draft that we’re going to look at here today is outfielder Bryson Myles out of Stephen F. Austin State in Texas. Myles put up some crazy numbers in college, hitting .411 and swiping 53 bases. If you haven’t seen Myles you’re probably picturing a guy that looks like Alex Cole or Kenny Lofton, but Myles had a scholarship offer to play linebacker at TCU, and it shows. He’s an even 6’ and 225lbs of muscle, and in addition to the stolen bases he popped 8 HR this spring. He has plus speed, but isn’t considered a burner. He’s just a great baserunner. He’ll likely be limited to LF in the pros because he doesn’t have the defensive chops to take on CF. Myles has struggled with some nagging injuries this summer, but has played in 32 games for Mahoning Valley, hiting .287/.357/.388 with a HR and 9 RBI. His baserunning ability has carried over to the professional ranks, as he’s swiped 15 bags and only been caught once. Like teammate Jordan Smith, Myles was named to the NYPL all star team. The $112,500 bonus doled out to Myles is looking like a solid investment so far.

I’m not going to assign a “grade” to the Indians draft right now, for the simple reason that I haven’t seen a single player from this draft play live and in person, so I just don’t have a good idea as of yet exactly what we have here. I love the Indians 1st two picks; Lindor was a guy I was high on early in the process and was thrilled when the Indians selected him 8th overall. Howard is a high-ceiling arm that is far more talented than his 67th overall draft position, and the Indians took a risk in selecting him but did the right thing in paying him what it took to get him signed. I’m encouraged by some of the later selections, and seeing Mahoning Valley just one game out of 1st place in their division is a good indication that those that have signed are quality players. But if you’re looking for a letter grade on the draft, ask me in 5 years. Because we won’t really know until then just how well Brad Grant and company did this year. I’m optimistic that the reviews will be positive, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

1 comment:

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