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Cleveland Indians 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Cleveland 2011 Draft Selections

Without repeating myself pre-draft too much (check all the bold below for that take), here’s where I stand on Monteverde Academy (FL) SS Francisco Lindor. Of all the positives he brings to the field, the two biggest positives I can currently give him credit for are his defense and time/age. Lindor’s defensive skills really are exemplary and there is no doubt that he’ll stick at shortstop through his first big league contract (at least). As for time/age, well, consider this a preemptive plea in the event Lindor struggles at the plate next season: the guy will be playing his entire first full pro season at just eighteen years old. For reference’s sake, Jimmy Rollins, the player I compared Lindor’s upside to leading up to the draft, played his entire Age-18 season at Low-A in the South Atlantic League and hit .270/.330/.370 in 624 plate appearances. A year like that wouldn’t be a shocker unless he goes all Jurickson Profar, a name Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks recently evoked after watching Lindor, on the low minors. Either way, I’m much happier with this pick now than I would have been a few months ago. Cleveland saw the opportunity to land a superstar talent at a premium defensive position and went for it, high risk and all.

So much has already been written about Lindor that I think I’ll cut right to the chase and explain what excites me about him and what worries me about him. First, and most obvious, is the glove. There are many factors that lead to attrition when it comes to amateur shortstops hoping to stick at the position professionally, but Lindor is as safe a bet as any prep player to stay at short that I can remember. He has the range, the hands, the instincts, the athleticism, and the arm to not only stick up to middle, but to excel there. With that out of the way, we can focus on his bat. At the plate, Lindor has one big thing going for him: his age. At only 17 years of age, Lindor is one of the 2011 draft’s youngest prospects. For a guy with as many questions with the bat as Lindor has, it is a very good thing that he has time on his side. His swing really works from the right side, generating surprisingly easy pull power. From the left side, there is much work to be done. There is something about his lefty stroke that seems to limit his power (can’t put my finger on what exactly), but you have to imagine good coaching and hard work give that a solid chance to improve. The iffy swing is mitigated some by his impressive bat speed, but it is still a worry. On balance, however, I have to say I do like his raw power upside as much as any of his offensive tools (hit tool is average for me and I don’t think he’ll be a big basestealing threat as a pro) and can envision a future where he hits upwards of fifteen homers annually. This may be an example of me forcing a comp when there really isn’t one there, but I’ve come around to the idea that Lindor shares many similarities to current Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus (Lindor’s power advantage and Andrus’ plus speed make this one a stretch, but I could see vaguely similar batting lines despite the differences). Rather than a ceiling comp, however, I’d say that Andrus qualifies as Lindor’s big league floor. If we’re talking upside, Lindor compares favorably with Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

Getting a first round talent like Searcy HS (AR) RHP Dillon Howard with the 67th overall pick is a big win for the Cleveland scouting staff. Howard’s two-seamer is a true bat breaker and his sinking low-80s changeup is a swing and miss pitch when on. Like any young pitching prospect some refinement is needed – work on commanding the four-seamer and a renewed emphasis on his promising slider – but there are enough positives to imagine a future where Howard is an above-average middle of the rotation arm with three pitches he can throw for strikes.

RHP Dillon Howard (Searcy HS, Arkansas): 90-92 FB, 93-95 peak; rumors of a 98 peak; also throws sinker that will break bats; outstanding sinking 81-83 CU; 76-78 CB; good 81-82 SL that he too often gets away from; good athlete; 6-3, 200

Merced JC (CA) RHP Jake Sisco was very much under the national radar for much of the spring, but area scouts knew him quite well. I knew him only as a hard thrower with underdeveloped secondary stuff, but Baseball America touted him as having the “makings of four plus pitches.” All I can really say is that I’ve heard differently. His fastball and pro body alone make him an interesting prospect, and the possibility of above-average secondaries make him a worthy early round gamble. As for Sisco having the potential for four plus pitches, here’s my honest take: Baseball America doesn’t know everything, of course, but they know a whole heck of a lot and you should probably trust them over me.

Merced JC FR RHP Jake Sisco: 92-93 FB, 95 peak; 6-3, 200

I don’t hold it against James Madison C Jake Lowery, but, man, does this guy have some fervent supporters. I rarely get any emails concerning the site, but Lowery had half a dozen friends/family members/fans who all very much enjoyed telling me how awful I was to rank Lowery anywhere but atop the top spot of the college catcher rankings. To them I humbly say: he’s a good player! Honestly, he’s a good player coming off an outrageous college season with the chance to someday play in the big leagues. However, he simply isn’t as good as his video game college numbers had some believing pre-draft. For my money, he’s in that big group of college catchers that could find work as big league backups due to his patient approach, average power upside, and good enough defense.

Lowery has a solid arm and is an above-average defender, but let’s be real here, it is the amazing power uptick that has scouts buzzing this spring.

Cleveland took Virginia RHP Will Roberts about ten rounds before I would have guessed he’d go off the board. His fastball isn’t overly impressive, but he does have a pair of secondary pitches (good change, average slider). His college claim to fame was throwing the first perfect game in Virginia history, so, you know, that’s pretty awesome. As a pro prospect, I’ll just say I really, really wish he was a lefty and leave it at that. I’m almost certainly falling into the trap of lowering Roberts’ stock in my head based off a few less than thrilling firsthand looks the past two springs, so consider my somewhat irrational bias in mind when forming your own opinion of Roberts.

Virginia JR RHP Will Roberts: 85-89 FB, 92 peak; good CU

Stephen F. Austin State OF Bryson Myles profiles as an interesting offense-first backup outfielder who, with proper pro coaching, should also contribute on the base paths. If you buy the bat a little more than I do, then you could be talking a player with similar upside to Marlon Byrd. I’ll be the under on the comp, but Myles, coming off a crazy college season of .440/.509/.627 (park/schedule adjusted) and a strong showing (.302/.394/.401) in the New York-Penn League, should still be a fun player to watch develop.

[plus athlete; good speed; interesting upside with bat]

I’m an unabashed supported of Divine Child HS (MI) C Eric Haase because I like athletic catchers with above-average hit tools and strong defensive tools. His journey to the big leagues will take some time, but Haase’s upside is worth the wait.

The biggest question mark on Haase is how the Westland, Michigan native wound up committing to Ohio State in the first place. Lack of allegiance to his home state university aside (I kid!), Haase profiles similarly to Blake Swihart, except without Swihart’s switch-hitting ability. Despite the typical risk involved that comes from selecting a cold weather prospect early, he’ll still find his way ranked near the top of some clubs’ draft boards. Strong defensive chops, plus athleticism, a strong pro-ready build, and a balanced swing will do that for a guy.

Gilbert HS (AZ) LHP Stephen Tarpley is an interesting case. He isn’t super physical, but his arm strength is big league quality. He shows flashes of above-average secondary pitches, but wasn’t consistent enough with his offspeed offerings to do anything but pitch predominantly off the fastball this past spring. If it came down solely to Haase or Tarpley as an either/or signing, I think Cleveland made the right choice, but Tarpley still has the athleticism and overall promise to get him to the early rounds in 2014.

LHP Stephen Tarpley (Gilbert HS, Arizona): 88-91 FB, 93 peak; good 74-76 CB needs polish; 81 CU; good athlete; 6-0, 170

St. Cloud State 3B Jordan Smith reminds me a little bit of former Indians first round pick Beau Mills. Mills obviously wasn’t a good pick in hindsight, but was a well-regarded prospect at the time. That said, bat-first prospects like Mills either have to be special (though let the record show that, at the time, Cleveland and many others thought Mills’ bat was in fact special) or, you know, not top half of the first round selections. Smith may not have a special bat, but he did enough with the stick at St. Cloud to make a ninth round selection seem worth a shot.

What you see is what you get with Cal Poly RHP Jeff Johnson. That’s a good thing when what you see is a big fastball and plus hard splitter. His ceiling is limited by the fact he’s a reliever all the way, but still rates as good a bet as any player drafted by Cleveland to contribute to the big club. A high floor power reliever is a good get in the tenth round.

Cal Poly JR RHP Jeff Johnson: 92-95 peak FB; nasty 86-88 splitter; two pitch pitcher makes it work; 6-0, 200

I wish Arizona State 2B Zack MacPhee (Round 13) had the arm strength to play on the left side. As it is, his future might be second base or bust. When he hits like he has in the past then being limited to second is fine, but the major tumble he had this past season is cause for concern going forward.

This isn’t quite Jett Bandy bad — notice the still strong BB/K numbers — but the degradation of MacPhee’s once promising prospect stock is still disappointing to see. On the bright side, he still has near plus speed, impressive bat speed, and excellent defensive tools up the middle. I’d love to know whether or not his batting average collapse had something to do with a BABIP-fueled string of bad luck or if he just isn’t making the kind of hard contact he did in 2010. Reports on him struggling to square up on balls this spring have me afraid it is the latter, but that great 2010 season should be enough to have a handful of teams buying into him as a potential utility player.

Feather River JC (CA) RHP Cody Anderson (Round 14) is another good example of a team doing its due diligence by closing monitoring both a player’s skill level and signability over the course of multiple years. Not much was though of Anderson last year at this time, but a year well spent at junior college now catapults his upside to the land of potential hard throwing starting pitcher. He’s still plenty rough around the edges – he fits the mold of thrower more than pitcher, for me – but the possibility he puts it all together is pretty tantalizing.

If I had any real baseball talent, I’m 99% certain I’d sign for big early round money out of high school rather than go to college. Three discounted years of hanging out in an educational environment like the ones found on campuses at North Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Stanford would be awful tempting, but I’m still quite sure I’d take the money and follow my ultimate dream instead. That could be the reason why I root so hard for players who do the exact opposite. Clemson RHP Kevin Brady (Round 17) turned down big early round Red Sox money out of high school to instead go to school. Two inconsistent, injury-plagued seasons later find Brady, a draft-eligible sophomore this past summer, still at Clemson trying to recapture the promise he showed as a high school standout. A strong junior season should easily get him picked ten rounds higher next June. Not for nothing, but Brady ranked 148th on my pre-draft prospect list. Whether or not he shows he can handle starting pitching – from both repertoire (he’s got the hard stuff to start, but still waiting on a usable change) and workload (can he handle the innings?) points of view – will determine his 2012 draft status.

Clemson SO RHP Kevin Brady: straight 90-92 FB, touches 94-95; good FB command; good, but inconsistent SL; occasional CB; improved CU; offered third round deal from Red Sox out of high school; 6-3, 205

Armstrong is a really underrated name for a pitcher. It is probably just me, but I take for granted how well it fits. East Carolina RHP Shawn Armstrong (Round 18) has, you guessed it, a strong arm. He also has an above-average slider to compliment his low-90s heat. I include him here mostly because I saw him a few times up close this past spring (oh, and also the name), but can’t say I’m particularly bullish about his prospect stock. If he irons out his control wrinkles and sharpens up his stuff, he’s a potential middle reliever. This Shawn Armstrong should not be confused with 2012 Draft prospect Shawn Armstrong of Morehead City, by the way. Don’t make the same initial mistake I did…

Cleveland delivered a nasty one-two punch to East Carolina with the signing of back-to-back picks Armstrong and ECU commit Ocean Lakes HS (VA) LHP Shawn Morimando (Round 19). Morimando is the second of Cleveland’s trio of short high school lefties, sandwiched between unsigned Stephen Tarpley and unsigned Dillon Peters. Unfortunately for Cleveland, Morimando is the least impressive of the three. Fortunately for Cleveland, there was enough of an uptick in his stuff this spring – offspeed stuff has always looked solid to me, and now his fastball is finally fast enough – to give hope that there’s a potential starting pitcher tucked away in his 5’11”, 170 pound frame.

Ranked one spot behind fellow unsigned high school lefty Stephen Tarpley on my pre-draft list, Cathedral HS (IN) LHP Dillon Peters (Round 20) is an uncannily similar prospect. He’s a little bit more advanced than Tarpley, but offers less projection and uglier mechanics. He has the three pitches needed to start at Texas, but concerns about his size and herky jerky delivery could keep him in the bullpen, at least at the onset of his college career. Without putting undue pressure on the Longhorns coaching staff, I’d say Peters is putting some serious money on the line by gambling a) he’ll be used responsibly in college and b) he’ll find a coach who can clean up his delivery enough to make him a viable starting pitching candidate. If in three years Tarpley is a Friday night starter mowing down college competition in line for a potential top three round selection, as his raw talent suggests, then there ought to be some Longhorn Network cash headed the way of Texas pitching coach Skip Johnson.

LHP Dillon Peters (Cathedral HS, Indiana): 90-92 FB, 94 peak; good 80 CU; very good 73-76 CB; 5-10, 195 pounds

Rice RHP Matthew Reckling (Round 22) is well positioned to become one of the 2012 Draft’s top pitching senior signs. A relative newcomer to pitching, Reckling struggles with some of the finer aspects of the craft like holding his velocity late into starts and showing the consistent command needed to get good hitters out, but flashes of a promising fastball and a good curve make up a solid base to build on.

Rice JR RHP Matthew Reckling: 90-93 FB at start, velocity dips to 86-89 quickly; good 79-81 CB, loses effectiveness when it dips to mid-70s

High Point RHP Cody Allen (Round 23) throws a fastball that hitters have a really hard time squaring up. That alone makes him interesting to me, though his above-average upper-70s curve gives him a second pitch to lean on in what will likely be a bullpen or bust career path. He impressed the Indians brass from day one due to his performance (75 K and 14 BB in 54.2 combined IP of 1.65 ERA ball) and maturity (filled in at High A and AA when organizational roster crunch necessitated a young arm to fill in).

High Point JR RHP Cody Allen (2011): 90-93 FB with great movement; 76-78 CB; 84-86 sinker; 80-82 CU

In a perfect world, every team would sign every player for a lot of money and we’d all be happy and content to go about our day. In reality, decisions sometimes have to be made about how wise sinking six figures into a pro contract for an 18-year old really is. St. John Bosco HS (CA) 3B Taylor Sparks (Round 24) would have been a good signing by Cleveland, but it is perfectly understandable why a deal wasn’t reached between the two parties. Sparks’ athleticism is borderline unfair (I know I’m jealous…), but it hasn’t translated to meaningful baseball skills, let alone exciting baseball tools, at this point.

Taylor Sparks, the former American Idol finalist (probably), is one of the most fascinating draft prospects in this year’s class. There are polished prospects who may be short on tools, but have high floors and a relatively clear path up the minor league ladder. There are raw prospects who have tremendous physical gifts, but need a lot of professional work to reach their admittedly difficult to hit ceilings. Then we have a guy like Sparks, a rare prospect with upside who is undeniably raw yet somehow not super toolsy. There are a lot of 50s in his scouting report (average arm, average power, average speed, average defense), but also something about his game that leaves you wanting more, in a good way. Part of that could be the rapid improvement he showed in certain areas — namely power and speed — this spring. If he can improve in those two areas, who is to say he can’t keep getting better after he signs on the dotted line?

The most interesting thing to watch concerning the development of Turlock HS (CA) SS Kevin Kramer (Round 25) over the next three years at UCLA will be his defense. If the fast-rising middle infielder’s hit tool continues to impress, he’ll be a legitimate early round prospect at shortstop in 2014. If he winds up at second, as I expect, he’s downgraded slightly but still a potential big leaguer. I’ve heard from “somebody who knows” that UCLA is pretty happy that Kramer made it to campus; to say he’s looked better than the player they saw in high school would be an understatement.

Strength, both at the plate and jammed into his throwing arm, describes Kramer’s biggest current asset. I also like his bat a lot — feel like I’ve said that about a half dozen players already, but it’s true — and have a strong intuitive feel on him.

All college baseball fans should be excited about the return of South Carolina LHP Michael Roth (Round 31) to college. Well, all fans of teams outside of the SEC. Roth is a tremendous college pitcher, an outstanding competitor, and by all accounts a fascinating guy with a vast assortment of varied interests outside the game. Rumors abound that he isn’t a lock to sign with a pro team even after his upcoming senior year, but, assuming he gives pro ball a shot, he’d make a fine mid- to late-round senior sign who would contribute to an organization beyond whatever he accomplishes between the lines.

Roth could presently be the lefty version of what Randall hopes to evolve into next year. He may not have a knockout pitch, but the way he works each batter’s eye level is a sight to behold. 

My only notes on Cal Poly RHP Mason Radeke (Round 35): “had elbow trouble in 2009.” He’s a little bit like Will Roberts in that, because of slightly underwhelming stuff, I wish he was lefthanded.

I have nobody to blame but myself for making a bad American Idol joke about Taylor Sparks when I could have just as easily saved it for unsigned Oregon State RHP Taylor Starr (Round 37). Sparks has gotten a Scott Mathieson comp from a friend who has seen both, though I can’t help but wonder how much their similar injury histories (Tommy John surgery twice each? Seriously, guys?) has to do with that. At his best he’s a hard thrower (pre-injury 94-95 peak), but you wouldn’t really know that from his college career. After throwing 22.1 IP in 2008, Starr has only faced three batters, and they all came in 2009. If you’ll allow me a rare bad word on this otherwise family friendly site…injuries are the fucking worst. There really is no telling what to expect out of Starr in 2012, but a return to good health would be an excellent start. We’re rooting for him.

I wrote about Virginia OF John Barr (Round 39) almost two years ago. This is what I came up with: “JR OF John Barr (2010) is as nondescript a prospect as you’ll find. It’s nothing personal – in fact, I saw Barr play in high school, and I tend to form weird (non-creepy!) attachments to players I’ve seen early on – but nothing about his game stands out as being an average or better big league tool. His numbers dipped from his freshman year to his sophomore season, but he deserves the benefit of the doubt as he was recovering from shoulder surgery for much of 2009.” Yeah, I’m sticking with that. He can run, defend, and take a walk, but there isn’t enough beyond that (i.e. he won’t hit) to make him a legit pro prospect. He’s still a good guy to have on the back end of your minor league roster, however.

Oregon SS KC Serna (Round 42) had a disappointing draft year, but rebounded somewhat in the eyes of scouts with his steady play in the field after being assigned to Mahoning, Cleveland’s New York-Penn League affiliate. Small sample size alert: the righthanded Serna destroyed lefties to the tune of .436/.489/.513 in 39 at bats as a pro. I can’t emphasize the small sample warning enough, but it could be something to keep an eye on. Late round college guys need to find a niche in pro ball if they want to keep the dream alive. A utility infielder who hits lefties well isn’t a role in crazy demand in the pros, but stranger things have happened.

Rahmatulla, Semien, and now Serna – three Pac-10 shortstop prospects who underperformed greatly in 2011. Serna’s struggles are more damning, for no other reason than his spotty track record of staying out of trouble away from the diamond. Scouts will overlook character concerns as best they can if you can really, really play; if you can’t, you’ll be labeled as a player that will cause more headaches than you’re worth.

I really like what Arkansas LHP Geoff Davenport (Round 43) and Cleveland did by coming together and agreeing on an overslot bonus of $100,000. Davenport wins because he gets to rehab from his March Tommy John surgery with a professional training staff at no personal cost. Well, that, and he gets 100,000 bucks. Good deal, I’d say. Cleveland wins because they get a quality starting pitching prospect for a relatively low financial figure all at the low, low price of a 43rd round pick. Davenport is obviously way more talented than your usual 43rd rounder who is well worth keeping an eye on as he rehabs into next season. When healthy, he shows that classic lefthanded pitchability repertoire (upper-80s fastball, good mid-70s curve, and solid change) that occasionally pays off with a prospect.

Arkansas JR LHP Geoffrey Davenport: 87-90 FB, 91 peak; above-average 76 CB; decent CU; good command; 6-1, 180 ; Tommy John surgery in March 2011

 

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