OK, I am watched some of the Mahoning Valley game last night and it reminded me that we are one year removed from the 2016 draft. Let's take a look back and see how that draft is going:
1. Will Benson - So far he is as advertised. In watching him last night he appears to have it all. Quick bat (turning around a mid-90s fastball from top 25 prospect in all of baseball Mitch Keller who was rehabbing at West Virginia last nigh), good power, good plate discipline and it good in the field. Plus, he is always smiling.
2. Nolan Jones - He has an accurate rifle for an arm at third base, making two major league throws to nail runners at first, the second on a bases-loaded high chopper to save a run and squash a rally in a 0-0 game. That being said, he botched a ground ball in the first, lost a ground ball in the sun in the first (how is that even possible) and looked overmatched at the plate until his single on a ball at his ankles right before the rain delay. Plus he was quoted as not being excited about playing a REAL game as he had already had more ABs this spring than he ever had in a season before. Compare that to Benson's comments about how he was ready to play meaningful games and win and you will see what I mean. Maybe I am reading too much into this but it seems to me like Jones has his eye too much on the grand prize (making the majors) and too little on the game of baseball and living in the moment. So, the jury is out on this kid for me.
2a. Logan Ice - This kid was always a good defensive catcher. He was always going to be drafted. However, he shot up draft boards last spring because he started to hit. Well, guess what? The kid hasn't shown he can hit as a pro yet, even given that the Indians gave him a cake assignment (for a college guy) and put his first full-season assignment at low A Lake County. He should be raking as he plays against 19 and 20 year olds and he isn't. I mean, Connor Capel, who was in HS last year, is hitting much better! Guys learn their limitations in pro ball. The ones who learn that lesson and maximize their strengths make the majors. The others never do. Which brings me to a scary comp for Ice. When the Indians drafted Javi Herrera from U. of Tennessee in 2003 I did the same head scratching I did when the Indians drafted Ice and Michael Tinsley in 2016. Herrera never learned to hit and never made the majors. Let's hope Ice learns what he needs to to find some way to utilize his skills to become a productive hitter, at least productive enough to be a major league backup which, to me, is his ceiling at this point.
3/4 - Aaron Civale/Shane Bieber - These guys are as advertised. Strikethrowing machines who compete well at the lower levels of the minors due to demeanor and command. The key thing for me is that they don't always dominate, meaning their stuff will not save them if they don't have command. Just like Adam Plutko in 2013, their stuff and command leads me to believe they will both pitch in the majors. Like Plutko, the question will be what kind of career will each of them have.
5. Connor Capel - Having a HS guy start his first full-season as a pro in the Midwest League can really be deceiving. On one hand it is a tough assignment for a young guy but, on the other, the Midwest League (and low A in general) tends to inflate the apparent value of hitters for reasons I don't fully understand. All that being said, Capel, who was rushed into this role due to injuries and lack of organizational depth in the low minors in the outfield, is holding his own and showing good power (10 HRs already after none last year). For me, the kid has easily moved into the Indians' top 30 prospects at this point with the caveat that I don't know how much we will be able to tell about his long-term future no matter how he does the rest of the season. Nevertheless, using the 1000 minor league AB mantra, if he stays healthy the whole season, we may know sooner about him than about other 2016 draftees what we have in him.
6. Ulysses Cantu - You just had to know that this guy was better than his stats last year and all reports say he will show it this year at the Valley. Considering he was hitting 5th last night it also bodes well for his season (Will Benson hit 6th!). He looked good at the plate and in the field last night and looks relaxed this year. It looks like this was a good pick and I am pretty sure he will have a breakout year this year.
7. Michael Tinsley - Another college catcher drafted last year, he isn't on the MV roster, making me think he must be hurt, especially given that there are only two catchers on the MV roster right now. Although we won't know for sure until the end of this season, this looks like it might have been a wasted pick for the Indians. Let's hope not.
8. Andrew Lantrip - He was injured last year so the jury is still out on him. We'll see if he pitches this year as he is on the AZL roster. He intrigues me as the Indians have always had good luck finding relievers in the middle rounds and drafting a guy like him in the top 10 rounds makes me think he may be a little better than those other guys.
9. Hosea Nelson - This appears to have been a good use of their 9th round pick. Nelson has enough tools that he is still a very intriguing prospect and hasn't done anything so far that raises question marks about his selection.
10. Samad Taylor - Considering he was leading off at MV last night it tells me they are impressed with his speed and on-base skills, something he showcased last year after he was drafted. A great pick in my opinion, instead of taking some low level college senior talent.
11. Andrew Calica - He hit last year and, after a rough patch this year, is hitting again. As hitting is his only above-average tool, it looks like a good 11th round pick, very similar, in my opinion, to Plutko in 2013.
12th round and beyond - It is always hard to gauge what you will get from guys drafted this low but, so far, all of their signees have upside and some, like Zach Plesac(whose path to get here reminds me of Vinnie Pestano) and Ryder Ryan have significant upside. Basically, looking at them so far, I can't find but one or two guys from this group that I can classify as organizational players so far and that is a GREAT thing to be saying at this point as it means that all of them have some upside as prospects. One interesting side note, due to organizational need Jonathon Laureano has been playing 3rd base at Akron, making him the first player from the Indians' 2016 draft to make it to AA. He is back at MV now so we'll see how his season goes but that is a feather in his cap that he held his own in his brief stay with the Rubber Ducks after hitting a pathetic .104 last year at MV.