NOTE: What you are about to read is what I was going to post on July 16th, the day after the signing period for 2017 draftees ended. But, what the heck. I am pretty sure with the signings of Michael Rivera and Dante Mendoza on Thursday (see post below this one), the Indians are done signing players from the 2017 draft. So, I decided to post this now with the knowledge that I might have to update it in the unlikely (yet happy) scenario where the Indians would sign any more than the 30 draft picks they have signed already [Joshua Rolette, our 39th round pick from Kansas State, apparently has also signed as he is playing for the AZL Indians].
The saying goes something like this: "Opinions are like noses, everyone has one". Given that I don't have access to all the ins and outs, all the scouting reports and scout projections and, most importantly, to the Indians' draft board where all of the above comes together, if you keep reading it will just be based on my opinion. Now, after 30 years of following the baseball draft and with current metrics tools I hope it is an educated opinion. But it is just my opinion.
The Indians lost their first round pick for signing Edward Encarnacion. Their excellent regular season record in 2016 led to them having a low draft slot and losing the lottery to get a top low market compensation pick meant that their first pick was 64th overall followed by a comp B pick at 71. Bottom line: they were screwed in terms of ever saving a bunch of money to throw at lower round flyer picks. This meant that there was no way to get an obvious first round talent out of this draft.
Knowing this, the Indians took a more sweeping approach. Mostly, they took guys who were rated appropriately for where they were drafted and, in so doing, hoped that they picked the RIGHT guys who were appropriate talent-wise for their position. This meant very few, if any, flyers on guys who were off everyone's radar. It also meant that any discrepancies in terms of where these players were drafted and their consensus talent level could be chalked up to 'teams like who they like'.
This was a solid draft for the Indians based on all the hurdles they had coming into the draft. As with most baseball drafts, it did have its question marks in terms of 'why did we draft so-and-so this early in the draft' picks. Nevertheless, with where the Indians were this year, I like this draft. The question is did they draft the RIGHT players.
Quentin Holmes - Holmes is the typical toolsy prospect. Pre-draft he was rated higher than where he was drafted, indicating that we probably got a bargain with this pick, a bargain we paid for with a slightly larger bonus than what was slotted. All-in-all, a good pick. My only caveat is that I see the similarities in his polish to those of Will Benson, and Benson is still struggling to get his game geared for the pros. Holmes apparently has plus speed and, as Greg Allen has shown us so far, plus speed plays at any level. If Holmes can develop some power, the speed plus power combination would be very exciting Summary: Good pick based on value obtained for this slot (good slot value).
Tyler Freeman - Freeman was rated lower than where he was selected, and that is after he moved UP draft boards this spring. The temptation is to say that he was an overdraft but the Indians liked him and he is a middle-of-the-diamond player (catcher, SS, CF) so, just like Holmes, there is enough intrigue with his skill set that it is an interesting pick. Summary: Not a bad pick based on the slot and a good pick based on available HS players at that moment who would be willing to sign for slot or below.
Jonathon Rodriguez - This is where the Indians' approach came derailed a little bit. Rodriguez was drafted at 102 and was rated in the 200s. Clearly the Indians liked him more than most teams. The only issue I have with this is when you were in the Indians situation this year, you have to avoid drafting guys early who have a reasonable chance to not advance past A ball. Rodriguez is one of those guys. It will be feast or famine with him. In 5 years the Indians will either look like geniuses for identifying developable talent where others did not...or they will look like idiots for wasting a high pick in a year where they had few of those to spare. That being said, Rodriguez has the advantage that he can be developed more from the ground up than can a college player as he was a HS draftee. Keeping in line with drafting HS players early, Rodriguez definitely fits the apparent Indians' draft strategy. Summary: The jury is out on Rodriguez but, for me, this was not a good pick this early in the draft. I would have gone for this year's version of Civale/Bieber here.
Ernie Clement - Clement was rated a little higher than where he was drafted so, on paper, this looks like a good pick and a more sure pick than drafting another HS player. Again, Clement is a middle-of-the-diamond player. The thing about Clement is that he has to hit as he likely will move to 2B. When you examine his college stats he showed no power and a mediocre walk rate. Looking at his numbers he had almost as many sacrifice bunts as he did walks in his career...in college, folks, where we know the level of pitching, on average, is lower than he will see in the pros! His low strikeout rate looks good on paper but, in conjunction with his lack of power, mediocre walk rate and high sacrifice bunt level, implies that he could be ineffective by hard-throwing pitchers as moves up the minor league system. Not something you want to see in a player who is likely to play an offensive position (second base). Summary: A good value pick at this level but does his skill set translate into him advancing to the majors? I think, as funny as it sounds, this is a projectability pick, something that is unusual, to say the least, this early in the draft, drafting a polished college player. Can he re-tool his offensive game and become much more than he is now? Time will tell.
Austen Wade - At first I thought he was a college senior, but he is a college junior. Rated much lower than his draft slot implies that this is another projectability pick, similar to Andrew Calica last year. It should be noted that Calica was drafted in the 11th round, where such a pick makes sense. Wade was drafted in the 5th round, which seems a little high for a guy who was rated only 355th in the draft in the BA top 500. Summary: Wade is likely not a middle-of-the-diamond player. That being said I think he is a bit of an overdraft at this point. If you are going to draft a guy like Wade this high, you would expect him to take a significantly below slot bonus like Clement did. When that didn't happen you have to question if there was a more talented or similarly-talented, cheaper player than Wade. I like the pick, especially in light of Andrew Calica last year, but it still is a head-scratcher to me this high in the draft.
Michael Rivera - Keeping in line with Clement and Wade, Rivera's offensive numbers or lack thereof, Rivera is a strange pick this early. The issue with that statement is that he was rated about where he was selected. Still, a guy who hit .236 this season and .200 in the post-season is hard to project to hit at all in the pros. Given Logan Ice's struggles this year, drafting light-hitting college catchers this early in the draft might not end up netting you anything at all. Still, if the defense is there for an up-the-middle player like Rivera, and it apparently is, you gotta hold out some hope that the Indians can coach him up to be a passable ML hitter. Sumamry: Really unexciting pick at this point but with enough upside that I like the pick...but with Rodriguez, Wade and Clement immediately before him, a big gamble that a lot of the Indians draft this year won't even get to AA if things continue for these guys as they have in the past.
Picks 7-10 - McCarthy, Morgan, Karinchak, Berardi - I am rating these guys as a group because they all fall in one group: college players drafted above or at their draft slot who signed for close to, if not exactly, slot. Summary: These guys all are solid picks at this point in the draft. Very Plutko/Calica/Civale/Bieber-like. I think the Indians have a decent change to get 1-2 or more ML contributors out of these four 2017 picks, which is all or more than you expect for these slots.
Picks 1-40 - By definition, this is where sleepers come from. I think the Indians drafted, and signed, a lot of college pitchers here (more than normal) with the intent to make them pro relievers and see how they develop. Louis Head, Cole Sulser, Cameron Hill among current Indians reliever prospects and Trevor Frank, Ben Heller and J.P. Feiereisen among former Indians' reliever prospects come to mind as some guys who have come up the system that way. I think the Indians added MORE of these types of guys in this draft compared to previous drafts, increasing the odds that we will get some ML innings pitched out of this group than we will out of past groups. The one sleeper I see in this group is Dante Mendoza who is a tall RHP who is likely to fill out. He has hit the mid-90s already although it looks like he generally pitches in the mid-to-high 80s so filling out his frame will be crucial. We should also note that the Indians signed three other HS players, Matt Turner, Chandler Ferguson and Michael Cooper who they picked in the last 30 rounds. Although none of these 4 HS players even made Baseball America's top 500 draft prospects this year, I like HS players who are drafted after the 10th round and sign. They have a longer development path before you have to make a decision on them and are likely to be on the steeper part of their development curve than most college juniors or seniors. Likely, like with guys like Silento Sayles, we will get nothing out of them and they won't make it past A ball. However, guys like Mendoza, Turner, Ferguson and Cooper intrigue me as there is a finite chance we could get a ML player or two out of this group, with the appropriately excellent development staff. Summary: I think the Indians have, in recent history, done a good job in rounds 11-40, both in drafting college pitchers, a few college hitters and the occasional HS player. I think rounds 11-40 in this draft have a chance to end up being a little or a lot better than previous drafts in rounds 11-40 and that is saying a lot! Again, to use a phrase I have used before, that is all you can ask of the Indians at this point in any draft.