CLEVELAND -- Drafting based on an organizational need can be a dangerous strategy. Even when a team's perceived need aligns with the strength of a particular Draft class, teams are wary of the risks involved in overlooking other options.
"As soon as you start to draft towards needs," said Brad Grant, the Indians' director of amateur scouting, "I think that's when you can make mistakes. I think it's important to take the best player available. You take the player that you feel has the most ability rather than concentrating on needs."
That said, Cleveland, which has the 15th overall pick in the first round in this year's First-Year Player Draft, is suddenly thin on top starting pitching prospects.
At the July 31 Trade Deadline last summer, the Indians packaged Alex White and Drew Pomeranz -- the Tribe's top picks in 2009 and '10, respectively -- in the five-player swap with the Rockies that brought Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland. That removed the Indians' top two pitching prospects with one handshake.
Another highly-regarding starting prospect, left-hander Scott Barnes, has been converted to a relief role and is in Cleveland's bullpen. Austin Adams, who was in big league camp this spring, is shelved after right shoulder surgery. Righty Dillon Howard (a second-round pick last June) has yet to throw a professional pitch.
This could be an opportune time for the Indians to target an arm in the first round.
"There is some excitement level to the college pitching," Grant said. "And, there's also some excitement level to the high school players."
Live coverage of the 2012 Draft begins with a one-hour preview show on Monday, at 6 p.m. ET on MLB.com and MLB Network, followed by the first round and supplemental compensation round. MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Day 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players.
Last June, the Indians strayed from their recent approach and selected a prep star with their first overall choice, grabbing shortstop Francisco Lindor with the eighth pick in the first round. Through 45 games at low Class A Lake County this season, the 18-year-old Lindor has hit .292 with four homers, nine doubles, three triples, 11 stolen bases, 13 walks, 19 RBIs and 30 runs scored.
Asked about Lindor's early success, Grant could not help but smile.
"It's been exciting. It's been fun," Grant said. "We knew he'd be able to have the range and do the special things he can do defensively. ... We expected him to hit, but to hit at that level and be that successful kind of exceeded our expectations a little bit. It's been a lot of fun to watch. I think the biggest thing is just his leadership there.
"For an 18-year-old to have that kind of makeup and that kind of leadership, and kind of take over that club the way he's been able to take over, it's been pretty special."
Lindor's production out of the gates could help convince Cleveland to keep an open mind about selecting high school athletes going forward. Then again, Grant insists that the Tribe's Draft strategy is a simple case of listing the available players in order by talent and taking the one that remains on top when the time comes for the club's pick.
"We're looking to take the best player available, especially in this year's Draft," Grant said. "We're not going to eliminate anybody. We're going to line them up strictly on ability and take the best player available."
Here's a glance at what the Indians have in store as the Draft approaches:
In about 50 words
The Indians have the 15th overall pick in this year's Draft, marking the fourth straight year that the Tribe has had a Top 15 selection. Cleveland will later pick 79th (second round), 110th (third round) and then 15th in each round the rest of the way.
"The industry consensus is probably a little bit stronger on college pitching," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "The high school ranks are relatively balanced. There aren't too many college position players."
Once the Draft moves beyond the first handful of picks, it can be difficult to project which players will fall to certain teams. That said, this year it is not even clear how the first few selections will go in the first round.
"There's less certainly this year," Grant said. "Normally at this point in time, you kind of hear who's one and who's two. I think it's still up in the air. I think teams are still kind of working through the process like we are, and going through it to try to figure out what order they want to put them in."
Such uncertainty up and down the board can create a scenario where teams want to put the percentages in their favor. This year, collegiate pitching is considered the strength of the Draft and Cleveland has a history of preferring college arms to prep arms. Collegiate pitchers can be more predictable with a higher probability of rising swiftly through a farm system.
Some first-round options along those lines include right-handers Michael Wacha (Texas A&M), Chris Stratton (Mississippi State) and Marcus Stroman (Duke), as well as left-hander Andrew Heaney (Oklahoma State).
indians' bonus pool
Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team has an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of that club's selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. The signing bonuses for a team's selections in the first 10 rounds, plus any bonus greater than $100,000 for a player taken after the 10th round, will apply toward the bonus-pool total.
The Indians have roughly $4.5 million available for their first 10 selections.
Any team going up to five percent over its allotted pool will be taxed at a 75 percent rate on the overage. A team that overspends by 5-10 percent gets a 75 percent tax plus the loss of a first-round pick. A team that goes 10-15 percent over its pool amount will be hit with a 100 percent penalty on the overage and the loss of a first- and second-round pick. Any overage of 15 percent or more gets a 100 percent tax plus the loss of first-round picks in the next two Drafts.
Pitching seems to be the primary need for the early rounds this year. That does not mean the Tribe is dead set on selecting an arm with its top pick. The Indians suddenly have a surplus of middle-infield talent in their farm system, especially at the lower levels, but that might not deter the club from taking another middle infielder if the player in question is deemed the best player available.
"I think you can never have enough middle infielders," Grant said. "The more talent you have, the better. You can't predict what's going to happen at the Major League level. Things change on a day-to-day basis. And things change at the Minor League level on a day-to-day basis. So it's just get the best talent, get the most talent and continue to just strive to add to your farm system."
The Indians had taken a collegiate player with their first selection in nine consecutive Drafts before making Lindor their top pick (eighth overall) last summer. Lindor was the first position player taken by Cleveland since 2008. The Indians might lean toward college pitching again this year with their first selection. The exception might be if a highly-touted prep position player sits atop their board when the 15th pick rolls around.
Recent Draft History
The Indians selected right-hander Cody Allen in the 16th round of the 2010 Draft and the pitcher has enjoyed a rapid rise up the organizational ladder. Through 39 professional appearances, the 23-year-old Allen had a 1.91 ERA with 107 strikeouts against 18 walks over 80 innings between stops at five levels. The righty is at Triple-A Columbus.
Indians' recent top picks
|2011||Francisco Lindor||LHP||Low A Lake County|
|2010||Drew Pomeranz||LHP||Triple-A Colorado Springs (Rockies)|
|2009||Alex White||RHP||Colorado (MLB)|
|2008||Lonnie Chisenhall||OF||Cleveland (MLB)|
|2007||Beau Mills||1B||Triple-A Columbus|
Indians starter Josh Tomlin was the 581st overall pick (19th round) in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. The right-hander was an infielder at Angelina Junior College in Lufkin, Texas, for two years before pitching for Texas Tech in 2006. In Cleveland's farm system, the right-hander went 51-24 with a 3.20 ERA over parts of five seasons. Since reaching the Majors in 2010, Tomlin has gone 20-13 with a 4.44 ERA through 45 career outings for the Indians.
In The Show
Only five players on the Indians' active roster were selected by Cleveland in the First-Year Player Draft. That group includes left-handed reliever Tony Sipp (45th round, 2004), Tomlin (19th round, '06), right-handed reliever Vinnie Pestano (20th round, '06), third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall (first round, '08) and second baseman Jason Kipnis (second round, '09).