Yes, the Reds are scuffling. But the Indians aren’t the only first place baseball team in Ohio this year. The Columbus Clippers lead the Triple-A International League with a 33-14 record thanks to a roster that includes some of the Indians’ top prospects. The person who drafted many of them, director of amateur scouting Brad Grant, says it’s rewarding to see the players he’s selected approach the Major Leagues.
“It’s a good feeling,” Grant told MLBTR. “Our scouts have done a very good job at identifying talent that’s going to move through the system and up to the Major League club and that’s what we hope to continue to do. From Lonnie Chisenhall to Jason Kipnis, Drew Pomeranz, Alex White and a bunch of others, our scouts have done a very good job at identifying what fits for us .”
Cleveland’s system boasted the seventh-best group of prospects in the game entering the season, according to Baseball America. And so far in 2011, they’re performing like top prospects.
White posted a 3.60 ERA through three MLB starts after climbing through the Indians’ system in less than two years (he’s now on the disabled list). Chisenhall, selected when Grant was a rookie scouting director in 2008, has an .825 OPS at Triple-A and Kipnis, a 2009 selection, has an .856 OPS with the Indians’ top affiliate.
There’s a legitimate chance that Chisenhall and Kipnis make an impact for the Tribe in 2011. But when the Indians start selecting their next wave of talent on June 6th, Grant will be looking for players who will help the future teams, not ones that can bolster the AL Central-leading Indians this year.
“Those two things are separate,” he said. “They always have been in terms of our drafting philosophy. We’re looking again to try to get the best player available and try to get the player that fits best for us, but things change constantly at the Major League level and it’s changing for us right now, so to try to draft based on what the Major League team is doing is not the right thing to do.”
Instead of looking for short-term fixes, the Indians will rank over 700 players and determine which ones could contribute most in the long-term. The Indians figure to have lots of choice, as the consensus around the game is that the 2011 draft features a better collection of prospects than usual.
“Just looking at it in terms of the power pitching that’s out there this year, there are a lot of guys with power arms and there are position players as well,” Grant said. “It’s a very good draft.”
The Indians select eighth overall before selecting 67th, 97th and 128th. It doesn’t compare with the bevy of early picks held by the Rays, Blue Jays or Padres, but the Indians still figure to have a shot at an elite prospect with their top pick.
“I think we’ll have a good choice and I think it’ll be something where it comes down to a choice between multiple players that we like a lot,” Grant said.
Last year the Indians selected Pomeranz, a left-handed pitcher who has a 2.09 ERA with a 54K/15BB ratio in Class A. The price: $2.65MM, or nearly as much as the Indians spent on Major League free agents before this season’s surprise run.
All told, the Indians spent $9.4MM on draft bonuses a year ago, fifth in baseball and considerably more than large-market teams like the Angels, Dodgers, Yankees, Mets, Cubs and White Sox. This year, the Indians will approach players with imposing price tags on a case-by-case basis.
“As we go through the draft we’ll make those decisions depending on what’s available at the time of each selection,” Grant said. “As we get to those decisions, we’ll consult with ownership and with Mark Shapiro, our president, and see where we are, but those will be decisions we make as we go through the draft.”
Deciding which players to draft won't be simple, since the Indians will weigh reports on the hundreds of amateurs they have evaluated since last June. And the decisions probably won’t have an immediate impact at the Major League level. But the way current Indians prospects like Kipnis and Chisenhall are playing, there could be some job openings in the minors for the 2011 draft class before long.