From the time Mark Shapiro took over as general manager of the Cleveland Indians to his departure last season, the overriding tale of the regime was lack of success in the amateur draft.
From 2000 to 2008, the most successful first round choice by the Tribe’s scouting staff was Jeremy Guthrie, and because he was signed to a major league contract, he appeared in all of 16 games for Cleveland, starting just once.
In 2008, the Indians drafted Lonnie Chisenhall, and while you can’t put him in the “star” category, he is a serviceable major league player, a step up from previous years.
In 2011, Cleveland selected a high school shortstop named Francisco Lindor, and since then the Indians’ first round picks show up among baseball’s top prospects, depending on the publication or website you are reading.
Lindor was followed by Tyler Naquin, who made the Opening Day roster this season, and Tribe fans are waiting patiently for the next group of top picks, namely Clint Frazier (’13), Bradley Zimmer (’14), and Brady Aiken (’15).
Both Frazier and Zimmer can be seen nightly about an hour south of Lake Erie, both toiling for the Akron RubberDucks. Aiken is recovering from elbow surgery after he was the first overall pick in 2014, and should pitch for one of the Indians’ minor league teams this summer.
During that drought, thankfully, the Indians were very good finding prospects in other organizations, so they did have some good young players in the pipeline, such as Shin Soo Choo (Seattle), Asdrubal Cabrera (Seattle), Michael Brantley (Milwaukee), and Carlos Carrasco (Philadelphia).
That has continued in recent years too, as the front office basically stole Yan Gomes, now one of the AL’s best catchers from Toronto, and when they dealt Choo before he became a free agent, they received Trevor Bauer and Bryan Shaw from Arizona.
There may be two more players unearthed in another team’s system on their way as well, both coming from the Angels system.
A few years ago, with Vinnie Pestano no longer a dominant set up man, then GM Chris Antonetti moved him to Los Angeles for a starting pitcher in the Class A California League with an ERA over 5.00.
The deal was regarded as ho hum, Cleveland got a warm body. After coming over to Kinston, the right-hander had a 4.87 ERA.
The Tribe pitching coaches re-did his mechanics, and last year he posted a 2.73 ERA at Akron and 145 strikeouts in 158 innings pitched.
That’s the story of Mike Clevinger, one of the organization’s top ten prospects, and a guy you may see at Progressive Field some time this season.
When the Indians seemed to be out of the race last year and wanted to make room for younger players, they moved veteran David Murphy to the Angels for a young shortstop who looked to be all glove, no hit.
Eric Stamets had a very good training camp, and has gotten off to a good start (albeit a couple of games) at Akron.
Could he be the next success story for the organization?
For a mid to small market team like the Indians, they must be able to develop players. The fates of Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher show what can go wrong with the free agent experiments.
Over the last five seasons, the Indians have made tremendous progress developing young players. We picked them to win the division this season, and with the young talent on the horizon, it could be another long run of success on the corner of Ontario and Carnegie.