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Indians Draft Preview
By Allan Simpson
Scouting Director: John Mirabelli (first draft: 2000).
2000 Draft (First five rounds, picking 26th)
2001 Draft (First five rounds, picking 21st)
2002 Draft (First five rounds, picking 22nd)
(*Did not sign)
No organization has gone through a more significant transformation in the last two years than the Indians. Under new general manager Mark Shapiro, Cleveland has evolved from an aging but contending club with a rotting farm system to an organization young and thin in the big leagues but brimming with prospects.
Baseball America ranked Cleveland's minor league talent the best in the game prior to the 2003 season. Two years ago, that talent ranked 26th. The Indians will struggle for a year or two at the big league level as their prospects mature, but a combination of deft trading by Shapiro and astute drafting by scouting director John Mirabelli has Cleveland primed to repeat its success of the 1990s.
Unlike his predecessor John Hart, who emphasized a team built on power arms and power bats, Shapiro has retooled the organization around pitching and defense. Mirabelli's last two drafts reflect that approach.
After losing Manny Ramirez, Sandy Alomar and David Segui as free agents after the 2000 season, the Indians had five of the first 51 picks in 2001 and used them on some of the best high school arms in that draft. Righthanders Dan Denham, J.D. Martin, Jake Dittler and Travis Foley all rank among the organization's top prospects.
Wth seven of the first 94 selections last year, the Indians targeted Jeremy Guthrie with their first pick. It took $3 million and a major league contract to sign the Stanford righthander, who was regarded as the most polished pitcher in the draft. Guthrie signed too late to pitch in 2002, but he still could be the first player from the Class of '02 to reach the big leagues, possibly helping the Indians as soon as this year.
Pitching is the strength of this year's draft, which would provide the Indians another opportunity to add to their pitching depth. Cleveland has three of the first 31 selections--their own pick at 11th and two extra picks as a result of the free-agent departure of Jim Thome.
The Indians also control the rights to two of the nation's top junior college pitchers--righthanders Mike Mitchell (14th round, St. Charles, Mo., JC) and Nick Pesco (25th round, Cosumnes River, Calif., JC). Cleveland has had recent success with draft-and-follow pitchers, taking Jason Davis (now a member of the Indians rotation) in 1999 and promising Sean Smith in 2001.
The influx of talent has marked Mirabelli's reign as scouting director as a success, especially when measured against the club's track record in the '90s. An organization known for its stability, the Indians went through atypical turnover in their scouting department in the '90s, with no less than six scouting directors.
Predictably, Indians drafts lacked continuity. The organization counted Ramirez (1991) and C.C. Sabathia (1998) among its first-round hits, but it also had its share of misses, including college first basemen David Miller and Danny Peoples with consecutive first-round picks in the mid-90s.
With their fourth scouting director in four years in 1999, things hit bottom as the Indians may have had the worst draft in the last 10 years. They didn't have a first-round pick; second-rounder Will Hartley retired after 64 minor league games; third-rounder Eric Johnson returned to an abandoned football career; fourth-rounder Jeff Baker didn't sign and was drafted by the Rockies last year; fifth-rounder Curtis Gay was released after hitting .187 in two-plus seasons; sixth-rounder Shane Wallace's career remains on hold after undergoing Tommy John surgery; and seventh-rounder Daylon Monette didn't sign.
The Indians went outside the organization after that debacle and hired Mirabelli, a respected Tigers national crosschecker, and Cleveland's fortunes in the draft have improved greatly since.