Tribe Happenings: Going big at the MLB draft
Selection of Frazier avoids the "safe" play and takes a necessary risk
By Jim Piascik
June 9, 2013
With draft weekend upon us and the massive amount of time and research needed to bring you the best Indians draft coverage on the web keeping Tony busy, I am filling in on Tribe Happenings this week. Don't worry, though; Tony will be back next week. You're only stuck with me for one week.
With that out of the way, let's get on to the news, notes, and thoughts from my Cleveland notebook:
"Risky" Selection of Frazier the Right One
Thursday night was a big one in the organization, as the team owned the fifth overall pick in the draft -- and no others until Friday. No one is going to complain about the loss of picks due to signing Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, but losing those selections did change the tenor of Thursday night.
I had no issue with last year's selection of Tyler Naquin -- a solid player if an overdraft at 15th overall -- because the pick was used to get more high-end talent in subsequent rounds. By saving a little money on Naquin and passing on someone like Lucas Giolito, Brad Grant and company were able to pick players like Mitch Brown, Kieran Lovegrove, and D'Vone McClure.
While that strategy worked well in 2012, 2013 is a different year. Teams should always be flexible depending on the situation they are in and 2013 was a much different one for Cleveland. Saving money in round one when a team is not picking until the third round does not make much sense in my mind.
Plenty of national pundits had North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran making his way to Cleveland, a "safe" pick (as if there is any such thing in the MLB draft), a move that might have saved them some money. As a high school player with the leverage of college, Clint Frazier will not come cheap. Even though he is all but certain to go pro, simply having that option available will get him more money.
Spending slot value or more on Frazier leaves less to spread around to the rest of the draft, but that is alright. By losing their two second round picks, the organization had to make sure they made an impact with in the first round.
There is no guarantee of anything in the MLB draft. All of these players -- even the safest of all picks Mark Appel -- are too far away from the majors to say anything with certainty. No one, including the team officials and scouts making these selections, knows who the best players will be in this draft. Frazier could flame out and Moran could end up taking his polished approach to a long major league career, making passing on him look stupid.
But we do not know right now.
As it is, Frazier represents a high-upside talent. Forget any comparisons to Mike Trout (how about we assume nobody is Mike Trout since what he did is very, very rare), but know that Frazier has the tools to be an impact major leaguer. IBI's Jeff Ellis reported all spring that Frazier had the best bat speed of any prospect he had ever seen. Bat speed is not everything, but it is certainly one of the most important things when it comes to hitting.
Frazier has power, he knows how to hit, and he is new enough to the outfield that he may manage to stick in center field. No one outside of Cleveland's front office seems to think he has a chance at staying in center field, but no one else matters right now. The same was said about Naquin last year, but Naquin is currently a center fielder with the Carolina Mudcats.
I mean, Shin-Soo Choo is technically a center fielder too right now. There is no reason to write off Frazier in center field just yet.
He may end up moving to a corner in the end, but for now, we will see if Frazier can do well enough to stay in the middle. He will not make it to Cleveland any time soon, but the man with the fast bat should be a joy to watch as he plays hard and goes all out in the coming years.
Sticking Up The Middle
In one of the least surprising developments of the weekend, every single selection Cleveland made through the first 10 rounds was up the middle. The team added pitchers in the third through ninth round before picking a second baseman in the 10th.
After it was observed on IBI before the draft that 39 of the last 40 picks in the first 10 rounds had been of the up the middle variety, it should not come as a surprise that the organization went 10-for-10 in 2013. Cleveland's philosophy is very clear: draft athletes in the middle of the field that can slide to the corners as needed. I like the plan, but I liked the drafting philosophy on pitchers even more.
As a rule, I tend to believe that all pitchers are about to explode. Pitcher health seems to be something that is basically unpredictable and the only guarantee is that pitchers get hurt. Throwing a baseball just is not something that the human body is built to do.
As such, depth is the most important thing to have in an organization when it comes to pitchers. We already saw that in Cleveland this year with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer all answering the bell as injuries cropped up quickly in the major league rotation. Brett Myers was signed as somebody with a track record of health and 200 inning seasons; he has been on the DL since April 20 with no end in sight.
With that in mind, I love how Cleveland added seven pitchers on Friday, simply picking up as many lottery tickets as possible in hopes that some will hit. With how much of a crapshoot the draft is, just amassing a greater number of pitchers is a good strategy to me.
If just two of these seven pitchers turn out to be contributors at the major league level, that will be a win. The flameout rate of pitchers is high enough as is, sheer numbers is the best way to find some success. By investing plenty of high picks in pitching, I expect enough of these guys to find success and help fill the pitching void in the upper levels of the organization in time.
Going down, down...
Back to the players who have already been drafted and made it through the perils of the minor leagues, the big league club continued its downward trajectory over the past week.
With yesterday's loss, Cleveland falls below .500 and now sits at 30-31. The Tigers are just 4.5 games ahead, easily within reach, though after cruising high at 26-17, the recent losing certainly stings.
I had the team at 81-81 before the season -- so this is not out of the ordinary, but the losing play of late is not fun to watch. The question, of course, is will the team continue to lose or will they right the ship?
Fangraphs' projections put Cleveland at 79-83 at year's end while Baseball Prospectus is a little more optimistic with an 81-81 figure. While that is around a 12-win improvement from 2012, for those dreaming of a playoff berth, these projections are fairly unsightly.
The overall problem with this team is just how far they had to go after 2012's collapse. In order to make the playoffs a team probably needs to win around 90 games. Coming off of a season with 68 wins, the front office had to come up with 22 wins to make a legitimate run at the postseason.
Despite an active offseason, that is simply far too big of a number to reasonably add from one season to another. Just climbing back into respectability is progress and some sort of .500 season would not be a total loss.
Maybe the starting pitching will pitch above expectations. Maybe some of the youth continues to progress. Maybe this, this, and this happen and propel Cleveland to the playoffs. All we know is that the team's median baseline is around .500.
Which, in actuality, is not all that bad of a thing. If Cleveland's "true talent" is .500, then it will not take that many breaks to get the team up into playoff contention. Even with a 162-game season, the best teams are not always the ones that make the playoffs. Weird twists and bounces of fate often intervene and maybe Cleveland will be the team getting a little lucky.
For now, though, June is once again being cruel. The year-by-year for June:
Who knows why Cleveland cannot seem to win in June; it is probably all just random bunching of wins and losses. But as this team descends on its sixth consecutive bad June, know that things are not this bad. The losses will stop piling up, the wins will come back, and this team will remain fun to watch. It will get better.
Well, Carlos Carrasco made his way back to Cleveland. Maybe this time he will avoid headhunting.
Carrasco was riding a two-game suspension streak -- as in he had been suspended following his last two starts -- but pitched Saturday while appealing his latest ban.
The right-hander was given the ball after Zach McAllister was placed on the disabled list, struggling through four innings, allowing 10 hits, three walks, and six runs while only striking out one.
We can look at Carrasco's 3.21 ERA 3.33 FIP, and 50 strikeouts in 47.2 Triple-A innings as proof that the right-hander should be in Cleveland and Saturday was just a bump in the road. Or we can look at the 12 runs allowed in Carrasco's last eight innings in Columbus as proof that he still is not ready for the major leagues full time.
What is most important, however, is what is going on in Carrasco's head. Clearly he was not ready to be a major leaguer earlier in the year when he got himself suspended for throwing at Kevin Youkilis' head in a situation where Cleveland desperately needed starting pitching and had gone to lengths to let him burn his first suspension.
It is unclear right now how long Carrasco will be with the major league club. His suspension ends on the same day that McAllister is eligible to come off of the disabled list, but who knows if McAllister's finger will allow him to pitch that soon. If McAllister does miss more time, it would make sense to leave Carrasco in the rotation, as it is time to see what the 26-year-old has to offer.
That part surprises me, as between the ill-timed elbow injury, Tommy John surgery and rehab, and two suspensions, Carrasco seems much younger than 26 years old. We are getting to the point where Carrasco needs to establish himself at the major league level or will be left behind. His stuff has played up since he his surgery and rehab, but it is time for Carrasco to become a legitimate major leaguer and that process started Saturday.
The melodramatic take on things is that once again a promising starting pitcher has fallen prey to finger issues. We went through this before with Adam Miller and Alex White and now McAllister is on the disabled list with a sprained pulley in his middle finger.
There is no indication that McAllister's injury is as bad as Miller's. After all, what happened to Miller was just one of the random, fluky injuries that makes all pitching prospects so risky.
Still, it is not pleasant to hear about McAllister's finger landing him on the DL. Even if he only misses the required 15 days and comes back on June 18, this will be something that stays in the back of our heads. In order to throw the ball, a pitcher must use his fingers. McAllister's fingers have betrayed him before. If it happens again, maybe the stalwart of Cleveland's rotation is not as unbreakable as it seemed before the season.
Coming into 2013, I saw McAllister as an innings-eater who may be able to provide a little more. Before his recent outings (which may have been bad due to his finger), McAllister was flashing more than that, looking like a middle-of-the-rotation starter who sometimes pitched even better. With this team still needing a little bit more out of the starting pitching, seeing McAllister shelved for any stretch of time is problematic.
If it is something that lasts, this team could be in real trouble.
What is left to call up in Triple-A? As much as I love Bauer, he is clearly not ready and needs more time refining himself in Columbus. Carrasco has plenty of ability, but who is to say that he will put it all together? T.J. House and Danny Salazar are simply not ready for a call to the major leagues.
All the holes of the 2012 team could not be filled in one offseason, so the front office fixed the offense and had to hope on the pitching. Without McAllister, I am not sure that there is enough in the rotation to allow Cleveland to match Detroit and find a way into the playoffs. The team wants to be cautious to avoid another bad situation, which could mean McAllister misses real time if this injury proves serious.
Or McAllister's finger will be just fine and this is all overreaction. Time will tell.
Plenty has been said and written about Chris Perez's legal situation, but I will not add to that here. He has been arrested and charged, he will get his day in court, and in time the truth will come out. For now, that is all that matters... On the field, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera's quad issues blew up on him Monday as he suffered a right quadriceps strain. Tony wrote about him soldiering through this issue in last week's Happenings, but clearly this is a worse situation. He is out on the disabled list and is expected to be out for at least a month... Left-hander J.C. Romero was officially signed on Friday and sent to Triple-A Columbus. With the state of Cleveland's left-handed relief pitching, signing Romero is a shot in the dark to see if he has anything to add... The organization also signed catcher Matthew Colantonio (Columbus) and infielder Paddy Matera (Carolina) over the past week.
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Those numbers are meaningless. He's 22 years old playing in A ball. Michael Brantley had numbers just as good in the majors when he was 22. Right now, Brantley is Naquin's absolute ceiling, and that's if he makes gigantic improvements in his strike zone discipline.
It's not that I have something against Naquin himself. He's doing everything he should be. The problem is the pick. The problem is that we passed on a starting pitcher who already has two major league starts under his belt. We took signability over talent, just like the Indians say they don't do.
"In the Draft, it's about risk and reward," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "We felt the upside of Giolito trumped the risk of him getting injured. We thought and expected that he was going to have Tommy John surgery going into this. The doctors looked at the whole package medically and thought that he would be a great rehab candidate.
"We felt that it was an elbow and a Tommy John. Our track record with those type of [injuries] is good. We felt the makeup of this kid made him a good candidate to rehab well and to come back even stronger than he was before. If he gets to where he was pre-injury or better, we have ourselves a really good rotation type of starter..."
The Indians didn't take that risk.. and that's the bottom line. Not some mythical saving of money for later use which proved to be BS..
So, the under slot signing of Naquin had little to do with the rankings.. It had to do with the players signing demands vs slot value.
Will any of these four make more than a ripple in the Major Leagues?.. We won't know for at least another winter..perhaps longer..
I'll admit that I didn't care for the pick only because I'd rather have a guy with more power at #15 than we got (either power hitter or power arm).
First of all, they didn't even end up using their whole draft pool. They left about $200K on the table that they could have used to take a better talent than Naquin at 15.
If you're going to go WAY underslot and reach for a guy that belongs in the 2nd round like we did with Naquin, you better get a first round type talent in the second and/or third round. We basically took the money we saved on Naquin, and gave it to McClure and Brown (we actually went underslot on Lovegrove). Brown has never profiled as higher than a #3 starter, and the Indians have never had success drafting and developing a player like McClure. Last year was a very clear case of the Indians trying to get cute, trying to re-invent the wheel, and trying to do too much with the draft.
This year, I was much happier with the first round because instead of getting cute, they took the best player available. Yes, you end up having to take some "safe" guys later, but I'd MUCH rather get the high profile 1st rounder and some safe guys later than the other way around like we did in 2012.