Remember back in the days when the Indians couldn’t quite get this draft thing right? There was that four-year run from 2003-06 when they had a combined six first-round picks and used them on David Huff, Brad Snyder, Trevor Crowe, Jeremy Sowers, Michael Aubrey and John Drennen.
There was 2001, when they had four first-round picks and used them on four high school players, Dan Denham, Alan Horne, J.D. Martin and Mike Conway, none of whom reached the majors with the Indians and three of whom never reached the majors, period.
Remember the Drew brothers? J.D. played 14 years in the majors, none of them with the Indians, and had a career WAR of 44.9. Stephen played 12 years in the majors, none of them with the Indians, and had a career WAR of 17. In 1997 the Indians drafted little brother Tim Drew in the first round. He played five years in the majors, two with the Indians, and had a career WAR of -2.2. For the Indians it was right draft, wrong Drew.
In 1989, the Indians had the 11th pick in the first round and were determined to select Texas high school outfielder Calvin Murray, even though Murray’s family sent letters to all teams telling them he intended to enroll at the University of Texas. The Indians drafted Murray anyway, then watched him enroll at the University of Texas. Twelve picks after the Indians wasted theirs on Murray, the Red Sox drafted Mo Vaughn.
I could go on, but why go on?
Those days are long gone, and the Indians have long since figured out this draft thing. We know that just by looking at their current roster that for nearly three months now has the best record and winning percentage in the major leagues.
Good drafting is a big reason why these Indians are this good.
Consider the following.
Eighty percent of the Indians’ current starting rotation are pitchers scouted, drafted, signed and developed by the Indians. And they acquired three of the four IN THE SAME DRAFT. In addition to that, the Indians’ shortstop, second baseman, catcher, right fielder and left fielder are all players they drafted.
That’s nine out of the 25 players on the roster, including almost the entire starting rotation, who were acquired by the Indians through the draft.
The Indians took Francisco Lindor with the eighth pick in the first round in 2011. Jason Kipnis, a two-time All-Star who in my book is the third-best second baseman in Indians history (behind Napoleon Lajoie and Roberto Alomar), was a second-round pick in the 2009 Draft.
Tyler Naquin was a first-round pick, 15th overall, in 2012. Greg Allen was a sixth-round pick in 2014, and Roberto Perez, we had no way of knowing this until this, his spectacular breakout season — was an absolute steal by the Indians in the 33rd round of the 2008 Draft.
But it’s the starting rotation that has saved this Indians season, and it’s the Indians who drafted those pitchers who saved the rotation that saved this season.
Four of the five starters currently in the rotation were drafted by the Indians. The only one who wasn’t is Mike Clevinger. How rare is that? Very. You need only to go back to last year, when the exact opposite was true. In 2018, four of the Indians’ five starters were NOT drafted by the Indians: Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Clevinger.
This year, four of the five starters currently in the rotation were drafted by the Indians. One was Adam Plutko, who was an 11th-round pick in the 2013 draft. The other three — Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale — were all acquired in the span of nine rounds in the same draft: the Indians’ brilliant 2016 draft.
In that draft, the Indians selected Civale in the third round, Bieber in the fourth round and Plesac in the 12th round. Three years later all of them are key members of a pitching staff that has remained not just relevant but instrumental in the Indians’ dramatic midseason turnaround.
Getting three major league rotation starters in one draft is even more impressive when you consider that none of the three was a first-round pick.
The Indians’ first round pick in that 2016 draft was slugger/speedster Will Benson, who is having a breakout season in Class A with 22 homers and 25 stolen bases. Their second-round pick, Akron third baseman Nolan Jones, is hitting .270 with 12 home runs, 82 walks and a .409 on-base percentage and is the organization’s top-rated minor league prospect.
Also in that 2016 draft, the Indians selected outfielder Conner Capel, who was one of two players they traded to St. Louis for Oscar Mercado.
Cashing in on the draft is critical for a franchise unable to fill its holes with its checkbook.
This year the Indians are cashing in big.