Our esteemed publisher MSP has decided to release one free article from each Annual as a downloadable PDF. I made some suggestions, and from those MSP chose to feature "New Blood", written by our man Tyler Chirdon (fleerdon). I also encouraged MSP to tack the popular "Five-Year Depth Chart" onto the end of that article, and they did. So for anyone who hasn't seen the Annual or would just like an electronic copy of those six pages, go and get it.
In addition, Tyler sent me some interview material with Brad Grant and John Mirabelli that didn't make it into that article due to space constraints. In Tyler's own words: "There was an earlier version of the article that had a becoming, free-spirited bent to it. It was also nearly a thousand words too long."
I think "New Blood" initially comes off as a fairly harmless piece, but it's actually quite unique in its content. The basic idea — highlighting the Indians' 10 most significant amateur signings of 2008, based on money, both from draft and from international scouting — was a conscious effort to "reset the conversation" on amateur talent acquisition. That conversation has long been defined by draft coverage that is 100 times more voluminous for the draft than for international signings, mostly because Baseball America covers American college baseball and American high school baseball comprehensively — not just for the MLB prospects those leagues produce, but simply to cover them in their own right. It is, after all, Baseball America.
That coverage imbalance, however, leads to massive misunderstandings among casual fans about the whole process of acquiring amateur talent, and for Indians fans, it ultimately led to one particularly noxious, self-proclaimed expert self-imploding in a fiery ball of rage. I myself knew very little about amateur talent acquisition, but I knew enough to know that that guy knew even less. Acquiring amateur talent is so much more broad and complex than just drafting Baseball America's top-rated talent in every round of the draft — as I'm sure the BA guys themselves would tell you — and I felt it was far past time someone presented a fresh take on the subject.
A problem arose when Tyler and I realized that there was literally no information publicly available on the Indians' international signings, no matter how hard we looked. If the Indians weren't willing to talk to us about those guys, then we were sunk. Fortunately, the Indians' longtime PR man Bob DiBiasio was willing to arrange for both Brad Grant and John Mirabelli to talk to Tyler. Just as significantly, both Grant and Mirabelli were impressed enough by the quality of Tyler's questions that they gave him all kinds of information and insight, much more than we ever expected for an article initially envisioned as almost a sidebar to Adam's comprehensive "top prospects" piece. It became something else. It became a sort of primer on the issues and situations faced by a major league club, when trying to find the best amateur talent from all sources — high schools, major and minor college programs, Venezuela, the Dominican, Asia — and sign them to deals that make sense for the club.
After all that, we still ended up with just one full page of text, total, covering the Indians' four largest international signings of 2008 — yet that one page is still ten times more material than you could have found on the entire Internet regarding those four players. I hope we can start delving a lot more into the international signing process — I mean, hell, it's only responsible for guys like Victor Martinez, Fausto Carmona, Rafael Perez — and I hope other folks pick up that ball and run with it, too.
A quick note on the Depth Chart, since it's part of the download. My initial idea was just to go position by position, showing the projected arrival of each of the guys in Adam's Top 20 over the next few years. I explained the format I had in mind to Adam and asked him to take a first pass at it. He thought it would be cool to add in all the current major leaguers, too, and when I saw what he'd done, it just transformed the chart completely. The next step was to add in even more prospects, drawing in part on other material from both Adam and Tyler. One final change to the format was to pull the nine positions together into four groups, so that there was a greater sense of continuity and much less ambivalence over where a given player should appear. It was a great group effort, and I thank Adam for his help in putting it together.
And now, that bonus material from Tyler's interviews ...
Brad Grant, Director of Amateur Scouting
Last year, the club took an NAIA player with its first pick; this year, a JuCo player. Is there a pattern here? Do the Indians scout less traditional venues more aggressively than some other clubs do?
I would not say this was a conscious decision for us. We recognize that players come from all over, but we certainly targeted and had a lot of players from major Division I programs in our first round considerations over the last two years. The fact that we took an NAIA and Juco player with our first picks is more the byproduct of the draft than of a specific philosophy.
John Mirabelli called Lonnie Chisenhall's defense at shortstop a "pleasant surprise." Did you scout Chisenhall strictly as a third baseman, or has there been a chance that he could stick in the middle infield all along?
Yes, we drafted Lonnie with the intention that he would eventually move to third base. Although he did play shortstop very well this summer, we still believe that his ultimate role at the Major League level will be as a third baseman. He did begin the transition to third at Instructional League this fall.
Some people were surprised about the David Roberts selection. Can you shed some light on that pick? What skill of Roberts' impressed you most?
We see an athletic pitcher with a chance for a plus fastball and solid-average slider who can be an effective back end bullpen arm if everything comes together. Although he pitched for an elite program, he did not get that many innings, and we feel like we are getting a fresh, projection arm who is just starting to come into his own.
John Mirabelli, Assistant GM, Scouting Operations
It's no secret that many Latin American players are under great pressure to adapt quickly to American life and pro baseball so they can help their families. Do the Indians specifically factor a player's ability to withstand that stress as part of their make-up evaluation?
Make-up is a huge component of our evaluations, both domestic and international. We are one of the few organizations that I know of that has a Cultural Development program. We cover everything from A-Z, both on and off the field, as it relates to their transition.
I hear a lot about efforts to teach English to Latino baseball players. Do the Indians also make efforts to teach Spanish to their English-speaking personnel, or is English the working language of baseball?
Yes, we do incentivize our staff to learn Spanish. Bi-lingual ability is a huge asset in a staff member. I wouldn't say it is a prerequisite in our hiring process, but the more bi-lingual people we have in our organization, the better chance we have in creating a dynamic, all-inclusive culture.