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Are the Indians getting better at drafting players?

While everyone debates the ramifications of the newly christened CBA, I think one of the biggest takeaways is that, for better or worse, the playing field for acquiring amateur players has been leveled. If I am correct, the importance of being good at amateur evaluation has risen for a low-revenue time like the Indians. The draft, of course, has until the past couple of years been a sore spot for the organization. But were the Indians really bad at drafting players prior to Brad Grant's promotion to Director of Amateur Scouting? And have they really improved since then? This is probably a fool's errand to begin with, given the recency of Grant's promotion and the time necessary for a draft to properly "emerge," but I'm doing it anyway.

Consider this part 1 (of 2?) in an attempt to address the questions above. I have compiled the draft information for the Indians, and the rest of major league baseball, for every draft from 2005-2010. In this part I will look at the breakdown in eventual major league players drafted, and ultimately signed, in each of the draft. I also compiled information on the number of top 50 picks each team had available to them in each draft, as well as (with a mind to the new CBA) how many players advanced to the majors after being drafted and signed out of the first 10 rounds of the draft. In my next post I will look at not just who made it to the majors, but what impact they had once they got there. First, a look at some of these data. The following table gives the number of top 50 picks each team had during the 2005-2010, the number of players drafted that at this point in time have seen major league action (whether signed or not), the number of players drafted and signed who have made it to the majors (whether with the drafting team or not), the number of players drafted and signed out of the top 10 rounds who have made it to the majors, the percentage of major league players drafted and signed, and the percentage of major league players who were signed out of the top 10 rounds.

TEAM TOP 50 ML DRAFT ML SIGN TOP 10 DNS Sign/Draft top10/sign
ARI 15 25 23 16 92.0% 69.6%
ATL 10 19 13 11 68.4% 84.6%
BAL 9 16 14 13 87.5% 92.9%
BOS 15 23 17 15 73.9% 88.2%
CHC 8 16 15 11 93.8% 73.3%
CHW 7 14 13 11 92.9% 84.6%
CIN 8 21 21 16 100.0% 76.2%
CLE 7 20 16 11 80.0% 68.8%
COL 11 12 9 6 75.0% 66.7%
DET 8 28 26 17 92.9% 65.4%
FLA 11 25 24 18 96.0% 75.0%
HOU 9 10 9 8 90.0% 88.9%
KC 10 12 12 10 100.0% 83.3%
LAA 12 21 16 11 76.2% 68.8%
LAD 9 15 10 8 66.7% 80.0%
MIL 10 19 16 13 84.2% 81.3%
MIN 10 17 13 8 76.5% 61.5%
NYM 7 18 16 10 88.9% 62.5%
NYY 8 23 17 13 73.9% 76.5%
OAK 7 16 12 10 75.0% 83.3%
PHI 7 17 14 8 82.4% 57.1%
PIT 9 12 11 10 91.7% 90.9%
SD 12 30 28 21 93.3% 75.0%
SEA 9 17 15 11 88.2% 73.3%
SF 11 19 19 13 100.0% 68.4%
STL 13 30 26 17 86.7% 65.4%
TB 10 13 7 7 53.8% 100.0%
TEX 13 18 16 10 88.9% 62.5%
TOR 13 16 14 11 87.5% 78.6%
WAN 11 17 15 10 88.2% 66.7%
MLB AVG 9.97 18.63 15.90 11.80 84.8% 75.6%

There is a lot that can be unpacked here. First, the need to recalibrate aspects of the compensation system and draft should be immediately apparent when you see that the teams that have had the most top 50 picks are clubs like Boston, Arizona, Texas, Toronto and the Angels. These are not exactly small market, losing teams. The Indians have only had seven top 50 picks over this time period, meaning only once (2005) have they had more than one. In contrast, the Angels had ten picks in 2009 and 2010 alone.

With twenty major league players drafted and sixteen ultimately signed over this window, the Indians, at least at the moment, are actually slightly above average, ranking 10th in the majors in both categories. If we look at where the Indians have ranked each year when it comes to drafting major league players, the organization is tied for 8th in 2005, dips to 12th in 2006, bottoms out at 27th in 2007, and then rebounds back to 8th, 4th and 2nd in the Grant years. These latter rankings reflect the rapid ascension of White, Pomeranz, Chisenhall and Kipnis and company, and it is likely other teams will begin to catch up with the organization. But at least in the short term, these recent drafts stack up pretty nicely. If we look at major league players who ended up signing with the club, the only big difference is back in the 2005 draft, which has seen eight players selected by Cleveland make it to the majors, but only four of whom signed with Cleveland that year.

On the basis of player acquisition and progression to the majors, I think it is hard to say the Indians were bad in the years immediately preceding Grant's promotion (though 2007 is bleak), but they certainly were not "very good" at the draft. And the organization might need to be very good. It is a little hard to evaluate the Indians scouting department, however, when you look at a draft like 2005 and see the Indians selecting Trevor Crowe, John Drennen and Stephen Head with their first three picks, but then later picking Desmond Jennings (rd. 18) and Tim Lincecum (rd. 42). Obviously these latter two did not sign with the team (oh, but if they had...), but it is nice to know the team saw something intriguing about them. The new rules are going to really place an emphasis on not just identifying the right guys, but identifying them in a proper order of importance within the draft.

A few other observations...within the AL Central the Indians generally stack up well, with the exception of comparisons with Detroit. Detroit has consistently done a better job of drafting and signing players who make it to the majors than Cleveland. The Indians have relied, more than other teams, on finding players in later rounds. This strategy likely will not hold up under the new draft rules and the Indians are going to have to adjust how they structure their draft accordingly. It is almost surprising Boston has not been more of a juggernaut than they have, with the combination of a large payroll that gives them free reign in the free agent market and a huge number of high and successful draft picks back in the 2005-2006 era. If you feel bad about Cleveland, though, take solace in Minnesota's woes. Going back to 2007 the Twins have only seen one player they drafted make it to the majors (Ben Revere!), despite having seven top 50 picks in that span.

I am going to write more about this because the above chart is really just the most superficial look possible at these data. As I said, the next post will look at actually what players in these drafts have produced. The Indians major leaguers are populated disproportionately by relievers and bench players. The major leaguers out of the last three drafts seem to be a pleasant departure from this tendency.