Monday night kicked off the 2015 MLB Draft. The Indians had three picks before the end of round 2, numbers 17, 42, and 59. They used the first of those picks on Brady Aiken (profile), who was the #1 overall pick in 2014, but couldn't agree to a deal with the Astros after his medical examination turned up an elbow problem that eventually led to him having Tommy John surgery. They used the second of those picks on Triston McKenzie (profile), a 6'5", 165 pound, right-handed beanpole of a pitcher from Florida. They used the third of those picks on Juan Hillman (profile), another pitcher from Florida, but a lefty, and one who has been living with his godfather, former MLB All-Star Tom Gordon.
As you may have noticed, all three of those players are pitchers. That's a new approach for the current regime. Since Brad Grant took over as Director of Amateur Scouting at the end of 2007, the Indians have used their top two picks on one position player and one pitcher every year. Jason Kipnis, currently the team's top player, was part of one of those tandems, as were the team's top prospects Francisco Lindor, Clint Frazier, and Bradley Zimmer.
The last time the Indians used their first three picks on pitchers was 2004. That year's trio though (topped by Jeremy Sowers) was comprised of three college seniors. The last time the Indians took three teenage arms with their first three picks was 2001. Brace yourself, because the names are not encouraging: Dan Denham, Alan Horne, and J.D. Martin.
I won't try to convince you that precedent should get you excited about what the Indians did last night, because of the 2001 trio, only Martin ever made it to MLB, and he for only 24 games.
The fact is, no matter what type of players you draft, they're more likely to bust than boom. Meanwhile, the Tribe have a much stronger group of position player prospects than pitchers. The current starting rotation features four great arms, all still in their 20s, but the odds of all four of them still pitching well even two years from now are slim, and odds are no more than one of them will be pitching well for the Indians by 2019. Last night represents an attempt to prepare the next wave.
The Indians are , in general, a "best player available" team, in terms of their approach to the draft. With three teenage pitchers last night though, I have to think there was a decision made ahead of time to target young arms. Perhaps not with all three picks, but at least one or two. Aiken could have gone anywhere, a high risk/high reward talent who different teams probably rated very differently. I think the Indians probably had it in mind that if he was there when their turn arrived, they'd take him. There were probably a few other guys who went in the top ten they'd have taken instead, none of whom were likely to last that long.
I don't think we're going to someday see all three of these guys in the Tribe's starting rotation, but (pending each of them actually signing with the team) along with Justus Sheffield, they give the Indians a lot of very young, and very talented arms. Given the costs and risks involved with signing free agent starters, that avenue isn't an option for the team.Drafting, signing international free agents, and trading for other teams' prospects, those are their options if they want great pitching.
This is a risk the Indians can afford, and I'm glad they're taking it.