This Sunday, the Cleveland Guardians are going to make some dreams come true and mint a few new millionaires. When the MLB Draft kicks off on Sunday, Cleveland will select 16th overall. There are a number of mock drafts out there, attempting to predict who the team will select, and most of them work on the same assumptions.
As an organization, the Guardians have a profile: they like players who are young for their draft class, have high upside in the higher rounds, and are more polished (read: boring) in the later rounds. In the past couple months we’ve been fortunate to see some recent draft picks reach the big league level. But I was curious how, historically, the Guardians’ picks have done.
So, I went through the Baseball-Reference archive to break it all down. Below are Cleveland’s best picks by bWAR since the draft began in 1965. (Unless noted, bWAR numbers included below are what the player accumulated with Cleveland, not their career total.)
Round 1: Manny Ramirez 30 bWAR
Good news for those with (misplaced) lingering resentment toward Francisco Lindor: His 28.1 bWAR with Cleveland means he is not the best first-round pick in ‘Dians history. That honor goes to Manny Ramirez, who spent 8 seasons in Cleveland, 4 of which were All-Star years. He slashed .313/.407/.592 with 236 HR and a 152 OPS+. He continued to put up Hall-of-Fame numbers after signing with Boston in 2001, and he’d likely wear a Red Sox cap in his Cooperstown plaque after playing out his prime years there if it weren’t for his multiple failed performance-enhancing drug tests.
Other notable firsts: CC Sabathia 27.5, Charles Nagy 24.8
Round 2: Albert Belle 27.4
The 1990s featured many a fearsome slugger, but perhaps none were as legitimately frightening as Albert Belle. This is a man who once got hit by a pitch in a Major League game (with the Orioles, late in his career) and refused to take first base because he wanted to hit. In 8 seasons with the ‘Dians, including 4 All-Star appearances, Belle slashed .295/.369/.580 with 242 HR (including a league-leading 50 in 1995) and a 150 OPS+. Special shoutout to Jason Kipnis here, who compiled 21.3 bWAR with Cleveland and put together a nice career before retiring this year.
Round 3: Dennis Eckersley 13.3
I don’t mean to demean Kipnis, but the fact he was runner-up for best second-round pick does not speak highly for Cleveland’s track record. And yet, here we are, with Dennis Eckersley’s 13.3 bWAR representing the best from the third round, which should also speak volumes. Eckersley, of course, is a Hall of Famer, but not many people associate him with Cleveland. He spent just 3 years here, pitching in 103 games (starting 87) with a record of 40-32 and 3 saves. That he compiled 13.3 of his 62.3 career bWAR in Cleveland is pretty miraculous, but he’ll likely always be known for his exploits in Oakland. Besides Eckersley, there aren’t many notable third rounders to highlight. Perhaps Richie Palacios or Aaron Civale will change that, though.
Round 4: Shane Bieber 12.8
If you’re detecting a theme of diminishing returns per round, you’re pretty astute. Bieber, of course, has been brilliant while with Cleveland – you don’t win a Cy Young Award without pitching pretty darn well, after all. But this is just Bieber’s fifth season, and he still has fewer than 100 big league games to his name. In his brief time in the bigs, however, he’s managed a 44-23 record with a 3.32 ERA, 3.01 FIP, and 133 ERA+, even if there was much competition in this round, Bieber has acquitted himself well and will likely be the team’s best fourth-round selection for some time to come.
Round 5: Ben Francisco 4.1
We’ve reached the “remember some guys” portion of our draft recap, which would be cool if we were more than a handful of picks deep. Francisco had just 3 years with Cleveland, in which he was slightly above average, slashing .261/.332/.437 with 28 HR and a 104 OPS+. He played 7 years in the MLB, but had negative bWAR at every step in his career after departing Cleveland. Should he be able to stick around and be productive, Steven Kwan could quickly overtake Francisco, as he has already accumulated 1.7 bWAR in his 72 games with the Guardians.
Round 6: Greg Allen 0.5
To Greg Allen’s credit, he has created positive WAR at every stop in his 5-year career, but he still has just 1.0 bWAR total to his name. The less said about this, the better.
Round 7: Russell Branyan 1.6
Overall, Branyan had a pretty decent career, notching 11.2 bWAR in total. Only 1.6 of that came in Cleveland though, where he played 294 games and slashed .232/.311/.472 and had an OPS+ of 104. His greater contribution might be as the guy who was traded for Ben Broussard, who was then traded for Shin-Soo Choo, who had 21.8 bWAR for Cleveland over 7 seasons.
Round 8: Joe Inglett 1.4
Who? That was my thought, anyway. Joe Inglett played in 64 games with Cleveland in 2006, primarily at second base, slashing .284/.332/.383 with an OPS+ of 86. Somehow, he scraped together 1.4 bWAR in Cleveland and 4.8 bWAR in a 6-year career. But, seriously, who is Joe Inglett? Honorable mention to Eli Morgan, who already has 0.6 bWAR to his name.
Round 9: James Karinchack 1.5
For a minute, Karinchak looked like he was going to anchor Cleveland’s bullpen for years to come. Then MLB cracked down on pitchers using substances to enhance their grip and Karinchak pitched his way back to Columbus. If his 9.00 ERA over three innings this year are any indication, 1.5 might be a high point for his career bWAR after 2022. Unfortunately, Cleveland doesn’t have many other ninth-round picks to challenge him.
Round 10: No players with positive bWAR for Cleveland
Well, that’s just disappointing. Below are a few notable draft picks from outside the first 10 rounds.
Zach Plesac 5.4
A 2016 pick, Plesac has certainly proved to be underrated compared to his draft stock. In 70 starts for the Guardians, Plesac has a 24-21 record with a 3.94 ERA, 4.48 FIP, and 111 ERA+.
John McDonald 0.4
A 16-year veteran (accumulating 6.3 bWAR overall) primarily due to his remarkable defense, McDonald is not actually included here because of his 0.4 bWAR over 7 years with Cleveland. Rather, he’s here because he’s the Guardians’ minor league field coordinator and has been helping prospects with their defense, still making a difference for the organization.
Jim Thome 48
Thome was selected in the 13th round of the 1989 draft and went on to have a career that could be described as “pretty good.” Now a Hall of Famer, Thome finished his career eighth in all-time home runs (612). He provided Cleveland with 12 outstanding seasons in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, that included three All-Star trips and two World Series appearances,
[Editor’s Note: Thome did not come up in Chris’ initial Baseball-Reference sort and was left off the list as a result. Chris has subsequently been banished to the nether realm until further notice (or until he returns from vacation, whichever comes first) —Matt L.]
Buddy Bell 24.5
For seven seasons, Buddy Bell was a highlight on some Cleveland teams known more for their lowlights. He slashed .274/.328/.382 with a 103 OPS+ in Cleveland, but is better known for his time with Texas. In trading him to Texas, the ‘Dians did bring back Toby Harrah, who accumulated 18.7 bWAR while in Cleveland.
Brian Giles 7.6
Seems like Giles spent more than just 4 years with Cleveland in my memory, but he only had 299 games for the ‘Dians and slashed .284/.391/.485 with a 124 OPS+ over that time. Seems a shame that Cleveland swapped him for Ricardo Rincon (who certainly had his role!), considering Giles would go on to accumulate 51.1 bWAR over 15 seasons.
Josh Tomlin 4.3
If you don’t have a soft spot in your heart for the little cowboy, then you’re a monster. There, I said it. Tomlin was not spectacular over 9 seasons with Cleveland, but he was consistent and he was an easy guy to cheer for.
Vinnie Pestano 4.5
The fact Pestano turned a 20th-round pick into 4.5 bWAR is cool, but he’s really here because Cleveland flipped him at exactly the right time, getting Mike Clevinger back from the Angels in the deal. Clevinger then got traded at exactly the right time and that’s how Gabriel Arias, Austin Hedges, Owen Miller, AND Cal Quantrill came to be on the Guardians. Sheesh.
Cody Allen 8.6
When your manager defers to you for the ninth inning over Andrew Miller, perhaps the most dominant reliever of the 2010s, you’ve done something right. Not bad for a 23rd-round pick.
Richie Sexson 1.1
Please visit Richie Sexson’s B-Ref page and look at his picture. That goatee, the puka shell necklace? Matthew Lillard didn’t even look that much like Shaggy. Anyway, Sexson accumulated 18 bWAR over 12 seasons, almost all of it outside Cleveland. But in terms of 1990s vibes, this guy was undefeated.
Roberto Pérez 7.6
From the 33rd round of the 2006 draft to two home runs in game one of the 2016 World Series is pretty damn remarkable. That Pérez is still going as one of the best game-callers in MLB is remarkable as well.
Tony Sipp 2.5
I’m not sure how many 45th-round selections have ever made it to MLB, but I know Sipp’s the only one from the 2004 draft to make it. He compiled 4.9 bWAR for his career, which also seems extraordinary given where he was selected.
David Riske 4.9
My research was not exhaustive by any means, but I feel comfortable saying that David Riske is the lowest pick ever to accumulate more than 4 bWAR in Cleveland history. In fact, Riske’s career bWAR is 7.9 and his ERA+ is 112, which is great for any round, but unbelievable for the 56th round.