With the 2012 MLB amateur draft slated for next week, it’s time to start taking a look at some of the top prospects on the Tribe’s radar.
In recent years college pitchers have been Cleveland’s main focus in the draft, but Scouting Director Brad Grant broke the mold last year by taking 17-year-old shortstop Francisco Lindor with his top pick. This begs the question, was 2011 a change in mentality in the Indians’ front office? Or was Lindor just the exception and not the rule?
For 2012 draft, the old strategy will likely prevail—the Indians have been linked to college arms in pre-draft rumors than any other type of player. The Tribe selects 15th this year, and by that point most of the top prep talent will have been taken. Combine that with a weak draft class for collegiate bats and going after mature college arms is Cleveland’s most likely course of action in the first few rounds.
According to ESPN’s Keith Law, three players have been strongly linked to the Cleveland Indians. He has Mississippi State right-hander Chris Stratton going to the Tribe in his most recent Mock Draft, but Oklahoma State southpaw Andrew Heaney and Texas A&M righty Michael Wacha have also been connected to Cleveland.
At 6’3″ and 198 pounds, Stratton has a solid build for a Major Leaguer, but Law had him ranked the lowest of the three in his Top 100. He still flashes three plus pitches with his fastball, slider and curve. He has above-average velocity on his fastball usually sitting from 91-94 and has been clocked as high as 96. His slider will be his out pitch as it sits in the 82-85 miles-per-hour range. Stratton’s curve—84-87 on the gun with good movement—could be his third plus pitch.
Stratton can tire easily which leads to his control becoming shaky as he gets further into outings, but building up stamina shouldn’t be too much of a problem for him once he becomes pro. The bigger issue with Stratton is that he’s already 22 years old, which means he could be a 23-year-old at Low-A or High-A next year depending on how the Indians would decide to handle him. That’s pretty old for a top prospect with a lot of development to go, though he would probably be a quick riser as he’s already pretty polished. Despite this, he might not be ready for The Show until he’s at least 24, and given the Tribe’s pitching depth he might not get the chance until he’s 25.
Heaney is another likely option, and Law had him going to the Indians in his original Mock Draft. Law refers to Heaney as “the best college lefty in the draft,” which makes him perfect for the Indians who are in need of a quality left-hander in their rotation. Heaney could fill out his frame more as he currently sits at 6’2″ and 174 pounds.
Heaney put up great strikeout numbers this year, as he punched out 109 batters while only walking 19 in 93 innings of work in the Big 12 Conference. Law ranked Heaney as the 12th-best prospect in the draft, the highest out of the three. As a lefty with good strikeout potential he’s a tantalizing option for any team, but that means he might not be available when Cleveland picks.
Wacha is the biggest of these three at 6’6″ and 200 pounds. His best pitch is easily his changeup, but his breaking ball is still a work in progress. His solid fastball and great changeup he’s seen as a sure thing to make it into a big league-rotation relatively quickly, but he doesn’t have a whole lot of upside. Given that Cleveland is already loaded with bottom-of-the-rotation options that are already Major League ready, I have a hard time seeing him as the pick unless Statton and Heaney are already taken.
That leaves Heaney and Stratton as the best options, and I like Heaney better. A strong southpaw is exactly what Cleveland needs in their rotation, and the fact that he has good strikeout potential makes him all the better. The issue is that I don’t think Heaney will fall to Cleveland. Every team would love a great college lefty in their draft class, and I think someone like the New York Mets or Cincinnati Reds will snatch him up before Cleveland gets the chance. So while Heaney is the best pick, I see Stratton as the most likely option to put on a Tribe uniform.