Last year the Indians didn't break the bank for their first round selection (Tyler Naquin) so that they could grab some high-upside players in the middle rounds (high-schoolers Mitch Brown (2) and D'Vone McClure (4), for instance). This year, though, with the #5 pick in the entire draft and no other pick until overall #79, the Indians may switch their strategy, going for the best possible player with their top pick and picking more signable players in rounds 3-10.
So the Indians' only pick tonight may be make or break their entire draft. Here's a quick breakdown of the group of players the Indians will be selecting from for overall pick #5:
- RHP Mark Appel, Stanford - He turned down the Pirates last year after being selected eighth overall, and the gamble has paid off. He's actually gotten better in his senior season, and is lock to go in the top three picks. If he doesn't the Indians will be getting a pitcher that is at worst a mid-rotation starter, and wouldn't take long to get to the majors.
- RHP Jonathan Gray, Oklahoma - most people have ranked Gray over Appel, and that's because his stuff is electric. He's been able to throw his fastball in the high 90s deep into games, and his slider is already a plus pitch. He'll need to work on that third pitch (changeup), but that's no reason to pass him if somehow he falls to #5. He'll likely be long gone (at minimum pick #2) by the time the Indians are up. Gray did test positive for Adderall in a pre-draft drug test, but I don't see that affecting his draft status that much.
- 3B/OF/1B Kris Bryant, San Diego - maybe he ends up in the outfield, and maybe he ends up at first base, but his power should play anywhere on the diamond. Again, I don't think he'll be available when the Indians pick, but if he is, they should snap him up.
- OF Chris Frazier, Loganville HS, Georgia - here's where we get to the more realistic selections. At least two of the next three high school players should be available at #5. First up is Clint Frazier, who has a nice combination of athleticism with power. He's not a big guy, and some don't think he can stay in center field, so there is more risk here than a guy like Colin Moran.
- OF Austin Meadows, Grayson HS, Georgia - This is the guy that I'd love for the Indians to grab at #5, assuming the top three guys (Appel, Gray, Bryant) are off the board. His swing is more advanced than Frazier's and he would fit very well in a corner.
- RHP Kohl Stewart, St. Pius X HS, Texas - A two-sport star, Stewart has committed to Texas A&M for both football and baseball, but if he's picked where everyone thinks he'll be picked, he'll jump to professional baseball. He may have a higher ceiling than Appel or Gray if that's possible. With a high-school pitcher, you're looking at projection, not current stuff, so although he throws low-mid 90s fastball that falls off as the game goes on, you'd think that velocity would increase as he puts more weight on his 6'3" frame.
- 3B Colin Moran, North Carolina - A very safe pick, and has even been rumored to go to the Astros at pick #1, Moran has a nice overall bat, though doesn't have the upside of a Bryant or the two high school outfielders listed above. Had the Indians been picking 4-5 slots lower, I'd love for him to fall to them, but when you're picking as high as the Indians are this year, I'd rather go for the potential star than a solid major-leaguer.
- RHP Braden Shipley, Nevada - If Gray and Appel are off the board, Shipley or Stanek would be the next options if the Indians are looking at college pitching. A shortstop in high school and early in his college career, Shipley will probably take more time to develop, but has the stuff to be a mid to top-rotation starter (mid-90s fastball, excellent changeup). And yes, he is related to former NFL wide receiver Jordan Shipley.
- LHP Trey Ball, New Castle HS, Indiana - Another two-way player, Ball's senior year has guaranteed that he won't be playing outfield in the majors. He's a 6'6" left-handed pitcher, so there's plenty of room to grow, and he's already throwing in the low-90s.
- OF Hunter Renfroe, Mississippi State - A former catcher, Renfroe has an outstanding arm, good speed, and power potential, and would be a perfect fit for right field. The downside is that he probably won't hit for much average.
- RHP Ryne Stanek, Akansas - Probably a closer, maybe a very good starter if the team that drafts him can refine his mechanics.
There are other players rated higher than some here (high-school catcher Reese McGuire, for instance), but I don't see the Indians popping the most risky of picks (high-school catcher) with #5 with no other selections until round three.
I'd love for the Indians to pick Meadows if he's there, and if not, Stewart or Shipley. I'd be disappointed if the Indians pick Moran, because that would mean the Indians would be passing up upside at a pick (you'd hope) that the Indians rarely get to pick at.