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Recent draft success paying dividends for Indians

From Lonnie Chisenhall to Bradley Zimmer, the Brad Grant era of Indians draft picks has yielded quite the return since its inception in 2006.

CLEVELAND – Drafting high school and college players in the 21st century has either been disastrous or prosperous for the Indians.

In fact, only 11 of the club’s 29 first-round picks in the 16-year span are still playing professionally, all of which have come in the Brad Grant era from 2006-2016.

The Senior Director of Amateur Scouting focuses on selecting the best player available, especially after the Tribe selected Alex White (released) with the 15th overall pick over Mike Trout (two-time AL MVP) in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. Although the future of a draft pick is incredibly difficult to predict, missing out on a player like Trout can be critical in an organization’s minor league development and overall value.

"Obviously we have to take the most talented players," Grant said. "I think after we’ve evaluated those guys, then we really dig down and make sure that we have a really strong grasp of how they’re going to handle adversity and how they’re going to handle failure. I think if you look at a lot of our guys who are up here now and a lot of guys in our system, those guys have all overcome challenges at some point."

Cleveland owns the 64th (second round), 71st (Competitive Balance Round B) and 102nd (third round) overall picks in the early stages of the 2017 event starting on Monday. With the signing of Edwin Encarnacion, Grant has the challenge of putting together another solid class of prospects despite losing his first-round selection as compensation for the Blue Jays.

"I know that it’s a big deal," said manager Terry Francona. "I think we all thought getting Edwin was extremely worth that. But it’s a hard one, for a team like us, we value that a lot.”

Grant emerged onto the scene in 2008 when his scouting department opted for Lonnie Chisenhall with the 29th overall pick, a Pitt Community College product who has flourished as one of the better platoon bats in the American League. Since then, Grant has stuck gold with Francisco Lindor (2011), Tyler Naquin (2012) and Bradley Zimmer (2014), all players who have made an impact at the major league level.

“It’s awesome for all of us to watch that," Grant said. "To see the strides that Bradley has made through the development system, to see what he’s been able to effectively do with his swing and then for it to happen [at the big league level], is really cool. I mean to walk through the clubhouse right now and have all those guys and all of them participating is really a fun thing to watch. (A) lot of days on the road and a lot of time away from your family all comes to fruition when you walk through here and see that. It’s pretty cool."

More recently, the Indians picked up Clint Frazier (2013) and Justus Sheffield (2014), the two centerpieces in the Andrew Miller trade last July. Add in Tristan McKenzie – a 19-year-old right-handed pitcher with a 2.51 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and .153 opposing batting average with High-A Lynchburg in 2017 – and Grant has stirred up a recipe for success.

"We keep these kids coming through, it’s so important," said Francona. "We have Frankie, we have Zim now, Lonnie’s here, Ramirez, it goes [on]. But even the guys we traded to get Andrew Miller. Shoot, you have to have those guys to [make a trade]. I don’t know what team and I shouldn’t point it out, but there were other teams that wanted Andrew that maybe couldn’t give what we did. There’s a number of ways it helps."

There also have been quite a few draft day blunders made over the last couple of decades, including Michael Aubrey over Aaron Hill (2003), Jeremy Sowers over Jered Weaver (2004), Trevor Crowe over Jacoby Ellsbury and Colby Rasmus (2005) and Beau Mills over Jason Heyward and Rick Porcello (2007).

Mistakes like these simply cannot happen for the future of any MLB franchise.

While 18-year-olds out of high school and 21-year-olds out of college can be so tough to gauge, the return on investment is well worth it and eventually could lead to another World Series berth.

"It’s so much fun, especially nowadays, there’s so much that goes into it," Francona said. "It’s not just talk to the scout, there’s a lot of work that goes into it because there is so many unknowns. It’s not just the first round guys, it’s getting a Cody Allen late in the draft, things like that. It’s fun to watch. I like to go up there just for support, because I know how hard it is, just from the little bit of experience that I have.”

For a team with such aspirations, the process of acquiring young talent has never been more important than it is in 2017.

“The value to a draft pick for us is huge. It’s substantial," said Grant. "We spend a whole lot of time talking through the impact that has on us for the future. Those picks are what sustains our success."

Full list of first-round picks in the 21st century

2000 (26th overall): SS Corey Smith (Piscataway High School)

2000 (37th overall): LHP Derek Thompson (Land O’Lakes High School)

2001 (17th overall): RHP Dan Denham (Deer Valley High School)

2001 (27th overall): RHP Alan Horne (Marianna High School)

2001 (35th overall): RHP J.D. Martin (Burroughs High School)

2001 (43rd overall): OF Mike Conroy (Boston College High School)

2002 (22nd overall): RHP Jeremy Guthrie (Stanford University)

2002 (33rd overall): 3B Matt Whitney (Palm Beach Gardens High School)

2002 (41st overall): 2B Micah Schilling (Silliman Institute)

2003 (11th overall): 1B Michael Aubrey (Tulane University)

2003 (18th overall): OF Brad Snyder (Ball State University)

2003 (31st overall): RHP Adam Miller (McKinney High School)

2004 (6th overall): LHP Jeremy Sowers (Vanderbilt University)

2005 (14th overall): OF Trevor Crowe (University of Arizona)

2005 (33rd overall): OF John Drennen (Rancho Bernardo High School)

2006 (39th overall): LHP David Huff (University of California, Los Angeles)

2007 (13th overall): 1B Beau Mills (Lewis-Clark State College)

2008 (29th overall): 3B Lonnie Chisenhall (Pitt Community College)

2009 (15th overall): RHP Alex White (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

2010 (5th overall): LHP Drew Pomeranz (University of Mississippi)

2011 (8th overall): SS Francisco Lindor (Montverde Academy)

2012 (15th overall): OF Tyler Naquin (Texas A&M University)

2013 (5th overall): OF Clint Frazier (Loganville High School)

2014 (21st overall): OF Bradley Zimmer (University of San Francisco)

2014 (31st overall): LHP Justus Sheffield (Tullahoma High School)

2014 (38th overall): OF Mike Papi (University of Virginia)

2015 (17th overall): LHP Brady Aiken (IMG Academy)

2015 (42nd overall): RHP Triston McKenzie (Royal Palm Beach High School)

2016 (14th overall): OF Will Benson (The Westminster Schools)

John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.

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