CLEVELAND – There has been no deviation from the original plan for Brad Grant, the Indians senior director of amateur scouting.
Cleveland has stayed consistent in drafting the best player available for each of its first 10 picks in the 2017 First-Year Player Draft, seven of which happen to be position players.
“We looked up and realized we had done it and realized in the seventh round that we had not taken any pitchers yet,” said Grant. “We had truly settled on taking the best player available and making sure we got the best player available.”
This strategy has yielded the likes of OF Quentin Holmes (second round, 64th overall) and INF Tyler Freeman (Comp Balance “B”, 71st overall) on Monday and OF Johnathan Rodriguez (third round, 102nd overall), INF Ernie Clement (fourth round, 132nd overall), OF Austen Wade (fifth round, 162nd overall), C Michael Rivera (sixth round, 192nd overall), LHP Kirk McCarty (seventh round, 222nd overall), RHP Eli Morgan (eighth round, 252nd overall), RHP James Karinchak (ninth round, 282nd overall) and INF Jesse Berardi (10th round, 312th overall) on Tuesday.
Overall, Grant seems pleased with his Day 2 haul of high school and college prospects.
“We've had guys who have been scouts for us for 24 years now,” Grant said. “We've had a lot of continuity and consistency to what we've done and those guys are the ones who have made the difference. They're the ones who start the whole process. Without those guys identifying the right players and without them getting them on the board, we can apply all the information we want on top of it, but they're the ones who start it. They're the backbones to it.”
Before the Tribe makes their final 30 selections on Wednesday, here is an in-depth scouting report for each new player…
Round 3 (#102 overall): OF Jonathan Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy
Rodriguez is a 17-year-old outfielder out of the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy, a nonprofit school system located in Puerto Rico.
“The success of Correa and Lindor are what is pushing baseball back again in Puerto Rico,” said Grant. “You're seeing a lot more kids playing it down there and there is becoming more structure to the travel ball leagues and the academies down there.”
The 2017 Rawlings-Perfect Game 2nd Team All-American figures to be a long-term project with massive potential further down the road.
“What we really like about Jonathan is just his age,” Grant said. “Then his contact ability and the upside that we have. He’s the second youngest player in the draft this year. A guy that we’re very excited to be able to get with the third-round pick. A guy that we think can come on with the bat and eventually hit for a lot of power in the future.”
Grant has sent scouts to follow Rodriguez since the beginning of 2016, showing the value they have in such a high-ceiling talent.
“For well over a year. We spent a lot of time with him. During the course of the summer showcases, through Perfect Game and Florida,” said Grant. “Frankie Lindor was the same age. That's what's exciting about it. At 17, you can really do a whole lot of things to mold the player."
Barring any signability issues, Rodriguez figures to decline his commitment to Florida International and begin his professional career in the near future.
“We scouted him during the spring season in Puerto Rico. He also went over to our Dominican Academy and spent time over there working out for us,” Grant said. “We've spent a lot of time with Johnathan and got to know him well.”
Round 4 (#132 overall): INF Ernie Clement, University of Virginia
Clement is a 21-year-old infielder out of the University of Virginia, currently the 13th ranked program in the nation.
“He’s a second baseman, shortstop at the University of Virginia,” said Grant. “A guy that can move around the infield a lot. A guy that’s had a lot of success at the college level. A guy that has performed all the way through. If you look back to his freshman year, he played on that College World Series team and had a huge impact on that College World Series team that went on to win it.”
The right-hander batted .315 with 31 RBIs and 12 stolen bases in 53 games during his junior season at UVA, earning him a third-team All-ACC selection. What stands out the most is his ability to put the ball in play as he only struck out seven times in 254 at-bats this season.
“With Ernie, we really like his ability to move around the infield and also the contact ability in his bat,” Grant said.
Round 5 (#162 overall): OF Austen Wade, Texas Christian University
Wade is a 21-year-old outfielder out of Texas Christian University, the number six team in Division I with a chance to take home the College World Series title.
“He’s a right fielder at TCU. Still in the College World Series right now,” said Grant. “He’s a 6-foot, 200-pound left-handed hitting outfielder. We like the versatility in the outfield. He’s a plus runner that can move around.”
The centerpiece of the Horned Frogs earned All-Big 12 First Team honors for hitting .342 (78-for-228) with 16 doubles, three triples, five home runs, 37 RBIs, 15 stolen bases and 52 runs scored in 58 games played this spring.
“He’s playing right field now, but can play center,” Grant said. “Has the tool set to be able to play center, play left. Again, another guy that we really like the contact ability with.”
Round 6 (#192 overall): C Michael Rivera, University of Florida
Rivera is a 21-year-old catcher out of the University of Florida, another program in the College World Series courtesy of a 42-16 record and fourth overall ranking.
“He’s a 5-8, 200-pound catcher,” said Grant. “The big thing with him is his offensive ability. He’s a guy who puts up very good numbers at the plate.”
Despite a broken hand (right hamate), the junior persevered and slashed .241 (32-for-133) with six doubles, two home runs and 24 RBIs in 41 games played on the year.
“At the same time, he’s also an elite catch-throw prospect,” Grant said. “He’s a very good framer. Very good understanding of how to call a game. Works extremely well with the pitchers. A great leader and a guy we’re excited about defensively behind the plate.”
Round 7 (#222 overall): LHP Kirk McCarty, University of Southern Mississippi
McCarty is a 21-year-old starting pitcher out of the University of Southern Mississippi, the first hurler picked by the Indians.
“He’s a 5-10, 180-pound lefty,” said Grant. “His ability to throw strikes is what stands out with him. It’s a three-pitch mix.”
The southpaw earned first-team All-Conference USA honors in two consecutive campaigns, most recently going 10-2 with a 3.52 ERA in 99.2 innings of work (17 starts) in 2017.
“He has the ability to locate,” Grant said. “Average breaking ball, average fastball (and) average changeup. Again, it’s the ability to throw a lot of strikes and be able to locate his pitches.”
Round 8 (#252 overall): RHP Eli Morgan, Gonzaga University
Morgan is a 21-year-old starting pitcher out of Gonzaga University, the fifth consecutive player selected from a reputable Division I team.
“He’s a 5-9, 185-pound Southern California native,” said Grant. “Another guy who’s had a ton of success throwing strikes. He’s an elite strike thrower with a changeup. Average fastball and breaking ball.
Similar to McCarty only from the right side, Morgan has a chance to move quickly through the farm system if he can build upon his 10-2 record, 2.86 ERA and 138 strikeouts, the second highest single-season total for a Gonzaga pitcher.
“The changeup has a chance to be an above average pitch for him,” Grant said. “Another guy that we were excited to have the opportunity to draft.”
Round 9 (#282 overall): RHP James Karinchak, Bryant University
Karinchak is a 21-year-old starting pitcher out of Bryant University, the third arm drafted from the 2017 class.
“He’s a 6-2, 220-pound starter,” said Grant. “We feel like he has the ability to start. It’s a three-pitch mix: curveball, changeup (and) fastball. He’s up to 94 with his fastball. Very good arm action, delivery. A guy that we feel can start for us in the future.”
The primary issue with Karinchak is his shoulder soreness from this past season, an injury that confined him to 86 strikeouts in 56.2 frames (13 starts).
“There's some concerns with that, but that's something that we kind of look at as a positive,” Grant said. “You look back at some of those guys that we've done it with in the past, like Aiken in the first round. For us, we feel like our medical staff is a competitive advantage.”
Round 10 (#312 overall): INF Jesse Berardi, St. John’s University
Berardi is a 21-year-old infielder out of St. John’s University, the seventh collegiate prospect picked in the opening 10 rounds.
“He’s a 5-10, 180-pound infielder who’s handled the bat well,” said Grant.
The New York native proved his value at the plate this spring, batting .356 (80-for-225) with 10 doubles, four home runs and 47 RBIs in 55 contests. His 37-game streak of reaching base safely could play well at the lower levels of the Tribe’s pipeline in the coming months.
“Has the ability to play short and move around to other positions as well,” Grant said. “We’ll start him off as a shortstop.”
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.