The end of 2021 is almost upon us, which means a new cycle of prospect evaluations and preparing to add new players to that list from the 2022 MLB Draft sometime next summer. As a yearly exercise, normally before the MLB Draft, we like to look back at the past drafts as a way to review and grade. After all, you can’t judge the MLB Draft as soon as it’s over, or even one, two or three years out. We look back five years into the draft history to get a sense where things went with that draft class and where it’s headed.
Cleveland’s 2016 draft class is of course one of the most successful in team history, and in baseball. Producing 3/5 of their rotation and another top prospect, Nolan Jones, near the big leagues soon. The rest of the class left much to be desired, but when you can draft three starting pitchers that all ascend to your rotation within three years, that’s a pretty good draft, even if the overall success rate is low.
For the 2017 draft, Cleveland forfeited it’s first round pick in wake of signing Edwin Encarnacion the previous winter, five years ago yesterday, to be exact. That took a pick and chunk of their draft bonus away to begin with. Let’s dig into how the rest of the class is panning out for Cleveland minus its top pick in the 2017 draft.
Major League Ready
RHP James Karinchak
Round: 9, Pick 282
Signing bonus: $138,300
MLB Debut: 9/14/2019
The first player from this draft class to make their debut for Cleveland was Karinchak, who skyrocketed through the system in 2019, and would have gotten to the bigs faster if not for a hamstring injury. He racked up an absurd minor league strikeout rate that year and in 2020 claimed a role at the back end of Cleveland’s bullpen looking like a strikeout artist in a back end role. He’s had control issues all the way, which is why he went from a starter at Bryant to the bullpen in the pros. In 2021, Karinchak started off strong but affects of overuse and the league’s ban on grip enhancing substances started to show some cracks in Karinchak’s arsenal. He was sent back to Triple-A briefly to work on his mechanics and regaining the grip on his curve. Once looking like a dominant back end reliever that arrived in a matter of three years, Karinchak’s future is a question to see if he can overcome his issues in 2022. Still, this is probably a draft win either way with more impact possible if things go well.
LHP Kyle Nelson
Round: 15, Pick 462
College: UC Santa Barbara
Signing bonus: Unreported
MLB Debut: 10/10/2020
No shock, the second player from the draft class to make it to the majors just four years after being selected. Nelson got the to majors in a different way than Karinchak, with command, deception and spin. He racked up solid strikeout totals in his own right, but got by on control in the minors. He was ready for a shot at the majors in 2020, but things didn’t get off on the right foot. What did in 2020 anyway? In limited innings in both 2020 and 2021, Nelson’s command eluded him and so did his stuff. He only threw in the low 90s and relied on a plus slider. He ran into some health issues as well in 2021. With his health limiting his availablity and causing his stuff to back up, Cleveland decided to move on without him when they had the need to create a ton of roster space for Rule 5 prospects earlier this fall and Arizona claimed him off waivers when they designated him for assignment. It looked like Cleveland had a left handed middle relief option in Nelson, but they’ve not had a lot of luck in developing those in house going back to Kyle Crockett’s days. Trying to figure out what to do with Sam Hentges, Logan S. Allen and Anthony Gose, though out of options, seems to be a better situation for Cleveland now than Nelson.
RHP Eli Morgan
Round: 8, Pick 252
Signing bonus: $135,000
MLB Debut: 5/28/2021
Morgan probably would have made his debut in 2020 at some point if not for the pandemic. He moved at a solid pace as a starter up the system, finding success filling up the strike zone and unleashing his devastating changeup. He was known for his control and changeup in the draft and rode that to his debut last year. That debut came in a monsoon and really, kind of inflated his stat line. Morgan has a home run issue due to his mediocre fastball and lack of a solid breaking pitch, but with his command, pitchability and a plus changeup, he can get back in the role he served in 2021. He looks like he’ll be a back end/depth starter, but in the eighth round to be able to find reliable rotation depth for a few years before Cleveland has to worry about his option is a pretty good win. He’ll have a lot of competition in the years to come, but he should make a career out or being a back end or depth starter for a while.
INF Ernie Clement
Round: 4, Pick 132
Signing bonus: $350,000
MLB debut: 6/13/2021
Career Stats: 40 G 133 PA .231/.285/.339 4 2B 3 HR 9 RBI 14.3 K% 5.3 BB% 0.3 fWAR
The most recent debut by a signing in this draft for Cleveland, Clement finally got his major league chance to show off his versatility, speed and contact skills. He played second, third, short and even left field in his brief time in Cleveland. He’s the only hitter from this class so far to make it to the majors. He likely won’t have a full time role, not unless it’s due to injury or a spot on a team without a starting option in the middle infield, but his profile in the draft was that of a good bench player who could play everywhere, put up a good at bat and run well. Clement should have a chance to do just that in Cleveland, though there’s a lot of competition in the middle infield currently. Using a fourth round pick on a player doesn’t look like the best outcome in retrospect, but Cleveland did have less money to work with in its bonus pool and attempted to save some in order to make signings elsewhere and Clement was a senior sign. There was probably a chance where he’d hit the ball enough to post a good enough average to be a solid regular, but his contact doesn’t always come with enough juice to get the most out of it, which is why he profiles best as a good utility player.
INF Tyler Freeman
Round: CBB, Pick 71
School: Etiwanda HS (CA)
Signing bonus: $816,500
Highest level: Double-A
Freeman probably has the highest potential at this point on the list. He makes a ton of contact like Clement, but he has a better feel for the barrel. The power potential is a little limited, but he should hit for a high average, steal bases and play solid defense at shortstop or even better defense at second base. A second shoulder surgery on his left labrum sapped most of his 2021 season. He may begin at Double-A again in 2022 due to the time missed and how many backlogged options Cleveland has at the middle infield spots. He may be ready for a major league opportunity in 2022, but it’s more likely that’s 2023 now. Freeman could be an average regular thanks to his hit tool and defense. Someone among the middle infield spots could be traded eventually, and if someone runs with a spot before Freeman, anything could happen. But he has a chance to be one of the best picks in this class no matter where he ends up.
OF Johnathan Rodriguez
Round: 3, Pick 102
School: Carlos Beltran Academy
Signing bonus: $450,000
Highest level: High-A
Rodriguez was drafted as a 17 year old out of Puerto Rico. Originally a switch hitter, he’s now just taking his hacks from the right side. He had some good raw power, plate discipline and a howizter of a throwing arm. It was thought he would need some time to develop and that is still the case, especially with missing the 2020 season. He still has plenty of tools and talent, he may yet find a chance in the outfield but it probably won’t be for another 3-4 years.
OF Quentin Holmes
Round: 2, Pick 64
School: McClancy Memorial HS (NY)
Signing bonus: $988,970
Highest level: High-A
After surrendering their first round pick to sign Encarnacion, Holmes was the first pick in the 2017 draft for Cleveland. Holmes was a raw hitter with a lot of speed and athleticism from a cold weather area, so there was a thought there was a lot of untapped potential just waiting to be coaxed out of him. Five years later, a bunch of injuries, swing changes and a missed season due to the pandemic, Holmes hasn’t climbed above High-A. Staying on the field and making enough contact to use his speed continues to be his major issue. He’ll be a minor league free agent after the 2022 season but he’ll only be 22 in July, so there’s still time and teams need speed. He should have time to fight for a spot in the organization and break through, but a lot of time is behind Holmes as well and speed isn’t good if you can’t get on base.
C Mike Rivera (Round 6), LHP Kirk McCarty (Round 7) LHP Matt Turner (Round 11) RHP Nick Gallagher (Round 16)
Rivera was a big defensive prospect at Florida and still is a quality defender, but he’s 26 and had a hard time staying on the field. He strikes out a fair bit and has some power but doesn’t get to it. His defense may give him a chance to make the majors still.
Cleveland has a ton of pitching and McCarty isn’t really near the top of the depth chart for chances in 2021, or beyond, especially since he’s not on the 40 man roster. Still, he’s got enough pitchability to be a spot starter somewhere if there’s not an opportunity for him Cleveland. Out of this group, this is the one player I’d bet on getting a chance at the majors.
After the missed 2020 season and Tommy John surgery in 2021, Turner has a lot of time to make up for. He’s a strike thrower with a weird arm angle and has projection left to grow into his frame. He’s a lefty who throws strikes, so there’s still some chance for him.
The last long shot is Gallagher, 26, who hasn’t been above High-A yet. But he has a sneaky fastball and dropped his arm slot, and has a decent slider to go off of. He could be a long shot relief option at some point.
RHP Jonathan Teaney (Round 20), OF Clark Scolamiero (Round 22), LHP Zach Draper (Round 30)
Teaney missed 2021 with Tommy John surgery but is likely a org reliever. Scolamiero has played outfield up and down the system filling in at different levels and has had some varying level of success but is an org filler now. Draper has pitched up and down all the levels as well, three of them in 2021, in fact. He’s a good org soldier who might have a future as a coach at some point. He’s been a crafty, strike throwing lefty who is now 27.
RHP Dante Mendoza (Round 12), RHP Tommy Dejuneas (Round 26)
Mendoza went to the Pirates in the Jordan Luplow deal with Tahnaj Thomas and Erik Gonzalez. Dejuneas went to Houston for James Hoyt in 2018.
OF Austen Wade (Round 5), INF Jesse Berardi (Round 10), OF Pedro Alfonsca (Round 17), INF Dillon Persinger (Round 17), RHP Josh Nashed (Round 19), INF Tyler Friis (Round 21), RHP Jordan Scheftz (Round 23), RHP Riley Echols (Round 24), RHP Chandler Ferguson (Round 25), LHP Michael Hendrickson (Round 28), OF Tre’ Gantt (Round 29), 1B/OF Mitch Reeves (Round 32), 1B/OF Michael Cooper (Round 33)
LHP Asa Lacy (Round 31), RHP Spencer Strider (Round 35), INF/OF Austin Martin (Round 37)
Cleveland selected Lacy late as a high school arm and he went off to Texas A&M and wound up a first rounder in 2020 for Kansas City and is now one of their best pitching prospects.
Strider ended up at Clemson after Cleveland drafted him and the Braves selected him in the fourth round of the 2020 draft. He made it to the majors for Atlanta last year.
Martin ended up at Vanderbilt after Cleveland’s courtesy pick and hit his way into being a first round pick in 2020 by the Blue Jays. They traded him to Minnesota in 2021 for Jose Berrios, so Cleveland will probably see a lot of Martin, as soon as 2022 perhaps.
Tyler Freeman is the one player we’re waiting on in this class to see what the results for him will be. Karinchak and Freeman seem to be the only impact players coming from this group now. Morgan and Clement should have solid big league careers in some role or another, which is a nice win. Nelson looks like a cup of coffee type arm now. Obviously not having first rounder impacted this class quite a bit and they gambled and probably whiffed on their top pick in Holmes here. Rodriguez may yet get a shot in the outfield some day but he’s still a ways way. So out of the whole class, you have two impact players ad two role players, and possibly one to three other cup of coffee te guys depending on how the careers of Nelson, McCarty and maybe Rivera go from here.
Overall this looks like a C+type draft that could be a B if Freeman makes a solid impact and Karinchak rebounds from his 2021 struggles to become a top line set up arm again.