The late (possibly never) start for the 2020 Major League Baseball season has already caused many changes throughout the league, but one of the biggest changes looks to be the shrinking of the amateur draft from 40 rounds to five. While I’ll refrain from making any opinions on whether that in itself is good or bad, I feel like it’s important to look back at some of the later round draft picks over the last decade.

These diamonds in the rough were all picked after round ten and, while most haven’t made the big leagues yet, we can still see great potential in them all. I have picked one player to highlight from each draft and that should not take away from those I did not select. In many cases, there were quite a few worthy options, but when things were close, I chose the player chosen later in the draft.

Julian Escobedo2
Julian Escobedo takes off after making contact during a 2019 Arizona League game. – Joseph Coblitz, IBI

2019

It’s way too early to really judge the 2019 draft, but 17th round pick Julian Escobedo appears to be a steal. Taken following his junior year at San Diego State, Escobedo is an extremely athletic center fielder with great speed (he stole eight bases in nine attempts in 28 AZL games last year) and a solid arm. He showed decent power in Arizona, although it waned in Mahoning Valley, but his real value appears to be in his knowledge of the strike zone. For the  season, he walked 27 times to just 26 strike outs across 220 plate appearances with an even more impressive 3:2 ratio while he was in Arizona.

Escobedo’s struggles in short season were surprising and somewhat worrying, but his base level of talent is so high that I expect him to ultimately turn things around quickly once baseball starts back up.

Jon Engelmann1
Jon Engelmann swings at a pitch during a 2019 extended spring training game against Milwaukee. – Joseph Coblitz, IBI

2018

The deepest draft pick of the ten listed here, Jonathan Engelmann was taken in the 31st round following his junior year at THE University of Michigan. He immediately dominated the AZL with a .519 slugging percent while playing solid defense in the outfield, particularly in the corners. He essentially skipped Mahoning Valley, playing the majority of 2019 in Lake County where his power took a hit as he transitioned to first base.

At 6’4″ 210 lbs, he looks more like a first baseman than a corner outfielder, but he runs very well considering his size and has stolen 18 bases in 23 attempts so far in his official career. I have had the opportunity to watch him in quite a few unofficial games as well and he was extremely aggressive on the bases in these games as most pitchers don’t see him as a base stealing threat. In many ways, he’s similar to Connor Marabell who was himself a solid late round draft pick (25th round) back in 2015.

2017

As we go back in time, players will obviously be closer to the big leagues and Kyle Nelson (15th round in 2017) is the first to potentially lose his chance at a big league debut in 2020. The left handed reliever has a 13 K/9 over three minor league seasons and 122 innings and has been nothing less than reliable at every level so far. In 2019, he jumped from Lynchburg all the way to Columbus and certainly seemed an MLB option for the upcoming season. Best of all, he’s actually better against right handed hitters than lefties (although he is great against either), making him a perfect option for the LOOGYless future. Across those three levels in 2019, Nelson had a .159/.237/.308 line vs RHH and a .186/.284/.322 line vs lefties.

Raymond Burgos
Raymond Burgos makes a start for the AZL Indians during the 2018 regular season. – Joseph Coblitz, IBI

2016

Another left handed pitcher, Raymond Burgos was a 17th  round pick in 2016 and was largely forgotten as a late round high school pick who missed his first two MiLB seasons due to injury. He came back in 2018 on fire, however, with 67 strike outs in 58 innings. After jumping all the way to Lake County to begin 2019, a left forearm strain cost him the rest of the season following his eighth start.

As he was ready to pitch again in 2020, this layoff may be particularly frustrating to Burgos who is yet to fail in the minors. He will likely now have to repeat low A, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him fly through the system as he’s extremely advanced for a 21 year old with under 100 MiLB innings.

Sam Haggerty2
Sam Haggerty fields a ball at short stop during MiLB spring training practice in 2018. – Joseph Coblitz, IBI

2015

The first of three straight players to be traded by the Indians before hitting the big leagues, Sam Haggerty made his short MLB debut in 2019 with the Mets. After being taken in the 24th round, Haggerty played second, short, third, left and center for the Indians from 2015 in Mahoning Valley through 2018 in Akron and Columbus. He was moved to New York in the 2018 deal for Kevin Plawecki where he ended up hitting very well during a short stint in AAA. He also hit well in AA in 2018 and has a strong possibility of a long MLB career as a super utility man.

J.P. Feyereisen2
J.P. Feyereisen pitches during 2016 Indians MiLB spring training practice. – Joseph Coblitz, IBI

2014

J.P. Feyereisen was also traded to New York, although he went to the Yankees in the 2016 deal that brought the Indians Andrew Miller. Initially taken in the 16th round out of University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, he reached AA by his third season where he had a 2.23 ERA across 40.1 IP.

Feyereisen didn’t gain much traction with the Yankees despite good seasons in AAA in 2018 and 2019 and was traded to the Brewers on September 1st, 2019. Like Nelson, he was extremely effected by the shut down as he had a great chance of making the Milwaukee bullpen this year, but instead was sent to the AAA roster prior to the originally scheduled date for opening day. If there is a 2020 season, I still expect the flamethrower to make his debut in it.

2013

While Clint Frazier and Miller were the big names in the aforementioned 2016 trade, Ben Heller was the first man involved to break into the big leagues with New York. Another hard throwing, right handed reliever, the 22nd round pick Heller struggled in limited MLB action in 2016, but had good marks in short stints in 2017 and 2019. Heller didn’t pitch much in 2020 spring training, but was an option for the big league bullpen prior to the stoppage.

Nellie Rodriguez1
Nellie Rodriguez mans first base for the Indians during a 2016 MLB spring training game at Goodyear Ballpark. – Joseph Coblitz, IBI

2012

This draft was an extremely rough one for Cleveland as only Tyler Naquin and Joey Wendle have made it to the big leagues to this point with the vast majority of the rest now being out of baseball entirely. That being said, AA super hero Nellie Rodriguez was taken in the 15th round. The wording here represents the fact that he has been absolutely terrible upon promotion to AAA, but has 47 career home runs and 50 career doubles in 266 games with Akron. The fact that Rodriguez was the Indians best late round pick in 2012 should not be considered a mark against late round draft picks, but the Indians drafting ability prior to 2014.

Cody Allen
Cody Allen pitches for the Indians in relief during a 2016 MLB spring training game at Goodyear Ballpark. – Joseph Coblitz, IBI

2011

Unquestionably the best late round Indians pick on this list and arguably the best non top ten pick since Jim Thome was taken in the 13th round in 1989, Cody Allen was drafted in the 23rd round in 2011. Allen was previously drafted in the 16th round in 2010 by the Indians, but didn’t sign. Just like Rodriguez shouldn’t take away from late round picks, Allen shouldn’t add too much as he was an extreme outlier. The Indians threw caution to the wind, calling up Allen in just his second pro season and it worked out incredibly well.

While his prime ended very abruptly, it lasted long enough that Allen now is the only answer to the question about who is the greatest closer in franchise history. He still holds all the big closer records including saves (149), save opportunities (172), relief appearances (456) and has the best K/9 (11.5) in Indians history among pitchers with at least 300 IP. The Indians moved on from Allen at the perfect time, however, as he had a terrible season with Los Angeles in 2019 and was struggling during spring training with the Rangers in 2020.

2010

If you thought the 2012 draft was bad, don’t even look at 2010. Three of the four players to break through to the big leagues were top 10 picks and the other, Allen, didn’t sign in 2010. With no good options, the top late round pick this year was Owen Dew. Dew was taken in the 33rd round in 2009, but didn’t sign, then joined the team as the 21st round pick in 2010. He pitched just three years with the Indians, amassing 152.1 innings with a 3.78 ERA, peaking at high A Carolina. Dew gets the selection here, however, more for his current position with the Indians. He has been a long term coach for the Indians in the minor leagues and is currently the pitching coach of the Lynchburg Hillcats.

1 Comment »

  1. Indians best late round pick story line.. is a great starting point for draft sleeper evaluations.. Loved this article..

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