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The Guardians look for stars in the MLB's hit-or-miss draft

Cleveland Guardians' Bo Naylor during a baseball game Monday, July 3, 2023, in Cleveland.
Sue Ogrocki
Cleveland Guardians catcher Bo Naylor during a baseball game Monday, July 3, 2023, in Cleveland.

The Guardians selected 19 players in this week’s Major League Baseball draft, including 18-year-old California high school catcher/first baseman Ralphy Velazquez with the 23rd overall pick.

As a team with one of the lowest payrolls in the major leagues, the Guardians rely heavily on the draft and developing players. In fact, they’ve brought up a number of players from the minors this season, including catcher Bo Naylor and pitchers Gavin Williams and Tanner Bibee.

Ideastream Public Media's sports commentator Terry Pluto believes it’s one of the toughest drafts in pro sports.

“Only 25% of all players who are drafted ever reached the major leagues,” Pluto said.

That’s because there are more than 600 high school and college players selected over 20 rounds, and they spend years working their way up through the minor leagues. Bo Naylor was drafted in 2018 and Williams and Bibee in 2021.

Pluto said scouting all of those players is tough, and scouts often get it wrong. Take, for example, Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Shane Bieber, who was a 2016 fourth-round pick out of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“I went to Baseball America, which actually does the best job on scouting reports and things and talking to people in the industry. They said he has very good control, he has a lot of poise and he might make a bottom-of-the-rotation starter. It's like it's always iffy. Well, wrong,” Pluto said.

It was a similar scouting report for current starter and 2021 fourth-round pick Tanner Bibee.

“Very similar things that they said about Shane Bieber. 'He might be okay, maybe not.' Well, he was in the minors for one year and six weeks, and he's come and pitched very well for the Guardians," Pluto said. "Because, by the way, the Guardians like college pitchers with good control and think they could develop them — that’s their kind of thing. As opposed to a lot of other teams (that) just look at those raw radar guns. Is he throwing 97 miles an hour, 98 miles an hour?”

And Pluto said with each team picking around 20 players, there are plenty of misses.

“Daniel Espino, their top pick of a few years ago. I mean, this guy is throwing 98 miles an hour. You look at him, you think he's going straight to the Hall of Fame. Breaking ball, the whole thing," Pluto said. "In the last two years, he's thrown 12 innings and he's gone through a shoulder thing now. And that's part of what makes the draft hard is a lot of these pitchers get hurt. You really may have taken the right guy talent wise, but there's arm problems and other things that arise.”

While the Guardians have been able to develop pitchers, they’ve struggled when it comes to finding hitters.

“For three straight years in the first round, these are some names that might be familiar to hardcore fans. They took Tyler Naquin, Clint Frazier, and then they took Bradley Zimmer. All three have been in the big leagues. None have been a star. They've done much better off trading for other people's hitters like Josh Naylor (Bo's brother). They picked him up from the San Diego Padres,” Pluto said.

Pluto said he draws on something Guardians manager Terry Francona once told him.

“His theory is most hitters need a minimum of 1,200 at bats in the minor leagues to be Major League ready. That's at least three full years in the minors,” Pluto said. "If they get three players out of their top 10, I'm talking about the Guardians, that they took this year, drafted, and they become viable big league players, they should hold a party."

Pluto said the MLB draft is a hit-or-miss process.

“The other aspect, of course, where they bring a lot of players now in is from Latin America, and that's a whole different form of scouting. But you would think in the United States, where you're able to look at all the college programs and the high school programs, that you would do a better job at identifying big league players. They've been at this forever and they still don't have a lot of answers,” Pluto said.

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