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Cleveland Pins its Rebuild on its Specialty: Stocking Up on Young Pitchers

 pitcher Gavin Williams
ECU Athletics
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Cleveland selected Eastern Carolina pitcher Gavin Williams with the No. 23 pick in the MLB draft, one of 19 pitchers the team selected.

Cleveland’s baseball team took a total of 18 college pitchers, one high school pitcher and two position players during this week's draft. WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto breaks down the strategy of stocking up on college pitchers.

The less-noticed draft
Despite the spotlight shining brightly on the All-Star festivities in Denver, the 2021 MLB Draft began Sunday. Pluto says the reason the MLB Draft lacks excitement is because of the low stakes, especially compared to other major sports.

“They want to make it into an event, like the NBA Draft or the NFL Draft,” he said.

But unlike the Browns’ first round selection, cornerback Greg Newsome II from Northwestern, baseball fans likely won’t see pitcher Gavin Williams in action until a couple years down the road. Williams, a hard-throwing right-hander from East Carolina University, was taken 23rd overall by Cleveland Sunday.

“It's because you have the minor leagues,” Pluto said. “You draft them and wait four years.”

An example of this can be seen right now 25 year-old slugger Bobby Bradley. Drafted in 2014 out of high school, Bradley is just starting to excel at the professional level in 2021, hitting 10 home runs and 20 RBI in just 31 games.

However, Pluto says the front office is using this draft to retool their young pitching, something Cleveland has always had in abundance.

“If you’re going to be good at anything in baseball, be good at pitching,” Pluto said.

“If you’re going to be good at anything in baseball, be good at pitching."
Terry Pluto

Pitching pipeline
With longtime fan favorites like Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger and Trevor Bauer all gone, Cleveland is looking to find some fresh faces to take the mound in the coming years. At the moment, Shane Bieber has firmly established himself as one of the top starters in the American League. He has gone 7-4 this season with a 3.28 earned run average, earning himself an All-Star selection for the second straight year. However, he's sidelined with a shoulder injury.

Outside of Bieber, however, the rotation has not been as dominant as in years past. Zach Plesac just returned from being out with a broken thumb injury from May. Aaron Civale holds an impressive 10-2 record so far in 2021, but recently was placed on the Injured List after hurting a finger on his pitching hand. Triston McKenzie, 23, has been back-and-forth between the majors and Triple-A Columbus after a rough start to the season at 1-3.

“If you’re a team like the Indians, you better get the draft right,” Pluto said.

Young pitching has been manager Terry Francona’s emphasis since taking over the club in 2013. As Pluto points out, it not only provides depth in the farm system, but allows the front office room to make big moves for hitters like Franmil Reyes, acquired for Trevor Bauer in 2019.

“These are great investments; these are like buying the next Apple stock or something like that,” Pluto said.

“These are great investments; these are like buying the next Apple stock."
Terry Pluto

A pitching-heavy two days
Staying true to this approach, Cleveland selected 10 pitchers out of their first 11 picks through the first two days of the draft. All 10 of those pitchers spent four years playing college ball before entering the draft process.

According to Pluto, there is a very specific reason for this. Many players, particularly pitchers out of high school, have a harder time adjusting to the professional level.

“In general, they are not physically ready for pro ball,” Pluto said. “They almost invariably hurt their arms.”

Cleveland minor league lefty Logan T. Allen, for example, has steadily risen up the ranks of the farm system since being drafted out of Florida International University in 2020. He was promoted to Double-A Akron July 2.

“This guy could be in the big leagues next year, and if you wanted to trade Logan Allen right now you could get a lot for him,” Pluto said.

Meanwhile, fellow pitcher of the same name, Logan Allen, has struggled mightily since getting a shot in the majors. Unlike the former Allen, he was drafted out of IMG Academy High School in Florida back in 2015, has bounced around three different clubs, and has gone 1-5 with the Indians in 2021.

Still, the front office is dealing with the “tsunami of injuries” to the starting rotation, as Pluto describes it, with the hope that some of their recent draft picks will make the big leagues sooner than later.

“Odds are, out of this group of 10, we’ll see three or four them,” Pluto said. “But not for a couple years.”