Nikhazy among Indians' Day 2 pitching haul

July 13th, 2021

The Indians started a trend on Sunday night that held strong through the entirety of the second day of the 2021 MLB Draft on Monday.

So often the Indians have selected high school players with their first-round picks, and in eight of the past 10 seasons, the organization drafted a position player. But Cleveland did the opposite of both of those trends on Sunday, selecting right-hander Gavin Williams from East Carolina University with the 23rd overall pick, and the club followed suit in Rounds 2-10, selecting nine more collegiate arms.

“I think, looking back prior to this Draft, if we had to pinpoint the strength of the Draft, we would’ve told you college, but specifically, college pitching,” Indians director of amateur scouting Scott Barnsby said. “Didn’t mean we didn’t look to add position players. It wasn’t the plan going in. But best available player, this group of pitchers lined up on the boards for us, and that was the reason.”

The Indians will finish their selections on Tuesday with Rounds 11-20, beginning at noon ET. In the meantime, let’s take a look at who they added to their Minor League depth on Monday afternoon:

Round 2, 58th overall: , LHP, Ole Miss
Notable skill: Nikhazy’s breaking ball is easily his best weapon, boasting a nasty 12-6 curve that pairs well with his mid-80s slider/cutter. He’s spent his past few years at Ole Miss showing off his ability to miss bats, as he set Mississippi’s freshman strikeout record with 86 K’s in 89 2/3 innings (surpassing future big leaguers Jeff Calhoun and Drew Pomeranz). He was his team’s No. 1 starter this season, and after he battled through a pectoral strain, he came back even better, placing fifth in Division I in whiffs (142 in 92 innings). He has solid stuff, but his pitchability is what truly stands out and will be a great addition to the Indians’ system.

Fun fact: Nikhazy tied Ole Miss’ record for strikeouts in a single game in his start against Florida State in the NCAA regionals last month. In just seven innings, he fanned 16 batters and permitted three runs (two earned) with a walk in his team’s 4-3 victory.

Quotable: “I’ve been here a long time, and we’ve had some really good guys. I don’t know if we’ve had a guy better than Doug. He’s been terrific.” -- Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco to the Clarion Ledger

Competitive Balance Round B, 69th overall: , RHP, Florida
Notable skill: Spin rate. Mace didn’t have the flashiest year on paper last season, pitching to a 4.38 ERA, but his metrics are what are the most intriguing. The Indians have proven to be well above average at finding optimal pitchers to groom into successful big leaguers, and having those types of eye-catching metrics are what the organization is always looking for. Mace has a four-pitch mix (fastball, curve, slider, changeup) that showed much improvement in 2021, and he has been known as a ground-ball pitcher more than a strikeout hurler.

Fun fact: Mace was one of 14 players named to the 2021 SEC Baseball Community Service Team, which recognizes one player from each SEC program for his contributions to his community through superior service efforts. According to Mace’s profile on his school’s website, he served as a volunteer mentor at a local elementary school and participated in in an annual sports event for pediatric cancer patients.

Quotable: “A big, durable workhorse. He’s 6-[foot]-6, and we feel there’s still some projection left in the frame. He’s touched 97 [mph], pitches with a plus-fastball. There’s two different breaking balls with Tommy -- both of them are effective. Another guy that’s got a good feel for the changeup, he throws strikes and [an] athletic right-hander that we feel like is going to settle right into the rotation for us.” -- Barnsby

Round 3, 95th overall: , SS, Lakeland Christian School (Fla.)
Notable skill: His bat. At 18 years old, Fox is already dazzling with his power and bat speed. He hit a home run in February and posted the big swing to his TikTok account, and outlets like CBSSports and Bleacher Report picked it up. The left-handed hitter has a solid approach with quick hands. As Fox continues to develop, he has a chance to flash some above-average pop. Even though he’s committed to the University of Florida, it’s expected that he’ll sign with the Indians.

Fun fact: Fox knows someone who’s been through this process before. He was coached by former big leaguer Matt Diaz over the past two seasons at his high school. Diaz played in parts of 11 Major League seasons, starting his career in Tampa Bay before making stops in Kansas City, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Miami. The bulk of his career was spent with the Braves, as he owned a .299 batting average with a .796 OPS in 578 games over seven seasons.

Quotable: “Jake comes from a really athletic family. We really like the total package. In terms of his offensively ability, it’s a left-handed bat, it’s an advanced approach, short path. This guy’s got a natural feel to hit, he understands the strike zone. It’s really been a nice progression with the power. … Really impressive makeup. He’s a leader on the field, he competes, he constantly works to get better. So pretty excited about Jake.” -- Barnsby

Round 4, 125th overall: , LHP, Georgia
Notable skill: Breaking pitches. Webb’s upper-70s curveball has plenty of depth and is effective against both righties and lefties. He added a slider in 2020 that sits in the low 80s, which has also proven to be a solid offering. His fastball sits in the low 90s and can reach up to 95 mph. The problem is Webb's durability. There were concerns early in his career about whether he could handle the workload of being a starter, and now he’s been forced to miss some time after having Tommy John surgery this spring. But if he can’t be an every-fifth-day guy, there’s no reason his stuff couldn’t play out of the bullpen.

Fun fact: Webb knows what it’s like to go up against elite talent. Before getting sidelined with elbow trouble, he went toe-to-toe with Vanderbilt’s Jack Leiter (who was the second overall pick on Sunday night by the Rangers), striking out a career-high 13 batters and allowing one run on four hits with a walk in six frames.

Quotable: “We expect him to go through the typical Tommy John rehab progression -- which, my understanding is that can be anywhere from 12 to 18 months. I don't know specifically, but I do know the medical staff is obviously well equipped to handle this. ... What I do know is the type of kid he is, he's going to work extremely hard to get back. He's really competitive. And like I said, he had made a jump [with] his stuff this year, and that was a tribute to the work that he put in. And we expect them to tackle the rehab process the same way." -- Barnsby

Round 5, 156th overall: , RHP, Cal State Fullerton
Notable skill: Bibee fills the strike zone. Even though his stuff isn’t the most lethal of Cleveland’s draftees, he’s proven to have solid command, keeping his walks low (2.1 per nine innings in 2021). He’ll need some work to improve his arsenal that consists of a heater (mixing both a two- and four-seamer), curveball and slider, while sometimes working in a changeup. With a solid baseball IQ and plus command, Bibee could be an arm that the Indians are able to groom into a back-end starter.

Fun Fact: According to his Fullerton athletics profile, Bibee models his game after Zack Greinke. The Mission Viejo, Calif., native also entered the transfer portal after the 2021 season and was planning to play for Texas A&M next season, barring getting selected in the MLB Draft, according to his Twitter.

Quotable: “He had a good start [in 2020] and he’s done a good job through COVID. I mean you had two choices -- use it as an excuse or use it to get yourself better -- and Tanner, in my opinion, used it to get better. … He improved his fastball, he improved his changeup, went about his day-to-day work and he’s a big, strong man. He’s not a kid anymore.” -- Cal State Fullerton head coach Rick Vanderhook to the Orange County Register

Round 6, 186th overall: Aaron Davenport, RHP, Hawaii
Notable skill: High-spin curveball. Davenport falls under the same umbrella as a handful of Cleveland’s other draftees with intriguing metrics. The Indians likely are interested in his impressive curve, which averages in the upper 70s and is his best go-to pitch for a whiff or weak contact. It has the potential to be even better with some instruction by the Indians’ player development staff, as well as his changeup, which has started to show improvements.

Fun fact: Davenport is already familiar with his new teammate in Bibee. The two went head-to-head in a matchup between Hawaii and Fullerton on April 30. Davenport went 7 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on seven hits with 10 strikeouts, while Bibee tossed seven frames, permitting three runs on five hits with five walks and four strikeouts in his team's eventual victory.

Quotable: “He’s the hardest worker on our team, period, pitchers or position players. I don’t think anybody works harder than he does. … It’s leadership by example. He commands respect because he’ll put in the work. When you see the fruits of your labor pay off from a production standpoint, that makes everybody else work harder.” -- Hawaii head coach Mike Trapasso to KHON2-TV

Round 7, 216th overall: Jack Leftwich, RHP, Florida
Notable skill: Above-average slider. Leftwich can get his heater up to 96 mph, but his slider is his go-to pitch to miss bats. The only problem is his command. Though he can land his fastball in the zone more frequently, his slider can give him some trouble. Leftwich has worked both in the rotation and out of the bullpen in college, but because of his two-pitch arsenal -- which is sometimes a three-pitch mix with a changeup -- his power arm and his troubles with command, it wouldn’t be surprising if he ends up shifting into the bullpen after getting a crack at the rotation.

Fun fact: Leftwich posted a picture with Mace at the end of the season with the caption, “end of an era love you @tommymace47.” It may be the end of their chapters in college, but the two won’t be separated. After Mace was selected in Competitive Balance Round B, each will have a friend in the system. The duo were both expecting to be drafted last year when COVID-19 threw a wrench in everyone’s plans. They both returned to Florida in 2021, and now they will head to the big leagues together.

Quotable: “It’s a plus-fastball. He’s been up to 98 [mph]. He holds that plus-fastball. We’ve seen a really nice progression of the breaking ball as well. We feel like that slider has a chance to be a plus-pitch for him.” -- Barnsby

Round 8, 246th overall: Rodney Boone, LHP, UC Santa Barbara
Notable skill: His changeup. The offspeed pitch sits between 77-79 mph, and he has an ability to see the pitch well with good arm speed. The rest of his arsenal isn’t quite as attention-grabbing as his changeup, but it was Boone who beat out his rotation mate Michael McGreevy (whom the Cardinals selected in the first round) for Big West Co-Pitcher of the Year. His fastball isn’t overpowering, topping out in the low 90s, but scouts seem optimistic that he’ll be able to add some velocity, which could result in him becoming a back-end starter.

Fun fact: Boone will be following in the footsteps of Shane Bieber and Kyle Nelson. While Nelson is still working his way to becoming an everyday Major Leaguer, Bieber has already put together quite the MLB résumé. The 2020 AL Cy Young Award winner was selected out of UC Santa Barbara in the fourth round of the '16 Draft.

Quotable: “We actually touched base with Shane, and he was excited about Rodney. He knows him well and was pretty excited about adding him to the organization. … He has been a mainstay in UC Santa Barbara’s rotation since he arrived there on campus. It’s an advanced feel for a changeup, effective breaking ball. Some good qualities there for him to start, as well.” -- Barnsby

Round 9, 276th overall: Will Dion, LHP, McNeese State
Notable skill: The top thing that scouts have raved about Dion is his competitiveness. He’s been labeled a bulldog on the mound despite having a fastball that averages in the upper 80s to low 90s. He took home Southland Conference Pitcher of the Year honors after going 9-4 with a 3.07 ERA and his breaking pitches are his reasons for success.

Fun fact: Dion set a school record at McNeese State with 121 strikeouts in a single season in 99 2/3 innings in 2021.

Quotable: “He’s been up to 93 [mph]. His comfort zone is kind of in that fringe average range, but it plays up with deception. He’s got an advanced feel for the breaking ball and just another guy that pounds the strike zone.” -- Barnsby

Round 10, 306th overall: Franco Aleman, RHP, Florida
Notable skill: Aleman’s best offering at this point is probably his slider, though he added some velocity to his heater over the past year. He started his collegiate career with St. John’s River Community College, where he was more of a sinker-slider type of pitcher. When he transferred to Florida for the 2021 season, he mixed in a four-seamer that touched 98 mph. He’ll need to work on his command, as he can struggle to stay on top of his slider and hasn’t consistently filled up the zone with his four-seamer.

Fun fact: Aleman grew up in the same town in Cuba as the Gurriel brothers, and he moved to Florida with his parents when he was 11 years old. He then attended the same high school as the late José Fernández and Tigers prospect Alex Faedo. Aleman will join Mace and Leftwich as the trio of Florida Gators to enter the Indians' system.

Quotable: “He was actually an All-State baseball player and soccer [player]. So there’s some athleticism there. Big and physical. … He shows the ability to pitch with a plus-fastball. It’s a solid average slider. He’s got a feel for the changeup. … So another guy we’re excited to add to the mix.” -- Barnsby