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Indians trust medical staff with Draft picks

Tribe takes risks with Aiken, handful of draftees with health issues

CLEVELAND -- The Indians try to identify areas behind the scenes in which they might have an advantage over other teams. Cleveland firmly believes that its training and medical staff gives the team an edge, and the organization put that on display in this week's Draft.

The Indians opened their Draft by selecting sidelined left-hander Brady Aiken -- out of the picture until 2016 while recovering from Tommy John surgery -- with the 17th overall pick in the first round. Aiken, who did not sign last year after being taken first overall by the Astros, was just one among a handful of players taken by Cleveland despite health concerns.

At the root of such decisions is confidence in the medical team.

"We do feel like we can progress players, we can rehab players and we can get them stronger," said Brad Grant, the Indians' director of amateur scouting. "We feel like we have a competitive advantage of being able to rehabilitate them. Where some teams may find that it's a disadvantage, we find that it might be undervalued for us and it's something we'll look to try to build on."

Joining Aiken in the Tommy John comeback trail is Cal State Fullerton right-hander Justin Garza, who was selected by the Indians in the Draft's eighth round. Cleveland also picked Cal Poly second baseman Mark Mathias (third round) and Clemson shortstop Tyler Krieger (fourth round), even though both players are returning from right labrum issues.

On Wednesday, which was the third and final day of this year's Draft, Cleveland's 38th-round pick, right-hander Braden Webb, is also working his way back from Tommy John surgery. Webb missed the 2015 season, but has a chance to play for the University of South Carolina, if he opts not to sign with the Indians.

"With the resources we have here," Grant said, "with everything that we've developed, as much as we've studied not only on the medical side, but in the mechanical delivery side, and all the elements that go into staying healthy and durable, we target specific things and look for specific things. I think we've spent a lot of time on that."

Grant said that the research and studies conducted by Cleveland in terms of specific delivery elements played a role in the overall breakdown of pitchers Drafted this year. The Indians selected more prep pitchers (11) than collegiate pitchers (10) and even added a pair of arms with no school affiliation during the '15 season.

"We feel like we have the abilities to develop high school pitchers," Grant said. "It wasn't planned this year to target high school pitchers, but that's how it kind of came out in the end."

Overall, Cleveland selected 22 college players, 17 high school players and the two players (pitcher Christian Meister in the 29th round and Webb in the 38th round) with no school listed. On the position player side of things, the Indians leaned more towards college players (12) than prep stars (six). The first high school position player taken was infielder Cobie Vance out of Pine Forest High (N.C.) in the 16th round.

The Indians first three picks -- Aiken (first round), right-hander Triston McKenzie (Competitive Balance A round) and lefty Juan Hillman (second) -- all are high school arms. Cleveland then followed with a string of three consecutive picks consisting of college bats, taking Mathias, Krieger and Kentucky outfielder Ka'Ai Tom (fifth round).

Highlights from Day 3 included taking outfielder Todd Isaacs (an above-average baserunner) out of Palm Beach (Fla.) Community College in the 19th round and grabbing some "raw power," as Grant described it, in Johnson County (Ks.) Community College first baseman Anthony Miller in the 19th round.

The Indians also stuck with some baseball prodigies on Wednesday. Cleveland used its 20th-round pick on prep shortstop Luke Wakamatsu (son of Royals bench coach Don Wakamatsu), the 26th-round pick on high school shortstop A.J. Graffanino (son of former Major Leaguer Tony Graffanino) and a 35th-round selection on prep catcher Cade Tremie (son of Triple-A Columbus manager Chris Tremie).

Cleveland's overall Draft bonus pool consists of $7,234,200 (15th in the Majors) and the team's slot value for the 17th pick is $2,393,600. Grant said the Indians want to get Aiken in their system to continue his Tommy John rehab as soon as possible.

"We're going to work through that situation and just see," Grant said. "We'd certainly like to try to get him into the organization and start to help him with the rehab process, bvut we'll allow that to play out and see where things progress."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.
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