Inside the war room
Matt Underwood goes inside as the Indians draft new prospects
"This is our Super Bowl," explains Indians assistant general manager John Mirabelli. "This is the day we've been waiting for all year." The 2006 First-Year Player Draft is a chance for the unsung heroes of the Indians organization to shine. Scouts from all over the country pack the Indians draft war room in anticipation of infusing more young talent into the farm system.
The Indians invited all of their full-time scouts to the draft for the first time ever, in an effort to enhance communications between the team and the player being selected. A huge board measuring seven feet high and 25 feet wide covers one end of the room and is filled with the names of every conceivable player available in the country. Each area scout sits in front of a laptop computer to follow every move in the draft.
Directly in front of the area scouts are the scouting crosscheckers and members of the front office. Mirabelli sits in front of the big board flanked by assistant scouting director Brad Grant. Sitting immediately to their left is national crosschecker Chuck Ricci, general manager Mark Shapiro and assistant GM Chris Antonetti. On the other side of the table sit crosscheckers Paul Cogan, Matt Ruebel and Scott Meaney. These men all have access to the Indians Draft software program developed by Matt Tagliaferri. This system enables them to access scouting reports on any one of the thousands of players being considered as well as on-demand video.
When the draft begins, the room falls as silent as a high school classroom on the day of final exams. The silence is broken only by the voice on a speakerphone announcing each pick by the various teams. After only five picks in the first round a familiar voice on the phone is heard announcing the Dodgers need more time to make their selection. It's former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda who finally exclaims, "The ONLY Major League Baseball team in the city of Los Angeles is the Dodgers and we select..." This is a direct dig at the Angels who have been trying to lay claim to the market of L.A.
The Indians don't have a first-round pick and must wait until the 39th overall selection to claim their first player of the day. Between picks, the whispers in the room raise the noise level to a low hum only to be silenced with the announcement of the next selection. Some scouts nod to each other during selections that make sense and raised eyebrows are exchanged over picks that seem to defy logic.
The Indians have targeted four players who could be possibilities at No. 39. Tribe officials are concerned Boston will take one of them, but the Red Sox go another direction, drawing sighs of relief from the Tribe's top brass. At the conclusion of the first round there is a 15-minute break. The Indians brain trust huddles to go over contingency strategies in case targeted players are gone by the time Cleveland is ready to pick.
Indians owner Larry Dolan and team president Paul Dolan are on hand to observe the draft and wait anxiously as the tension mounts. At 2:00 p.m., just one hour after the draft begins, the Indians are finally on the clock. "The Indians select David Huff, pitcher, UCLA," announces Mirabelli. Immediately, area scout Vince Sagisi goes into a back room to phone Huff. The pitcher tells Sagisi that he is thrilled to be selected by the Indians.
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Huff, a left-hander, has drawn comparisons to Tom Glavine and Barry Zito. He turned down an offer of $500,000 from Philadelphia to sign when he was after his senior year of high school and instead chose to pitch at UCLA for John Savage, who previously tutored Zito and Mark Prior. Huff is considered to be a polished pitcher with command of a tremendous changeup and could move quickly through the system.
The Indians now await back-to-back selections at Nos. 56 and 57. Shapiro calls Paul Dolan over to the draft table to advise him of their plans. It is explained to Dolan that it may take more money to sign certain players than originally anticipated. The Indians president never wavers, giving Shapiro the green light. Moments later, a player on the Tribe's "A" list is taken by another club and Shapiro grimaces with disappointment. Without hesitation team officials quickly re-group and select right-handed pitcher Steven Wright of Hawaii, then second baseman Joshua Rodriguez from Rice.
Next up, the Tribe tabs third baseman Wes Hodges of Georgia Tech and later selects shortstop Adam Davis of Florida. Rodriguez, Hodges and Davis are former teammates. While not necessarily by design, the Indians have smartly drafted three-fifths of the starting infield from last year's Team USA.
The draft will continue the following day, and when the dust settles, the Indians will have selected roughly 50 players. Traditionally only half of those players will sign contracts and begin their pro careers. The men in the war room can only hope the players they've picked will one day wear big league uniforms.
One scout whose player he recommended was just selected begins to pace the floor in the back of the room. His face is a mixture of joy and anxiety. He's happy "his" player was selected. He's hopeful the prospect will be a "hit" and not a "miss". It's no accident there is a huge bottle of antacid and a jar of aspirin sitting on a nearby table.
Before the day is over, both will be empty.
Matt Underwood is a member of the Indians broadcast team. You can read his Tribe musings in his Underwood blog at http://underwood.mlblogs.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.