CLEVELAND -- John Mirabelli heads into the 2005 First Year Players Draft with the same philosophy he's used in past drafts that he's choreographed for the Indians: He plans to draft the best player available.
Who that player will be remains the question, according to Mirabelli.
Not so much because of the lack of talent; the talent is bountiful. But Mirabelli, scouting director for the Indians, sees so much jockeying among the Major League clubs ahead of the Indians that he can't be certain what players will fall to No. 14, where the Indians will pick on June 7.
"The volatility of the first 13 picks, this is going to be a difficult one to gauge," he said. "We're gonna be ready; we've got 15 names; we're gonna be on our toes. But I can tell you the projecting out, having an idea who's gonna be there, this is going to be a tough process this year."
Much of the volatility seems to center on the players who didn't sign in 2004. Three top picks from that class will probably re-enter the draft, and each will rank in the top tier of talent this time around as well. But pitcher Jered Weaver, shortstop Stephen Drew and pitcher Wade Townsend now find themselves in a deeper pool of players than the draft they were in a year ago.
"I would categorize this as an above-average draft in terms of the depth and the talent," Mirabelli said. "What I mean by that is I don't think there's a lot of superstar, franchise players in this draft, but I do think there are a lot of good players -- a chance to be good, Major League players.
"That's gonna run a little longer than normal. The third, fourth and fifth round, you're still gonna have a chance, I think, at some solid, Major League players."
The focus initially will be on the first-rounders, and the Indians are positioned to tap a real talent with that draft pick. Looking at what talent is available, Mirabelli said the '05 draft has a different look than those drafts of the past few years.
"It's also a very unique draft in that it is very position-player oriented -- lopsided in position players, both high school and college," he said. "In 16 years, I can't really remember that, maybe one other time.
"It's usually, just because of supply and demand, harder to find position players than pitchers. But the draft is always usually dominated by pitchers. This draft is unique; it's clearly position players."
Top among those position players, according to Baseball America, seems to be Justin Upton, a shortstop from Chesapeake, Va., whose brother B.J. is a top prospect in the Devil Rays organization.
But running apace of Upton, if not necessarily ahead of him, are third baseman Alex Gordon (Nebraska), outfielder Cameron Maybin (T.C. Roberson High School in North Carolina), shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (Long Beach State), Drew, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (Virginia), outfielder Andrew McCutchen (Fort Meade High School in Florida), outfielder Jay Bruce (West Brook High School in Texas) and third baseman Ryan Braun (Miami).
Where these players fit into his rankings, Mirabelli won't say. He simply reiterates that the best talent is what the Indians will look for -- though that assessment comes with a caveat.
"We're going to consider, just like we did in the past, the talent, the ability and if it's worth the investment," said Mirabelli, who used his No. 1 pick last season on pitcher Jeremy Sowers. "The draft is an imperfect event right now. The best player doesn't always go one, two, three, four or all the way to 14, and certainly it doesn't fall that way economically."
"So there are a lot of factors to consider. We'll take the best player -- I know you guys get tired of me saying this -- we're gonna take the best player who fits, not only on ability and tools but signability and makeup, for the Cleveland Indians."
But with five picks among the first 104, Mirabelli thought the Indians could take risks in a draft that should yield good value in rounds much deeper than the 104th player. Even with the first five picks, he didn't rule out picking a college reliever, which is a turnabout from what the Indians (and other teams) have normally done.
Draft philosophies are evolving, and Mirabelli said the Indians are evolving with it.
"We think this is a good year to be aggressive, maybe take a little more chance than we've taken the last four years," he said. "I think this draft could dictate that. It's got to fall our way.
"But with the picks we have and the talent that's out there and where we are as an organization, this could be a year we're aggressive."
INDIANS DRAFT HISTORY
If the Indians have been consistent about anything in recent years, it's been in their approach to the June draft of free agents. Since 2002, the Indians have gone for the "best" college player available, as if turned off by the disappointments of No. 1 picks right-hander Dan Denham in 2001 and third baseman Corey Smith in 2000. Both Smith and Denham were high school players, and Smith is no longer in the organization.
LAST THREE TOP PICKS
Jeremy Sowers, LHP, 2004, Pick #6: The Indians aren't rushing Sowers through the system. He's in Single-A Kinston where he's pitched well for the K-Indians. By all accounts, Sowers isn't a power pitcher. He has, as the Indians put it, "pitchability." His talent has been compared to Tom Glavine's, which means the Indians have great expectations for the left-hander from Vanderbilt.
Michael Aubrey, 1B, 2003, Pick #11: People compare Aubrey to a young Don Mattingly, which means Aubrey's a line-drive hitter who finds the gap. That's atypical for a first baseman, a position usually manned by power hitters. But Aubrey has proved he's not a typical player. He has speed and a splendid glove, which has prompted suggestions that he might move to the outfield. For now, he's finding the gaps often in Double-A Akron.
Jeremy Guthrie, LHP, 2002, Pick #22: Guthrie, 26, is pitching for Triple-A Buffalo, but he hasn't been pitching with much success there. He has shuffled between starting and relieving the past two seasons, but Guthrie, once considered the top pitching prospect in the organization, hasn't found his niche in either role. His lack of success seems to have affected his confidence. For the Indians, the good thing is Guthrie's arm is healthy, so the organization has no reason to label him a "bust" just yet.
Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.