CLEVELAND -- Nobody in his right mind could ever call John Mirabelli's job easy, but Mirabelli, an assistant GM with the Indians, has never been in a situation as hard as what he has in front of him now.
As the architect of the team's baseball draft, Mirabelli and his scouting department scour the high school and college ranks for talent and then assemble their findings and use that information in the First-Year Player Draft.
But here's what makes Mirabelli's job so difficult: a shortage of talent, in his estimation.
"I think over the last five years -- and I can probably take it back farther than that -- in my opinion this is just an 'average' draft," Mirabelli said. "If I had to rate 'em, how I think they're going to potentially fall out in six, eight or 10 years from now, I would probably rate this draft at the bottom."
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That's not the best of news for the Indians organization, because they have the No. 6 pick in the first round, the highest spot they've held since 1992. In past years, the sixth pick might have been able to fetch the Indians a marquee-caliber ballplayer like Devil Rays outfielder Rocco Baldelli in 2000 or Royals right-hander Zack Greinke in 2002.
No Baldelli or Greinke will likely show up at No. 6 this season, though.
"There are going to be a lot of 'average' Major League players in this draft," Mirabelli said. "By everyone's standards, this draft is considerably short when you're looking at the top-end, potential-impact guys. It's very thin in that regard."
Even in this shallow pool, Mirabelli said teams, including the Indians, are finding it hard to sift through what is available and rank the talent. The only consensus, he said, seems to be who will go first overall.
Past five No. 1 picks
2003 Michael Aubrey
2002 Jeremy Guthrie
2001 Dan Denham
2000 Corey Smith, SS
Mirabelli said Long Beach State pitcher Jered Weaver, brother of Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Jeff Weaver, looks as if he's the Hope Diamond of the '04 draft. But the younger Weaver will be long gone by the time the Indians pick.
They will use their No. 6 pick, Mirabelli said, on the "best player available," which is the team's strategy each draft. The organization has never drafted to fill holes; it drafts the best player available with its No. 1 pick and throughout the draft.
The best players in the 2004 draft are coming from the college ranks, Mirabelli said. That pool of college talent is strongest in pitching and in catching, which is a rarity.
He said he had no idea which of the better players will still be on the board at No. 6, because the teams ahead of the Indians aren't sure what direction they will go. He does know that he won't be finding a Manny Ramirez out there.
Even at its best, the draft is a crapshoot. Since the club moved into The Jake in 1994, the Indians have had just two No. 1 picks (Jaret Wright and C.C. Sabathia) who have stayed with the organization and reached the Majors, and only Sabathia has emerged as a Major League star.
No one like Sabathia will be available at No. 6 in this draft.
"I don't think we're going to get an impact guy," said Mirabelli, who took Tulane first baseman Michael Aubrey with the Tribe's top pick last June. "I just don't think this draft has [the] the high-end, high-ceiling guys. There might be a handful, and when I say handful, I mean two high-school kids that turn out that way -- maybe.
"But at No. 6 ... the team at 2 doesn't even know who it's going to take yet, so it's kind of hard for me to think we're going to get that type of high-end guy."