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Diamonds in Single A: Eric Berger

June 22, 2009
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It is once again time for another Diamonds in Single A. I missed putting out an article last week because I was a little worn down after all the draft coverage, but now I am fully charged and ready for another look into the lower levels of the Cleveland Indians minor leagues.

For this week’s article I thought to continue a trend of players who are likely to be called up to AA. So far three players profiled here have been promoted to Akron – Jeanmar Gomez, Matt McBride, and Matt Meyer. When you look at Kinston, the guy that tends to leap out as the next player likely to get a promotion is starting pitcher Eric Berger.

Berger is a left handed pitcher out of the University of Arizona. He was the 8th round pick in 2008, and yet one more player the Indians got from Arizona. His catcher at Arizona was this year’s 18th round choice, Dwight Childs. The reason a pitcher with Berger’s ability was available in Round 8 is due to the fact that he had Tommy John Surgery back in 2006, which limited his starts his junior year and caused a dip in velocity. Now, velocity normally ends up coming back, but it takes time. It seems like a strategy of the Indians to draft players recovering from arm surgeries, betting on the odds that they will make a full recovery.

For a look at the stats:

Year Level WHIP SO/9 BB/9 ERA H/9 HR/9 SO/BB
2008 SS/A- 1.04 10.6 2.6 2.11 6.8 .5 4.09
2009 A+ 1.23 8 4.2 2.12 6.8 .1 1.88

I, like many people out there, have been expecting Berger to get the call up for about a month now, but after actually looking at his stats I see why he has been given more time in Kinston. If there has been any knock or reason for concern with Berger in his short career, it’s been concern about his control, which is reflected in his rates this year. The old adage is baseball is a game of inches. In this case his strike out rate has dropped 2.6 and walk rate raised 1.6, which could be a result of many things. First, on a higher level there are better and more experienced hitters than he faced in Mahoning Valley. Second, when your command has had issues there can be jumps in rates because being even a quarter of an inch off will result in more walks and less strike outs. Lastly, he is still in the process of recovering fully from Tommy John and is getting back to full strength. Yes, it was three years ago but he lost all of 2007, not coming back until 2008. 2009 should be where he gets the feel of pitching back and maybe even regains a little velocity.

In terms of the positive, you have to love the drop in home runs even though the hit rate is constant. This shows he is keeping the ball down where he excels, and it also shows that while he is walking more players the issue is missing left or right, not up. If you’re going to miss it’s better to miss off the plate, and this is exactly what Berger has done. His hit rate is excellent and really shows players are having a hard time making good contact. For a bonus stat, players are only hitting .277 for balls put in play off Berger, which is not a fluky looking average and also demonstrates that he should be able to maintain his success.

After looking at the numbers I see why Berger is still in Kinston; it’s a good place for him to continue to refine his game, but I still expect to see him in Akron before the end of July. Berger looks like a potential 4/5 pitcher with the upside potential of a number 3. There is every indication he can be successful, and the walk rate should be fine – consider Aaron Laffey, another Indians SP who had the same walk rate, who was able to get it down. Laffey never had the low hit rates of Berger, which is why I predict Berger will end up reaching the potential and being a better pitcher than Laffey. As Laffey is already a solid major league contributor, this shows how highly I think of Berger and how much I’m waiting looking forward to seeing more of him.

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