Nine pitching prospects who can help in Cleveland in 2014
Cleveland has plenty of right-handed relief options pushing up through the minors, ready to help
In the recently completed 2014 IBI Top 50, the projection of each player contributed heavily to the final rankings. Clint Frazier has no chance of playing in Cleveland in 2014, yet the 2013 first round pick was ranked #2 (for very good reason).
But Cleveland has designs on contending for the playoffs again and will need to dip into the minor league ranks at some point in the season. With that in mind, here are nine pitching prospects who can help the team in 2014 (the hitters ran on Saturday).
Note that these ranks are only for 2014. All that was considered was how each player could help the team this year.
Ready to help now
Preston Guilmet, RHP
Over half of this list contains right-handed relief pitchers, a position that Cleveland is simply bursting at the seams with. Guilmet is one of those relievers and someone who logged a little bit of time with the big league club last year. Though the right-hander's first 5.1 major league innings were less than encouraging (six runs allowed on eight hits, three walks, and only one strikeout), he should offer be a strong depth option when called upon this season.
With a throwing motion that comes straight over the top, Guilmet managed to do more with less throughout his minor league career (2.57 ERA, 2.56 FIP in 297.2 minor league innings). The right-hander does not have a big fastball, but armed with an effective splitter-slider combination and the ability to throw strikes, Guilmet gets the job done. He does not overpower hitters and profiles more as a middle relief arm in the majors than a closer, but Guilmet is someone who should get one of the first calls up from Columbus when something goes wrong in the bullpen.
C.C. Lee, RHP
Lee is someone who should have contributed greatly at the major league level in 2012, but Tommy John surgery in June 2012 set the right-hander back. He made it through his rehab in time to pitch quite a bit in 2013 -- throwing 33.1 innings between Low-A, Double-A, Triple-A, and the majors -- and should be even better in 2014. The right-hander will be even farther removed from his surgery and has the chance to really breakout this season.
Sadly for me and my #PutCCLeeOnTheOpeningDayRoster hashtag, Lee will be starting the year in the minors. This is heavily influenced by the right-hander still having minor league options, where other relievers like Blake Wood and Scott Atchison could not be easily sent down to Triple-A. Despite the temporary setback, Lee should be the first reliever brought up to Cleveland in the event one is needed. Guilmet and the next guy on this list are good relievers, but in the end, Lee's powerful fastball-slider combination will be in Cleveland for good in the near future.
Bryan Price, RHP
Despite not appearing in the majors yet, Price is primed to get at least a cup of coffee in 2014. After stalling out at Double-A -- Price pitched extensively at that level every year since 2010 -- the right-hander saw his splitter develop into a pitch that separates him from the pack. That splitter helped Price see a spike in his strikeouts (11.44 SO/9 in 59.0 Triple-A innings), which when combined with his ability to avoid walks (2.63 BB/9 in his minor league career) elevated him to someone ready to help in the major leagues.
Price was added to the 40-man roster in the offseason, a show of faith in his improvements in 2013. The 27-year-old put on a clinic in the hitter-friendly confines of Huntington Park, posting a 2.44 ERA and 2.57 during his time there in 2013. If Cleveland was not already swamped with right-handed relief options, Price could have found his way to the majors last year, if only as a September callup. His talents are not likely to be ignored for much longer, and provided he picks up where he left off last year, Price is someone that could be up now, but will make his way to the majors sometime during the season.
Ready to help midseason
Austin Adams, RHP
If Adams had spent any time at Triple-A, he would likely be ready for a callup to the major leagues now. The right-hander has the stuff with a fastball that touches 100 miles per hour and a hybrid curveball-slider that dominates hitters, though he is still less than two years removed from shoulder surgery. That shoulder injury may leave Adams in the bullpen permanently, though he has the stuff to turn heads in the late innings.
There is still stuff for Adams to work on -- his 4.75 BB/9 in 2013 is a touch high, even if he is carrying a 12.44 SO/9 -- which is why he will start the year in the minors. As he improves his control and gets farther from shoulder surgery, however, the sky is the limit for Adams. He was dominant in 55.0 Double-A innings in 2013 and could be even better in 2014. The right-handed relief logjam ahead of him aside, Adams is someone who could help in Cleveland soon enough.
Trevor Bauer, RHP
Finally, not a right-handed reliever. Bauer is someone who basically saw everything go wrong in 2013, from his mechanics to his velocity to his results (4.15 ERA, 5.08 FIP, 106:73 SO:BB in 121.1 Triple-A innings), though it is way too early to give up on the right-hander. Though it feels like Bauer has been around for a while and could be broken beyond repair, the right-hander is only 23 years old.
The reports out of spring training have been encouraging, showing Bauer regaining the velocity he lost in 2013. Provided last year was just a blip in the road, the right-hander easily could use the first half of 2014 to re-learn how to pitch consistently with his fastball back. Bauer still needs to work on keeping the ball down in the zone and throwing strikes, but there is still hope for him. In a few years we could easily look back on Bauer's 2013 as the year everything just went wrong for the right-hander, but in order for that to be the case, he still has work to do.
Kyle Crockett, LHP
In another life, I desperately want to throw left-handed. Crockett does not have the most overpowering stuff in the organization, but the fact he can throw and control that stuff as a southpaw is a massive boon to his value. He does everything you want to see out of a pitcher, racking up strikeouts, limiting walks (he posted a 32:5 SO:BB 24.2 innings between Mahoning Valley, Lake County, and Akron), and generating a lot of groundballs. That ability is why he is in position to make it to the majors during his first full professional season.
The 2013 fourth round pick can use some more seasoning in the upper levels of the minors -- he only threw 10.1 innings in Double-A last year -- but Crockett is basically ready to help in Cleveland now. He is what he is at this point; a more finesse-type left-handed reliever who is probably more than just a LOOGY. The presence of better major league options like Marc Rzepczynski and Josh Outman can keep Crockett in the minors for a bit, but if a need arises in Cleveland for a left-handed reliever, Crockett will soon be ready for the call.
T.J. House, LHP
House started the season in Double-A, but after four starts, the left-hander found himself in Columbus for the remainder of the season. His results there are not particularly eye-popping -- he posted a 4.32 ERA, a 3.88 FIP, a 6.99 SO/9, and 3.43 BB/9 in 141.2 innings -- potentially indicating that House is a depth option and nothing more.
That easily could be true, but while those stats are not amazing, they are competent. House's FIP was actually league-average in the International League, a pretty good result for the left-hander in his first exposure to Triple-A. At this point, House needs to shore up his changeup in order to find real success at the major league level, but the 24-year-old is on the right track. He may still need time in Triple-A to refine his pitches and ability, but if Cleveland needs some spot starts midseason, House is someone who has a chance at taking them.
Giovanni Soto, LHP
A back injury may have knocked Soto out for most of 2013, but the left-hander still has the pitch that makes him absolutely destructive against left-handers: his cutter. That alone gives Soto a chance to pitch in the big leagues despite anything else that happens. Beyond his fastball-cutter combination, Soto does not have much else in his curveball and changeup, but for the time being, the left-hander can make do with what he has.
That back injury remains troublesome, especially since it stalled Soto's development as a pitcher. The 22-year-old only threw 8.2 innings last year before missing the rest of the year, and given his injury issues in the past, there is a real question as to whether he can stay healthy long-term. But Soto has three big things working for him: his youth; his assured status as a major league LOOGY as long as he can stay healthy; and a history of success in the minors (including a nine-inning no-hitter in 2012).
Long shot for late in the season
Shawn Armstrong, RHP
With the number of right-handed relief options ahead of him, Armstrong will have a difficult time making it to Cleveland in 2014, even as a September callup. But while the road ahead of Armstrong is cluttered, his talent and ceiling is the kind that can force a team to make exceptions. When healthy, Armstrong has nearly hit triple digits with his fastball, and when combined with his cutter-slider hybrid secondary offering, Armstrong has the raw ability to be a back-end reliever in the majors.
Of course, Armstrong still needs to learn control, both in his walks (4.89 BB/9 in his minor league career) and his emotions (a self-inflicted hand injury after a bad outing last April led to Armstrong missing 10 weeks). But Armstrong has the capacity to dominate and can force his way up the ladder to Cleveland if he finds a way to put it all together.
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Has Crockett overtaken him as first lefty pen option?
I could see some liking his body better and maybe thinking he has a better chance of sticking in a rotation (still some that worry Salazar ends up in the pen)...but flat out likely Anderson more than Salazar? Sure such a scout exists but doubt there are many.
As for Lee, I am fine with the 8th spot in the pen going to Atchison. That's a use and abuse or let a guy sit and rot role. The 8th guy in the pen is an arm you don't care to overextend in long relief or sit for long periods of time and not get regular work. Lee needs to pitch regularly.....and be on call for when one of the other main righties goes down.