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Offseason Spotlight: Matt Langwell

January 4, 2012
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Photo: Lianna Holub

The Cleveland Indians have a plethora of bullpen options in their farm system that could help the big league team at some point this coming season. Those alternatives have shrunk somewhat after the recent trade of right-hander Cory Burns to the San Diego Padres and losing right-hander Josh Judy to the Cincinnati Reds on waivers, but the bullpen options remain aplenty for the Indians.

With the loss of Burns and Judy it has helped open the door for other relievers in the upper levels of the Indians farm system to come into greater focus as bullpen options. One of those relievers is right-hander Matt Langwell.

A lot of people probably do not know much about Langwell. He was not a high profile draft pick as he was selected in the 11th round of the 2008 Draft out of Rice University, and he has often been overlooked in prospect rankings because he has pitched almost his entire pro career out of the bullpen.

But Langwell, 25, has potential as a middle reliever in the big leagues and has taken the yearly step up the organizational ladder and impressed more and more each season. In 2009 at Low-A Lake County he had a 1.97 ERA, .217 BAA, and 8.9 K/9, and he followed that up in 2010 at High-A Kinston with a 2.41 ERA, .219 BAA, and 9.3 K/9. Last year in 48 combined appearances between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus he went 5-1 with a 3.01 ERA, and in 68.2 innings allowed 62 hits, 5 home runs, 28 walks, and had 71 strikeouts.

Armed with a low 90s fastball and solid slider Langwell does not have the arsenal to blow people away, but he continues to perform year after year and rack up strikeouts because of his consistency.

“I just tried to stay consistent throughout the year,” Langwell said in a recent interview for the IPI. “I had up and down times and just tried working on getting consistent with all of my pitches and being able to throw any pitch in the strike zone in any count. It is about staying consistent and going out and attacking hitters.”

Langwell has made a steady progression every year, and while he will not rank high in prospect lists because he is a reliever (relievers rarely rank well) he is still a bullpen option for the Indians in the near future if he continues to improve. Getting ahead in the count and consistently working the ball down in the zone is a major focus for him.

“When I am ahead in the count I have a lot of success,” Langwell said. “Each year my slider gets more consistent, and [last] year it was the most consistent that it has been so far. Really for me the key is getting ahead of hitters. Whenever I fall behind they are just sitting on my fastball and take advantage of it, so just staying ahead has been the key for me.”

Langwell has made himself into a prospect and may be on the Major League doorstep, and the continued development of his slider will be the key to his future. He spent most of last season working on being more consistent with the speed and break of his slider - his go to pitch – to make it a legitimate big league weapon. That is something Indians Director of Player Development Ross Atkins talked about late last season.

“He is a great story as he had some success as an amateur at Rice and he went into a bullpen role for us a couple of years ago and has really performed well,” Atkins said. “He seems to be getting better and better each step of the way each week and month. His slider will be the separator for him as he has plenty of fastball and can locate it down and away, so now it is a matter of him developing that slider into a Major League weapon. He is absolutely someone who has turned himself into a prospect. Those are our favorite stories when a guy who was on the periphery has put himself on the forefront.”

Langwell has come a long way since his freshman year in 2005 at Sam Houston State when he tore the UCL in his right elbow and had to undergo Tommy John surgery. He completed a year and a half of rehab and then moved on to Rice where he pitched in 2007 and 2008 before being drafted by the Indians.

“I was at a summer league game at the time,” Langwell recalled about the elbow injury. “I just threw one pitch and felt something in my elbow give. I took a month off and then had an MRI and they said it was torn. So I had the surgery and did the rehab and everything. I had about a year and a half to come back for my next season so I took it kind of slow and went through fall ball about a year later and felt good the whole time. Now I don’t even notice it at all.”

Langwell’s elbow was barking a little when he was drafted and signed by the Indians, something he said was the result of throwing a new split finger pitch that year in college. They closely monitored him at short season Single-A Mahoning Valley that year and the numbers showed he was not a very healthy pitcher as he went 1-4 with a 7.47 ERA in 12 games (7 starts).

The next season the Indians decided to make him a full time reliever when they assigned him to Low-A Lake County to start the 2009 season and ever since his career has taken off. He has now completed three straight seasons in a bullpen role and it is something he has grown to like a lot.

“I know that feeling as a starter when you come out of a game with runners on where you get the butterflies in your stomach hoping that the guy can get out of it for you,” Langwell said. “I like being able to come in with inherited runners and get out of a situation for a guy because I know how that guy is feeling on the bench and I want him to feel a lot better about his outing.”

Langwell has survived the proverbial bottleneck that happens in the minors between High-A and Double-A where so many players find it difficult to climb higher in the organization because there are so few spots available in the upper levels. He is expected to pitch at Triple-A Columbus at the outset of next season, and if he does not he should get there quickly.

One thing for certain is that Langwell is now on the radar as Major League relief pitching option.

“Going in you always want to get to the highest level possible for that year,” Langwell said. “I think that so far I have done my job with staying consistent and healthy. I believe I have put myself on the map and now I just gotta go out there and get guys out and we will see what happens after that.”

Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his latest book the 2011 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More is available for purchase for $20.95 to customers in the US (shipping and handling extra).

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

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February 15, 2012 - 5:32 PM EST

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