As has been discussed briefly in the past, the Akron Aeros bullpen has been just another factor of their incredible play thus far this season. Led by several top draft picks and also a couple of organizational players, the Aeros have relied upon their bullpen heavily en route to a 56-33 record thus far. Of course, if you are interested in seeing this bullpen in action along with projected starter Jeanmar Gomez (6-3, 3.21 ERA) then you can always join us at Canal Park on Thursday.
For the season, the Aeros bullpen was 25-11 with a 3.24 ERA heading into Saturday’s game against Erie, and recently had a ten-game stretch with a 1.08 ERA. Erik Stiller, Steven Wright and Carlton Smith have all had long scoreless streaks of 15+ innings plus, while Vinnie Pestano is breaking saves records left and right. Josh Judy came to Akron after a 12-win season out of the bullpen last year, while Zach Putnam is the hot-shot prospect and Neil Wagner is the intelligent veteran. For more information, here are player profiles of the seven players that currently inhabit the pen for Manager Mike Sarbaugh in Akron as all inhabit top 65 rankings in the Indians Prospect Insider blog.
Steven Wright- Easily the most consistent pitcher in the pen, Wright (pictured above) was named to the Carolina League mid-season All-Star Team with Kinston in 2008, and was the Indians second-round selection in the June 2006 Draft out of the University of Hawaii. The starter turned reliever ranked second in the Indians Player Development System in innings pitched and was fourth in both ERA and strikeouts last season. He was also fourth in the organization in strikeouts while splitting time between Kinston and Lake County in 2007. The 24-year-old probably has the best chance of any player on the Aeros roster to make an immediate impact on the Indians when rosters expand in September as he is 6-0 with a 3.31 ERA on the season (5-0 with a 2.48 ERA as a reliever).
Carlton Smith – A huge surprise this season and recently named an Eastern League mid-season All-Star in place of Pestano, Smith was a 21st-round selection in 2004 out of Piscataway High School (NJ). His 11 wins with Lake County tied him for fourth in the Indians Player Development System while his 12 victories with Kinston last year led the team and were tied for the most in the Carolina League. His older brother Corey was Akron’s starting third baseman in 2003 and 2004. In 20 relief appearances this season, the 23-year-old has allowed a run only six times and on the year is now 4-1 with a 2.82 ERA after seeing his scoreless streak come to an end July 6th.
Vinnie Pestano- A sidearmer/submarine pitcher in the mold of former Aeros closer Randy Newsom, Pestano ranked second among Indians minor leaguers with 24 saves in 2008 between Kinston and Lake County. The Cal State-Fullerton product was a 20th-round pick in the 2006 June Draft and has held opponents to a .217 batting average in his career coming into 2009. He notched 13 saves and a 0.97 ERA in 2006, helping lead Fullerton to a Big West Championship and a trip to the College World Series. The closer since day one for Akron, he was placed on the disabled list with elbow soreness earlier in the week, but still leads the entire minor leagues with 24 saves on the season. The 24-year-old remains well on pace to smash the franchise-record Newsom set with 29 saves last year.
Erik Stiller- Another pitcher who has had mixed results in the starting rotation this season, Stiller was signed in June 2006 as a non-drafted free agent out of Princeton University. The hard-throwing right-hander who turned 25 on Friday went a combined 5-5 at Burlington and Mahoning Valley in 2006 with a 4.26 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly 3:1 in 13 games (12 starts). Now a reliever, Stiller has held opponents to a .229 batting average over the past two seasons and ranked third on the Aeros with 35 relief appearances last season. He has made five spot starts this season going 0-3 with a 7.24 ERA, but in 21 relief outings is 6-0 with a 2.06 ERA.
Josh Judy- A product of Indiana Institute of Technology, Judy was Cleveland’s 34th-round selection in the 2007 June Draft. He has been a reliever his entire career, yet managed to tie for the Indians Player Development System lead in wins with 12 during the 2008 season. He comes into the season with the lowest career ERA of any Aero, and is now in only his second full year of professional baseball. In 18 relief outings he has allowed an earned run only five times, a solid percentage for a 23-year-old who on the season is just 4-3 with two saves and a 4.34 ERA.
Zach Putnam – The first 2008 draftee to play for the Aeros, Putnam made the most substantial leap to Double-A since Trevor Crowe played for two months in 2006 following his first-round selection in 2005. He was selected in the fifth round out of the University of Michigan in the 2008 June Draft and was a standout two-way player for the Wolverines, batting .319 with 19 home runs and 110 RBI in 116 games played the past two seasons. He also led the team up North with a 9-0 record and a 2.58 ERA as a starter in 2008. In his first stint as a reliever this season, he has shown spurts of his potential as the 22-year-old is now 1-2 with a 5.72 ERA.
Neil Wagner – Wagner came into the season as the Aero with the highest strikeout per nine inning ratio (10.92) in his minor league career. The Indians 21st-round selection in the 2005 June Draft out of North Dakota State University, Wagner was fifth in the Indians Player Development System in saves during the 2007 season. He ranked second among Kinston relievers with 41 appearances last season but has been Mr. Do-It-All for the Aeros this season. He has appeared in many different situations and many various roles and is now 0-3 with a 4.46 ERA with 33 strikeouts in 36.2 innings pitched.
Jacob Rosen is a long-time contributor to WaitingForNextYear. He's also a writer online at SportsAnalyticsBlog and Nylon Calculus . An Akron native, Jacob is a current MBA student at the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. You can follow him on Twitter @WFNYJacob or e-mail him at udjrosen(at)gmail(dot)com.