(Editor’s Note: This analysis was written before the Indians traded IF/OF Ryan Garko to the San Francisco Giants for LHP Scott Barnes late Monday night. Feel free to add his power arm to the mix and we’ll have more on his acquisition later this afternoon.)
These were trades that were not supposed to happen. The Indians were not supposed to be sitting at 42-58 on July 28th, way behind possible playoff contention in 2009. The pitching has been ugly , and people were starting to notice the lack of quality pitching depth overall in the organization. While some fans were counting on production from former prospects like Adam Miller, Randy Newsom, Edward Mujica, Jeff Stevens and Jon Meloan this season, all are injured or not with Cleveland anymore as the Indians remain dead-last 30th in baseball with a 5.21 ERA overall.
What could the organization do at all to solve this problem? Step One: draft Alex White in the first round. The hard-throwing right-hander out of North Carolina, along with 2008 5th-round draft pick Zach Putnam, has back-end bullpen potential and is extremely athletic. The makeup of these two prospects are incredible, but everyone knew that this would not just be enough in itself. Enter Step Two: trade for young relievers in other organizations. And trade they did, as GM Mark Shapiro has worked a pair of spectacular deals just over the past month in hauling away IF/OF Mark DeRosa and long-time setup man RHP Rafael Betancourt.
RHP Chris Perez was the first to enter, as Cleveland traded DeRosa to St. Louis on June 27th for Perez and the infamous player-to-be-named later (PTBNL).
Shapiro then traded away Betancourt to Colorado for RHP Connor Graham last Thursday, acquiring the Ohio native who was tearing it up for the Modesto Nuts.
Finally, it was announced early Sunday evening that the Indians had chosen RHP Jess Todd from the Cardinals organization to complete the DeRosa trade as the PTBNL.
UPDATE: Indians traded Ryan Garko to San Francisco last night for LHP Scott Barnes, who like Graham, is currently tearing up the California League as a starter for the red-hot San Jose Giants. He is a 21-year-old product of St. John’s University.
Now here they are as a franchise, coming off an impressive three-game sweep on the road against the Seattle Mariners, and on the verge of pulling off another improbable second-half surge. But in the end, people will look back on this season for the young relievers the Indians managed to acquire. Whether Shapiro manages to trade away Victor Martinez or Cliff Lee is yet to be determined, but looking towards the future we can definitely see the bullpen shaping up with the acquisition of these three talented future relievers. So let’s dig in deeper and see what there is behind these new guys:
Chris Perez – 6″4′, 225-lbs, turned 24 on July 1st
First-round (#42 overall) in the 2006 June Draft
Clearly the most MLB-ready of the three prospects acquired, Chris Perez had a beginning to forget with the Cleveland organization. In his first outing against Chicago on June 29th, he walked a batter and hit a pair as well en route to four earned runs in 0.2 IP. Since then he has calmed back to reality, but it is clear that control is his biggest issue looking forward to the future. At first glance, when I saw we had acquired just Perez and a PTBNL for DeRosa, for whom we traded three young relieving prospects, I was sorely disappointed and his debut did not help at all. Since then, Shapiro has grabbed Graham and Todd to give the organization some insurance, but Perez will still be relied upon in Cleveland for a while to come.
2007 with AA Springfield: 2-0 with 27 saves and 2.43 ERA in 39 games
2007 with AAA Memphis: 0-1 with 8 saves and 4.50 ERA in 15 games
2008 with AAA Memphis: 1-1 with 11 saves and 3.20 ERA in 26 games
2008 with St. Louis: 3-3 with 7 saves and 3.46 ERA in 41 games
2009 with St. Louis: 1-1 with 1 save and 4.18 ERA in 29 games
Taking a look at the more detailed statistics: You can see some cause for concern in Perez’s numbers, especially the most recent ones. Sure the numbers in 2008 were absolutely ridiculous along with those 27 saves for Springfield in 2007, but it is disheartening to see what has happened to Perez in 2009. A total of 39 walks in 72.2 MLB innings is way too many. The 80 strikeouts are attractive, and his fastball/slider combo is absolutely sick, but things need to come together soon before he becomes the next John Rocker. Great prospect and great upside overall, but there is a good reason why he has not replaced Kerry Wood just yet as the closer this season.
Connor Graham – 6″7′, 235-lbs, turns 24 on December 30th
Fifth-round (#162 overall) in the 2007 June Draft
A youngster who has the least upper-level experience of this trio, he is a native of Bowling Green, OH and a product of Miami University. There is already a lot of information out there as Brendan linked to a Terry Pluto scouting profile while Indians Prospect Insider had a detailed description of his strengths and weaknesses yesterday as well. At 6-7, he is the first truly intimidating pitching prospect to come through the Indians organization in quite some time and will continue to be groomed as a starter this season. His future looks brighter in the pen, but the raw talent and build is definitely there. He is scheduled to make his first start in the organization Wednesday in his Double-A debut for the Akron Aeros.
2007 with ss-A Tri-City: 1-0 with 2.37 ERA in 6 games (4 starts)
2008 with mid-A Asheville: 12-6 with 2.26 ERA in 26 games (26 starts)
2009 with high-A Modesto: 7-4 with 3.14 ERA in 16 games (16 starts)
Similar to Perez, Graham’s walks are an issue of concern for fans and the Indians alike. He has 130 free passes in 246.2 career minor league innings, and 41 already this season although he has fanned 87 as well. His numbers in the homer-friendly California League are quite impressive this season and it will be interesting to see how he develops over the next year or two. He is starting out with Akron and will certainly remain there this season, but will probably be given an outside chance to compete for a bullpen role in Cleveland next year. A big young guy like him was a decent, not amazing acquisition for a fan-favorite like Betancourt, but there are still many question marks as to how exactly Shapiro will mold him in the coming years.
Jesse Todd – 5″11′, 210-lbs, turned 23 on April 20th
Second-round (#82 overall) in the 2007 June Draft
The newest acquisition of the Indians was announced Sunday, as Cleveland completed their DeRosa trade with St. Louis. He comes to the organization after a highly successful past year and a half, winning Cardinals Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors in 2008, and ranking tied for fourth in MiLB in 2009 with 24 saves. Less physically intimidating than Graham or Perez, Todd has consistently gotten the job done in every stop and was ranked as the #4 prospect in their organization coming into this season. He will be added to the 40-man roster but will begin in Columbus, and is expected to be a September call-up when rosters expand in five weeks. A recently transitioned starter, he definitely looks suited up for a long career as a reliever in the Major Leagues.
2007 with ss-A Batavia: 4-1 with 2.78 ERA in 16 games (7 starts)
2008 with high-A Palm Beach: 3-0 with 1.65 ERA in 7 games (4 starts)
2008 with AA Springfield: 4-5 with 2.97 ERA in 17 games (16 starts)
2008 with AAA Memphis: 1-1 with 3.97 ERA in 4 games (4 starts)
2009 with AAA Memphis: 4-2 with 24 saves and 2.20 ERA in 41 games
He throws four pitches and can reach up to 94 mph with his four-seamer. His slider, just like Perez, is also a dominant out pitch that is way above average for a pitcher his age. At 5-11, there can be some issues with his continued success in the Major Leagues, but time will tell considering he is the youngest of the trio. A dominant pitcher at the University of Arkansas, his walk rates have always been low but he is not usually a strikeout pitcher. He was rocked in his one outing for St. Louis this season, but certainly has a bright future like the other two. He might turn out to be the best of all three, and his naming makes me feel a whole lot better about these trades.