Yesterday’s hire of Tim Belcher as Cleveland’s pitching coach gave a glimpse at what the Indians are looking to accomplish this season at the Major League level. Belcher, who has been all around the organization for the past eight years, had a relatively solid MLB playing career under some of the top pitching coaches in the business including Bud Black over for the Angels. With this hire in place, it is now the perfect time to analyze what he and new manager Manny Acta will have to assemble their opening day rotation.
Beginning from #13 and advancing to your projected opening day starter, I preview all of the different individuals that could have an impact as a starter for the Cleveland Indians this season. I included all of the recent stats at the top levels of the minor leagues as well as their career MLB record and age for the start of this season. I have heard grumblings that the team might be interested in acquiring an extra starting pitcher to help all of the youngsters, but we will see later how that affects this early breakdown.
13. Ryan Edell (turned 26 this past July 6)
15 AAA games: 0-6 and 6.36 ERA in 46.2 innings, 37 strikeouts and 15 walks.
43 AA games: 11-9 and 3.24 ERA in 233.2 innings, 190 strikeouts and 40 walks.
A control freak from Boston, Edell shined for the Aeros as a starter for the second year in a row. The main problem for the minor league veteran however was his abysmal record in his two stints with the Clippers this past season. First, he got the call around May as a reliever but promptly came back down when Hector Rondon got the promotion to Columbus instead as a starter. Back in the rotation, he continued to fool AA batters in Akron, but it is unlikely he will get such an easy pass yet again.
2010 Starting Point: starter #4 for the Clippers
12. Jeanmar Gomez (turns 22 this coming February 10)
22 AA starts: 10-4 and 3.43 ERA in 123.1 innings, 109 strikeouts and 40 walks.
Think Hector Rondon, but a little bit skinnier, 16 days older and slightly more walk-prone. It is even incredible to consider how Rondon jumped him in the organizational depth chart despite the accomplishments of Gomez this season. He made four starts to start the year in Kinston, threw a perfect game back in May against Trenton, made it to the All-Star Game and received the honor of Eastern League Pitcher of the Year Award. In the end, it was not too shabby of a performance at all for another fine Venezuelan prospect in the Indians system.
2010 Starting Point: starter #3 for the Clippers
11. Chuck Lofgren (turns 24 this coming January 29)
18 AAA starts: 6-11 and 5.57 ERA in 103.1 innings, 69 strikeouts and 36 walks.
62 AA games: 17-14 and 4.42 ERA in 274.2 innings, 226 strikeouts and 135 walks.
There was no better comeback story in the entire Indians system than this former first-round draft pick out of California. Lofgren, who battled a demotion to the bullpen as well as a death in the family back in 2008, stormed out of the gates as another solid prospect for the Aeros this season. In eight starts, he permitted only seven earned runs for a 1.48 ERA before getting his first promotion to AAA. The numbers were not pretty from there, but not every single organization is lucky to enough to have high-potential young left-handers at the upper levels in the minor leagues. Still a lot of room for improvement here based on the adjustments he recently made over in Akron.
2010 Starting Point: starter #2 for the Clippers
10. Anthony Reyes (turned 28 this past October 16)
67 MLB games: 13-26 and 5.12 ERA in 293.1 innings, 205 strikeouts and 119 walks.
55 AAA starts: 18-11 and 3.15 ERA in 317.0 innings, 306 strikeouts and 81 walks.
12 AA starts: 6-2 and 3.03 ERA in 74.1 innings, 102 strikeouts and 13 walks.
Remember this guy at all? The oft-injured former Cardinal remains the Indians property as he recovers from yet another right elbow surgery. Looking at the long-line of Reyes’ injuries, it is telling to consider he is 28 years old but has less than 300 career major league innings. According to this particular report from ABC News when he had his surgery it June, it said a recovery time of 12-18 months. Many people are calling his career over but at least the Indians know they could potentially have an extra body for Spring Training in 2011.
2010 Starting Point: disabled list until the All-Star Break
9. Scott Lewis (turned 26 this past September 26)
5 MLB starts: 4-0 and 3.49 ERA in 28.1 innings, 18 strikeouts and 7 walks.
5 AAA starts: 2-3 and 3.81 ERA in 26.0 innings, 23 strikeouts and 5 walks.
42 AA games: 13-11 and 3.13 ERA in 215.2 innings, 188 strikeouts and 46 walks.
He is the biggest question mark in the entire system as the Ohio State product started the Indians home opener this year and never made another MLB appearance. He earned the final starting rotation spot after a strong end to the 2008 season in his first five big league starts, but has now made a total of only 10 starts past Double-A in his career. Yikes, not the kind of longevity for a player who is battling for a spot in the organization that is suddenly loaded with pitching prospects. He will probably be healthy for the beginning of the season and will have an outside chance to contend immediately for a starting spot, but chances are things go slow for ol’ Scotty out of the gates.
2010 Starting Point: to-be-determined, possibly long reliever for the Indians
8. Hector Rondon (turns 22 this coming February 26)
12 AAA starts: 4-5 and 4.00 ERA in 74.1 innings, 64 strikeouts and 13 walks.
15 AA games: 7-5 and 2.75 ERA in 72.0 innings, 73 strikeouts and 16 walks.
I am sure you have heard this name by now after his incredible 2009 season. Just look at the combined numbers from above for his season totals: 137 strikeouts against 29 walks in 146.1 innings pitched. Those are unprecedented numbers for a pitcher who only turns 22 this coming February. A lanky and goofy right-hander, Rondon is without a doubt the top pitching prospect in the upper levels of the organization. His future definitely resides as a top-three starter for any Major League team but with the number of starts currently in the system, he will probably start 2010 in Columbus. He has the same upcoming projection as stud catcher Carlos Santana meaning that he could be up in Cleveland starting by the All-Star Break.
2010 Starting Point: starter #1 for the Clippers
7. Jeremy Sowers (turned 26 this past May 17)
72 MLB games: 18-30 and 5.18 ERA in 400.0 innings, 174 strikeouts and 132 walks.
47 AAA starts: 20-11 and 2.60 ERA in 297.2 innings, 189 strikeouts and 80 walks.
13 AA starts: 5-1 and 2.08 ERA in 82.1 innings, 70 strikeouts and 9 walks.
As much as you do not want to believe it, Sowers remains in the picture for the Indians for at least this season and potentially as a starting pitcher. He was impressive at times last season including posting a sub-4.50 ERA June through August, and still is only 26 years old. The big problem with Sowers is the role as a classic Cleveland starter, beginning games well but then struggling in the middle innings. In fact, the numbers were so bad in the fifth and sixth that I just have to state them for the dramatic effect: 42 earned runs on 44 hits and 21 walks in 30.2 innings pitched for a whopping 12.36 ERA. Yikes, that is quite scary, but as long as left-handers are valuable pieces of a rotation, Sowers will stay around and will probably start in the bullpen.
2010 Starting Point: long reliever for the Indians
6. Carlos Carrasco (turns 23 this coming March 21)
5 MLB starts: 0-4 and 8.87 ERA in 22.1 innings, 11 strikeouts and 11 walks.
32 AAA starts: 13-12 and 4.09 ERA in 193.2 innings, 194 strikeouts and 58 walks.
34 AA games: 13-11 and 4.52 ERA in 185.0 innings, 158 strikeouts and 91 walks.
This intimidating prospect had a rough awakening in the majors late last season, but his portfolio of success in the minor leagues show how he remains a possibility for the future. The key for Carrasco compared to many other prospects in the league is that fact that at only 22 years old, he amassed over 375 innings pitched in the upper levels of the minors. Look at prospects like David Huff and Hector Rondon and you will clearly see how that is quite atypical for the standard prospect. Carrasco will have many opportunities under new pitching coach Tim Belcher and he could very well be an ace in the future. He is the odd man out for now however, but he should get his fair share of spot starts and will be firmly in the rotation by season end.
2010 Starting Point: to-be-determined, possibly starter #6 for the Indians
5. David Huff (turned 25 this past August 22)
23 MLB starts: 11-8 and 5.61 ERA in 128.1 innings, 65 strikeouts and 41 walks.
23 AAA starts: 11-5 and 3.45 ERA in 120.0 innings, 113 strikeouts and 31 walks.
11 AA games: 5-1 and 1.92 ERA in 65.2 innings, 62 strikeouts and 14 walks.
The final stat line for the Indians ball club last season is not too pretty for this UCLA product, but the fact he is still only 25 and led the team in wins is good news. His minor league stats indicate that things can only get better from here, and I expect him to get the fifth starting spot for at least the start. He will be on a relatively short leash because of the existence of Carrasco, Sowers and Rondon, but 11 wins as a rookie in just 23 starts for a very bad team is something impressive. I expect much better things out of him this year, not enough to explain his sick-nasty performances for Triple-A and the Aeros, but certainly enough to keep his spot in the team’s future.
2010 Starting Point: starter #5 for the Indians
4. Jake Westbrook (turned 32 this past September 29)
200 MLB games: 63-64 and 4.31 ERA in 1,070.1 IP, 583 strikeouts and 328 walks.
Ex-manager Eric Wedge declared Westbrook his 2010 opening day starting pitcher but then got the axe himself. So what happens to old reliable Jake after the change in leadership? Well considering the fact that the gigantic influx of prospects including but not limited to Rondon, Carrasco, Lewis, and Gomez is on the cusp of the majors, the future does not look very bright for Westbrook in an Indians uniform. His contract only lasts one more season, and thus 2010 could very well be his last chance at gaining a long-term contract for any team in the league. It will almost be like the one-year romance of Shaq with the Cavaliers, only the big difference is that the Indians have no long-term incentive to play Westrbook much this season. When I met Jake in Akron this season, he seemed like a sincere guy who just wanted to compete at the best level again, but he is clearly the odd man out looking towards the future.
2010 Starting Point: starter #4 for the Indians
3. Fausto Carmona (turns 26 this coming December 7)
116 MLB games: 33-37 and 4.69 ERA in 535.2 innings, 332 strikeouts and 232 walks.
When you think about any future success for this organization, a lot of it depends upon the resurgence of this soon-to-be 26-year-old. Just two years ago, he was one of the most dominant young pitchers in the game, but since then he posted a 5.89 ERA in 46 major league starts. Talk about a huge crash down to earth after his sensational 19-8 and 3.06 ERA season back in 2007. The hiring of Manny Acta, a native of the Dominican Republic, and Tim Belcher, a long-time presence in the Indians pitching development staff, probably both had Carmoma’s future in mind. If the Indians can develop him back into a legitimate ace or #2, then the rest of the pitching staff should easily fall into place. For now however, he must prove his worth with a full season with the Indians.
2010 Starting Point: starter #3 for the Indians
2. Justin Masterson (turns 24 this coming March 22)
78 MLB games: 10-15 and 3.97 ERA in 217.2 innings, 187 strikeouts and 100 walks.
4 AAA games: 1-0 and 2.89 ERA in 9.1 innings, 8 strikeouts and 1 walk.
18 AA starts: 5-6 and 4.30 ERA in 96.1 innings, 96 strikeouts and 34 walks.
I honestly continue to have my reservations about Masterson’s future in the Indians rotation. With Rondon, Carrasco, Gomez and others clearly going to demand a spot in the big league chart within the next calendar year, it will be hard to continue to make excuses for his poor command as a starter. He shined in his entire minor league career, and his success in the Red Sox pen shows there are other options available. It is unfortunate that he was arguably the centerpiece of a trade for the best hitting catcher in baseball, as even with pitching as the main concern in the organization he might be better suited for the bullpen. Keep him up top for now, but recognize his versatility could pay off dividends soon.
2010 Starting Point: starter #2 for the Indians
1. Aaron Laffey (turns 25 this coming April 15)
50 MLB games: 16-18 and 4.39 ERA in 264.2 innings, 127 strikeouts and 100 walks.
30 AAA games: 15-7 and 4.06 ERA in 168.1 innings, 126 strikeouts and 46 walks.
28 AA starts: 13-4 and 3.27 ERA in 159.2 innings, 97 strikeouts and 49 walks.
With the slim pickings that currently exist in forming the top part of the Cleveland Indians starting rotation, it seems that Aaron Laffey is the only man for the job as ace. In a comparison with the rest of the starting rotation, it is clear how Laffey has advantages over every single one of them. Masterson’s career ERA is low because of his success as a reliever, Carmona has not been the same since 2007, Westbrook has not pitched much in 18 months, and David Huff had an average first-year in the league. This just shows how the starting rotation and the entire pitching staff will not be pretty for the time being, but all of the pieces are in place at the upper levels for a bunch of contributors down the road. Laffey earned this job last year and will give a chance to cement his role in the long-term plans of the organization with another solid season.
2010 Starting Point: starter #1 for the Indians
(The lead photo above is of Tim Belcher against the Indians back in 1996 and was found at this link here via AP Photo/Elaine Thompson. The photo of Hector Rondon was found here and is via Carl Kline. The final picture of Justin Masterson is an AP Photo/Steven Senne.)