The best things are said about Spring Training baseball. Everyone is 0-0. Hope springs eternal. It’s always sunny in Arizona. Everyone has smiles on their faces and cannot wait to get back into the swing of things. Even in this rebuilding year, there is a new voice and a new captain of the S.S. Wahoo for the first time in eight years; Manny Acta. That should excite all of you Grind-haters.
The biggest issue by far that the new manager has to sift through with pitchers and catchers now beginning their work in Goodyear is in the starting rotation. Sure, Jake Westbrook is penciled in as your opening day starter, with the up and down Fausto Carmona and Justin Masterson slotted behind him. Whatever happens with the last two spots is completely up in the air and anyone’s guess at this point.
Aaron Laffey, David Huff, Jeremy Sowers, Carlos Carrasco, Mitch Talbot, and Hector Rondon are all in the mix for the four and five slots. This seems to be a wide open competition.
To me, Laffey has to be given one of the spots. He has proven that if given the chance, he can become a left-hander version of Westbrook – a reliable, ground-ball machine. Huff won 11 games as a rookie last year and despite a high ERA (5.61), he showed some improvement in the second half. Carrasco and Rondon will more likely than not head the Columbus rotation to start the season. Who knows what the Indians have in Talbot, who they got in the Kelly Shoppach trade.
This brings us to Sowers.
The former #6 overall pick has seemingly gotten chance after chance to prove himself as a viable major league starter. This will now be his fifth season in the bigs. He peaked during his rookie campaign in 2006, going 7-4 with a 3.57 ERA in 14 starts.
During 2007, he has handed the fifth starter role and butchered it. Laffey took over and Sowers was shipped back to AAA after he posted a 6.42 ERA in 13 starts, winning just once. In ’08, he got another shot and was unimpressive again (22 starts, 4-9, 5.58 ERA, 64 K’s, 39 walks.)
As an afterthought last season, he once again managed his way into the rotation for 22 starts and one memorable relief appearance (five scoreless in the 10 run comeback against Tampa Bay). His final numbers: 6-11, 5.25 ERA, 51 K’s, 52 walks. Not exactly off the charts. The real question is how many more chances is this guy going to get?
See Sowers can be the ultimate tease. He is the epitome of “4A,” a guy who is very good in AAA, but not good enough for the majors. Take a look at his AA numbers in each of the last four seasons:
’06: 15 starts – 9-1, 1.39 ERA, 1.10 WHIP
’07: 15 starts – 4-5, 4.10 ERA, 1.41 WHIP
’08: 10 starts – 4-3, 2.08 ERA, 1.20 WHIP
’09: six starts – 2-2, 2.89 ERA, 1.21 WHIP
What plays in Sowers favor for 2010 is the fact that he is out of options. What isn’t working out for him is his shoulder. Even as Sowers seemed to be running third behind Laffey and Huff, the duo still has minor league options. At worst, Sowers could probably be kept as the long man. But his shoulder isn’t responding to his last shot.
He arrived in Goodyear early to get his shoulder more treatment. Manager Manny Acta told the media that the left-handed soft-tosser will be just under two weeks behind the rest of the group. However, if his shoulder is acting up now, how is it going to react to throwing programs and the stress of trying to win a job?
Give Sowers credit for acknowledging what we all know. “You can’t pick when you get hurt. You deal with it. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to prove my value to this team. Whatever happens, happens.”
Shoulder fatigue also doesn’t help someone who doesn’t throw hard to begin with. One of his biggest issues has always been the lack of delta in speed between his fastball and change-up. Velocity has always been his bugaboo. As has been getting through the order a third time. I still don’t understand why the Indians have yet to try him out of the pen. But maybe that is coming this year with a new regime in play. Sowers doesn’t seem convinced that is a good idea.
“I think since I’ve been drafted I’ve logged eight innings out of a bullpen,” he said. “And they were all clean innings where I knew when I’d be coming out of the ‘pen and when I’d pitch. That being said, if it came to that, pitching is pitching. The bullpen is a different mindset, but, when you’re on the mound, it’s all the same.”
Regardless, the Sowers shoulder setback puts him at a disadvantage to make the team; something that he didn’t need to begin with.