Before the 2010 season started, Baseball America named Nick Hagadone the third-best prospect in the Cleveland Indians system. A dominating presence on the mound at 6’5″, 230-lbs and a left-hander, it made perfect sense for the publication to view him in such a fashion.
He was arguably the player with the most upside acquired from Boston in last year’s Victor Martinez deal alongside Justin Masterson and current teammate Bryan Price. The Red Sox clearly viewed him as a top prospect earlier as well, selecting him as the 55th overall pick (supplemental first round) in the June 2007 Draft after a successful career at the University of Washington.
Unfortunately, June 2008 Tommy John surgery on his left elbow limited his development process. He resumed pitching last season but remained on a strict pitch count up through this year as well. Struggling to find his consistency in his few innings as a starter, it then made a ton of sense for the Indians to decide to shift Hagadone into a more natural role as a reliever last month.
“I think eventually I will,” Hagadone said in response to his current comfort level. “Right now it is still a little bit weird coming from watching the game to being thrown right in there. But you know, I definitely like it because everything that happens matters like when you come in with men on and you give up a hit, it really matters because runs are going to score.”
The Sumner, WA native began his professional career in 2007 with short-season Class A Lowell in the Boston system. He finished with a 1.85 ERA in his 10 starts, only spanning 24.1 innings pitched because he was actually a reliever back in college as well.
The next season, he started off well with Class A Greenville in the South-Atlantic League but after three starts and only 10 innings pitched, injured his left elbow and underwent surgery.
“My elbow just unlocked on me and I was feeling really good that whole season,” he said about the experience. “It was only my third start and my arm was feeling really good up until it kind of just blew up on me with one pitch and then it’s just been tough. It’s just a long, long process trying to get fully recovered to where I was before it actually happened.”
He began his recovery path early last season with Greenville again before his July trade to the Indians organization. Hagadone transitioned smoothly to Lake County and finished his SAL season with a 0-3 record and a 2.50 ERA in 15 starts with an incredible 53 strikeouts against 19 walks in 39.2 innings pitched.
Because of the continued pitch count, a precious victory avoided him but he put up solid numbers in earning the promotion to Class A Kinston in the Carolina League. That is where he remained up through this season as well, where he actually led the circuit with 29 walks in 37.2 innings pitched before his eventual June 1st transfer to Double-A Akron.
“My arm is fine now, I mean, I keep trying to find the mechanics that I had before and get the pitches back to how they were,” he said. “It’s just frustrating knowing what it was and what it is right now; knowing that gap is something I try to think about as much as possible.”
The now 24-year-old earned his first win in nearly two years in his final start on May 26th with Kinston but his command struggles moved up to the Eastern League. He was 1-1 with a 5.19 ERA in his first seven starts, walking 18 with 25 hits and 26 strikeouts in 26.0 innings.
That lead to the eventual re-transition to the bullpen where he made his first appearance at the professional level on July 26th at Canal Park. With the multitude of arms moving up through the system, it made more sense as a natural fit for the back-and-forth Hagadone as well as for saving his elbow.
His combined numbers on the year are 2-4 with a 3.38 ERA in 72.0 frames, striking out 77 but walking 54 for a mediocre 1.597 WHIP. When asked about his thoughts on his overall 2010 season, Hagadone was sincere but also surprisingly down.
“No, to be honest with you, not really,” he said about viewing this as a good season for him. “It has just been frustrating trying to just be really consistent so I mean, just trying to work on that and throw more strikes.”
He has responded relatively well to the transition through his first four bullpen outings, posting a 2.16 ERA in just two earned runs through 8.1 innings . The strikeout-to-walk numbers are not too great yet, but the early start provides some hope for his future in the role.
But if Baseball America were asked to re-do their Cleveland rankings right now, Hagadone would still have to be in the conversation. He is older than most in Double-A and has struggled overall this year, but there is no doubting that he still has about as much upside and potential as any pitcher in the system.
(Photo of Nick Hagadone above via Tony Lastoria/Indians Prospect Insider)