July 31, 2014

Cleveland’s Rotation: Deep Enough to Dream

I really don’t have anything against ESPN writer Keith Law. His article the other day really bothered me though. Particularly his comments about the Tribe’s young pitching staff.

Where I doubt Cleveland most is on the run-prevention side of the ledger. The two fluky starts by Mitch Talbot weren’t signs of things to come anyway, and now his injury exposes Cleveland’s lack of pitching depth in the upper levels. Josh Tomlin’s 2.75 ERA and three wins mask fringy stuff, including a below-average fastball and no real out pitch to miss bats; he’s likely to be homer-prone in addition to just generally hit-prone. Carlos Carrasco at least has two above-average pitches in his fastball and changeup, but he has never really had an average breaking ball and his command remains a stubborn problem. Even erstwhile ace Justin Masterson has weaknesses, including a career-long platoon split borne of his low arm slot, and while I expect him to dominate right-handed hitters I doubt he’ll sustain his current .103/.212/.103 line against them.

Grrrr. First, these are young pitching prospects we are talking about. Guys that will continue to develop. Nobody, no matter how long they have been around baseball, can say with any great certainty who will and who will not end up with a successful career in the Major Leagues. There are the occasional guys that seem to be can’t miss. (Even though some of them do miss.) But as for the rest, staying away from major injury and learning the art of pitching on the fly seem to be the major differences between perpetual prospects and legit MLB starters.

Perhaps though, the major issue I have with the statement above is that the Indians have a lack of pitching prospects. Going back to spring training, you would have to consider Carrasco, Tomlin, Talbot and Gomez all prospects. Granted, 3 of them were going to make the team, but weren’t they still technically prospects? Talbot had 29 career big league starts behind him, so perhaps he sheds the ‘prospect’ label. Carrasco (12 starts), Tomlin (12 starts) and Gomez (11 starts) all had less than a season’s worth of starts in the bank.

Add to that list David Huff and Jensen Lewis who have big league experience, and Alex White who is continuing his phenomenal rise through the organizational depth chart. White is at AAA Columbus tearing up the competition. He has an ERA of 2.0, with 20 strikeouts and 3 walks through his first 3 starts there this season. His highest ERA at any level was his first season in the pros- a 2.86 mark at Kinston. (He finished that season with a 2.28 at Akron.) He passes the eye test and the numbers test.

Another top pitching prospect is Drew Pomeranz. I know, he’s currently at single A Kinston, but even an Indians minor league representative I spoke to recently agreed it is a matter of weeks, not months before Pomeranz is at AA Akron, with Columbus a very real possibility this season.

Take a look at the possible rotation going forward. You have Carmona, who really isn’t a staff ace, but has the most experience in the group. Then you have Justin Masterson, who has been the losing streak stopper this season, sporting a 4-0 record and among the league leaders in ERA. At 26, Masterson appears to have a grasp on what he can do to be a successful pitcher at this level. Last night’s recovery from a bad first inning should serve as proof of his maturity. There is Carrasco, who may have the nastiest stuff of the group, but is learning on the job and should have things ironed out in the next year or so. Alex White and Drew Pomeranz have to figure in any discussion of the future rotation.That’s 5. Gomez, Tomlin and Talbot all have a shot at dethroning one of the above (don’t laugh, but for my money it may be Carmona).

No depth? Really?

And that is completely discounting guys like Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister who I’m sure would like to find their name on a Tribe uniform in the near future. Or Kelvin De La Cruz and Austin Adams who are pitching well at Akron this season.

I think the Indians have plenty of good prospects ready for their chance to play. Sorry Keith.

(Photo: Chuck Crow / The Plain Dealer) 

  • Karsten

    Keith Law is a chump (insert your choice of a more vulgar word there). Ignore his snide uneducated spam.

  • john

    You’re confusing youth with talent.

    The Indians pitchers are young, but there’s not much talent there. Gomez is not a MLB caliber pitcher. Tomlin is a fringe guy at best. Talbot is a very BOR type. Carrasco is up and down. Huff hasn’t shown anything in quite a while. And seriously, Jensen Lewis? Why are you mentioning him?

    No one thinks White is MLB ready – his breaking ball is variously described as awful or in development, something along those lines.

    Just because pitchers are young does not mean they are fated to get better, that their third pitches will definitely develop, etc.

    Maybe you disagree with Law, maybe he’s wrong but it’s a reasonable view.

  • 5KMD

    Hey Rick, what’s up with Rondon these days? What’s the injury rehab timeline on Hector. He could be considered as well if he heels up properly.

  • 5KMD

    That would be “heals up”. Wouldn’t want the spelling police to get me.

  • mike

    Kevin De La Cruz?? is that Kelvin’s brother? :)

  • Shamrock

    Why take what someone else says whether right or wrong so personally? That’s the problem around here. Anyways back to the subject I think it’s reasonable & understandable to be skeptical or question the current Indians pitching. Is anyone willing, on 4/21/11 to wager that they’ll continue what they have done? I doubt it. Right now the Indians are playing as well as they have in years. Relax and enjoy it, for however long it lasts.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Rick

    Thanks Mike, fixed now.

    I will check on Rondon’s status tonight. I’ll be at the Aeros game, and I’ll see what I can find out.

  • gabriel

    hey rick, it seems Keith just isn’t impressed with Tomlin and Talbot barely reaching low-90′s with their stuff… but hey, Greg Maddux never threw too hard and had himself a fine career.

    Elsewhere, Keith calls our outfield below average for defense.. how can that be?? We have Brantley – who is more than capable of playing center – roaming LF, a Gold Glover in Sizemore at CF, and Choo with his rocket in right!

    seems you are right that Keith didn’t do his hw…

  • NJ

    “[Tomlin is] likely to be homer-prone in addition to just generally hit-prone”.

    What exactly is he basing this on? In the minors, Tomlin posted a 0.9 HR/9. That’s not exactly bad. Granted, that may not translate to the majors, but what on earth suggests that he’ll be homer-prone?

    Not to mention – is there ANY team in the majors that can go six or seven deep in their rotation without a question mark or five? I guess maybe the Phillies, but they have one of those “once a decade or two” type rotation.

  • Ben

    I never would have pictured Keith Law posting under the name John. Weird.

  • PNR

    The Indians are getting good pitching, clutch hitting, and solid defense right now. They’re having fun and playing loose. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

    Re: Keith Law, just remember that these guys have obligations to provide content, regardless of how poorly-researched and -written it is. They’ll crank out whatever. They know that the only ones caring about what they write about Cleveland will be Clevelanders (and assorted out-of-town fans).

    It’s not like he’s writing about the Dodgers, BoSox, or Yankees. Then he would have either to be undeservedly flattering or to do his homework. Because if not, he’d be out of a job.

  • mgbode

    @Rick – I don’t think Keith Law was talking about most of the prospects that you brought up when he said the lack of depth at the upper levels. Noone in MLB counts because he is talking about whoever will have to fill Talbot’s spot.

    Noone in AA or below counts (they won’t be called up).
    White isn’t ready to be called up today (at least I hope we don’t)
    Gomez doesn’t have great stuff and isn’t a groundball pitcher (as the one who was called up)
    David Huff is, well, David Huff.

    Jensen Lewis is actually the one I hoped would have gotten the call. A couple more starts like Jeanmar’s last one and maybe he will? So, it’s not great organizational depth ‘right now’ for starting pitching. But, still it’s better than the Yankees have :) And, I would say, on par with most organizations.

  • mgbode

    @NJ – apparently the Texas Rangers can go 8deep in their starting rotations because that is where they are at with 3/5 that were supposed to be in their rotation on the DL right now. how they came up with all these guys I think even has them baffled.

  • NJ

    @11 – I realize these guys have to come up with content, but that’s no excuse for lazy, poorly researched articles, especially in this day and age where any stat you want is at your fingertips.

    I particularly love Law’s cutting insight that Masterson won’t be able to keep up his absurd righty split. Really? Next you’ll try to convince me that Adam Everett won’t finish the year hitting .385.

    This is another example of why I steer clear of ESPN and spend my time at sites like Fangraphs. I’ll take an in-depth analysis of, you know, actual numbers over 1200-words of subjective, meaningless evaluations (“two above average pitches”) any day.

    Not sure of the rules about posting links, but here’s an example of a thoughtful, well researched and reasoned piece about a Cleveland Indian –

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/cabreras-power-stroke-driving-indians-offense/

  • NJ

    @13 – Maybe they can. We’ll see how long that lasts.

    My point was more about the fact you can take any pitching staff, go the 4th/5th (or AAA replacement) starter, and then make generic comments about them having sub-par stuff or only two pitches or whatever. If that weren’t true, they would be an ace.

    It’s cheap and easy and, in my opinion, not real analysis. What baseball fan doesn’t know that the back end of the rotation is often questionable?

  • Ben

    I have in the past pointed to the absurdity of the Mauer contract as it is every thing the Tribe should not do…We have a new winner…the Braun extension is the single dumbest thing that a GM has ever done. Breathtaking.

  • mgbode

    @Ben – I disagree. Mauer’s still tops it.

    The deal takes Mauer through age 35, Braun through age 36.
    However, Mauer has had knee issues and plays at a position (C) where it will stress his condition. Braun has no medical history and plays a relatively easy-on-the-body position.

    I would take Braun and his contract before I took Mauer’s contract. Tulo’s is a tad better than either (also through 2020).

    Now, I agree with you that a small-market team like the Brewers paying a decaying power hitter in his age 34/35/36 seasons over $18mil each is not smart economic baseball.

    I just think it’s a better decision than Mauer.

  • mgbode

    Oh, forgot to add. Mauer has been adament. Absolutely adament that he will not be switching positions. He is a catcher and that is that.

    Hopefully, for the sake of baseball fans, that changes as he’s fun to watch and his career will derail faster if he refuses to leave the C-spot.

  • Tim

    AND JUST WAIT UNTIL ADAM MILLER FINALLY GETS HEALTHY AND IS BLOWING AWAY HITTERS WITH HIS 105 MPH FASTBALL!

  • Ben

    @mgbode You are correct when talking about Mauer and Braun as players. Agree with you there. My problem is that Braun was ALREADY signed thru 2015…why now? Why add on years at this point?

  • mgbode

    @Ben – I guess for the same reason that they gave him that initial extension despite only 1yr of MLB service time. The Brewers FO obviously wants to emulate the Memphis Grizzlies FO in their attempts at overpaying their own talent and doing it earlier than they have to?

  • NJ

    Terrible deal. Why pay $100M+ for 32-36yr old production? Especially when you didn’t have to do so. And especially when it’s darn near ten years away with no indicator of what kind of a player you’ll have?

    Clicking through Braun’s “similar batters through age” on baseball-reference doesn’t exactly impart confidence in this deal. Maybe Braun will be the exception, but why bet on that at this time? Do clubs know the steroid era is over?

  • Matt S

    Law is wrong. Just about every one in AA and AAA is at least a C prospect, with the exception of David Huff, who is garbage.

    Gomez is not a non-prospect. Various services have rated him a middle-of-the-rotation or a back-of-the-rotation guy. He is only 23, and I do think he would be best served by additional time at AAA, but he’s the best thing available.

    McAllister and Kluber, similarly, are really young guys that are legit prospects (MOR/BOR depending on who you read) who are perhaps young and best suited to spend the year in AAA, but are still options. Nobody should question that White is a legit prospect. In addition, there are plenty of good prospect reviews for Scott Barnes (just promoted to AAA) and Kelvin De La Cruz (was thought to be a potential FOR starter before his injury). Everyone else is a little further away from being major league ready, but those guys are legit prospects and all of them could be considered major league ready or at least very close to it.

    As for Rondon, last time I heard he is not likely to be back this year. Might get some work in Arizona toward August/September and then go pitch in the fall league.

  • Jim

    I was with you until you mentioned David Huff as a prospect. He’s as much of a prospect as I am. Which is to say, he’s not. Just because one is relatively young does not make him a prospect. Huff’s numbers bear that out. He is likely a AAAA player, sometime spot starter on a middling big league team. Not exactly the stuff prospects are made of.