You all probably know how much I like Carrasco, so I consider this quite a blow to the rotation. You can read about my Carrasco obsession here or here or here. Suffice it to say, I think he has the potential to be really good.
Interestingly, when it became clear that Carrasco was going to miss some time, I assumed David Huff would get the call. I know the team hasn’t been overly impressed with his contributions, work ethic or tweeting habits, but the only other viable option (with Jeanmar Gomez already called upon to spell Mitch Talbot) is Alex White. The same Alex White who has pitched exactly 23.2 innings in his brief AAA career.
Alex White was the Indians’ first round draft pick in 2009, and has done nothing but impress as he’s moved up the organizational ladder. He started the 2010 season in Kinston—the Indians’ Carolina League A-ball affiliate—and threw 44 innings with a 2.86 ERA before being promoted to Akron.
He spent the remainder of last season with the Aeros where he threw 106.2 innings with a 2.28 ERA. Not only were his 2010 ERA figures impressive (2.45 ERA combined), but for a guy many saw ending up in the bullpen, he demonstrated the sort of durability that pitching coaches dream of. I saw him pitch in Akron on an early September evening. He threw seven innings and let up one run. I had a hot dog and several beers. It was fun.
So far this season, White seems to be continuing his dominance: he’s let up two earned runs in his 23.2 innings with the Clippers, good for a 1.90 ERA.
But what sort of pitcher is Alex White? His ERA would suggest that he might be the “good” sort, but that’s not nearly specific enough for me. Let’s find some fun numbers.
This tells me a few things. First, he’s not a huge strikeout pitcher. In the minor leagues, Alex White strikes out fewer batters than Carlos Carrasco does in the Major Leagues. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s not really impressive. He also doesn’t have dominant strikeout-to-walk ratios, suggesting that he’s probably not the sort of pitcher you’d want to call your “ace”.
On the other hand, those groundball percentages are truly striking. Opposing batters hit groundballs off White roughly 50% of the time, which means that they’re (a) not hitting homeruns and (b) not hitting the ball particularly hard. Furthermore, you can only assume that a pitcher who relies on his infield defense will improve as he moves up in the system: the better the level, the better the fielders, right? At least you’d hope so.
When I saw Alex White pitch, everything about him reminded me of Jake Westbrook: his style, his body, his look, and his groundballs. Granted, I had a couple beers, so that may not be a particularly reliable comparison. But as I reported those thoughts, everyone looked disappointed. “He was a first round pick! He has to be better than that!”
No. He doesn’t. Jake Westbrook has been a really valuable pitcher, and if the Indians can get that sort of production from Alex White, they should thank their lucky stars. After all, some first-round picks become Jeremy Sowers. Nothing is guaranteed, and if you could draft a good-but-not-great starting pitcher, I have to think you’d do it every time.
We should also note that if the Indians really do bring up Alex White, the organization is behaving differently than they have over the past several years. Make no mistake: if this were 2009, there is no way Alex White sees the MLB roster until September. The fact that we’re even discussing this as a viable option suggests to me that the front office is thinking about winning now rather than delaying arbitration clocks. For a group that has been (maddeningly, for some) conservative before bringing up top prospects, if they go to Alex White now, they’re signaling that the “contention window” is opening, and they’re not going to waste any more time on roster-fodder.
This makes me happy, mostly. Alex White is almost certainly a better pitcher than David Huff and by bringing him up, the signal has been sent: it’s time to believe again.