Entering the 2012 season, the Cleveland Indians were not expected to have all that much starting pitching depth. After last year’s trade that brought Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland and sent out Alex White and Drew Pomeranz, the two-most highly rated hurlers in the system, the Tribe’s minor leagues took a big hit.
Of course, the system still was top-heavy, as there were eight players contending in spring training for a rotation spot (including Zach McAllister, David Huff and Kevin Slowey). The winners were Justin Masterson, Derek Lowe, Josh Tomlin, Gomez and Jimenez, but that meant several players for AAA Columbus already had plenty of MLB experience, and the lower levels on down didn’t have many top names at all.
Then, there are the injuries and slow progressions. The only two starters in Baseball America’s top 10 rankings for the Indians are No. 2 RHP Dillon Howard and No. 6 RHP Austin Adams. Howard has yet to pitch at all in the system and Adams just had right shoulder surgery that likely will end his season.
Yet, so far in the year, a couple of players, including a few other surprising names further down in the system, have demonstrated surprising results to keep up the optimism. As a special Memorial Day addition to my usual Wednesday Wahoos, let’s go down the order and discuss some of the notable 2012 starters in the upper levels of the organization.
RHP Jeanmar Gomez, 2/10/1988, Venezuela, signed in April 2005
Cleveland: 3-3, 3.94 ERA, 9 games, 48.0 IP, 39 H, 17 BB, 26 K
You’ve got to give credit to Gomez for the impressive year he has strung together thus far. He emerged from spring training with the No. 5 job, but with the injuries to Tomlin and Jimenez’s continued inconsistencies, he’s been more like the No. 3. He pitched two innings of relief in his season debut April 11, then piggy-backed with Tomlin for two more innings on April 14. He has four quality starts since then, with just two notable awful outings (May 9 and May 25), both against the White Sox. The walk numbers are low, which are a positive, and don’t forget about the age: Gomez remains just 24 years old, and should be able to keep improving in the years to come. Previous discussions about the future of the Indians rotation tentatively included Gomez in the past; now, it’s clear he has proven his worth as a mainstay in the rotation for a while to come.
RHP Zach McAllister, 12/8/1987, Illinois Valley Central HS, acquired from NYY in 2010
Cleveland: 1-1, 3.96 ERA, 4 starts, 25.0 IP, 25 H, 6 BB, 22 K
AAA Columbus: 3-1, 2.83 ERA, 6 starts, 35.0 IP, 30 H, 11 BB, 32 K
I’ve seen the comparison a lot, and it’s a good one. McAllister is the 2011 Jeanmar Gomez. Last season, Gomez bounced back-and-forth between Columbus and Cleveland, posting solid numbers at each location, and earning the respect of the front office in order to win the battle with another impressive spring training. Fans were teased a bit by McAllister’s recent four-start stretch, as he pitched significantly more effectively than Jimenez as Tomlin’s DL replacement. This is his third full season of AAA ball, where he now has a 24-16 record with a 4.14 ERA in 58 starts. His numbers were also great last season for the Clippers, resembling his All-Star performance in 2009 for the AA Trenton Thunder in the Yankees organization. Heck, may McAllister be the best thing ever about Austin Kearns’ career in Cleveland?
RHP Corey Kluber, 4/10/1986, Stetson University (FL), acquired from SD in 2010
AAA Columbus: 4-4, 4.41 ERA, 10 starts, 51.0 IP, 59 H, 26 BB, 64 K RHP Chris Seddon, 10/13/1983, Canyon HS (CA), signed as FA in 2012
AAA Columbus: 5-3, 4.30 ERA, 10 starts, 58.2 IP, 59 H, 15 BB, 49 K
I’m grouping these two together for a couple of reasons: First, they are both a bid older to be legitimate prospects, and second, they both have been dominant strikeout guys for Columbus this season. I wrote about Kluber a couple weeks ago, as he continues to rank in the top 15 in MiLB in strikeouts. He has had a few rough outings recently, but I’m pretty certain he could be an effective reliever soon for the big-league club. Seddon, who has pitched 39.2 career MLB innings and 842.2 career AAA innings, was signed by the Tribe in the offseason. He had an effective seven-inning outing for the Clippers again Sunday, earning his fifth win of the season. The walk numbers are sensationally low, so keep an eye out on him, too. He’s 28 years old, but has proven to be an effective AAA starter for a while.
LHP T.J. McFarland, 6/8/1989, Amos Alonzo Stagg HS (IL), fourth round of 2007 MLB draft
AA Akron: 8-2, 2.69 ERA, 10 starts, 60.1 IP, 61 H, 12 BB, 41 K
The cover boy for this post, McFarland is the one who most recently had a newsworthy accomplishment, as he just earned his first-ever promotion to AAA Columbus on Sunday. He should make his Clippers debut in the next few days here, but boy, has he been impressive for the Aeros, where he first arrived in August 2010. Entering his outing on May 25 this year, he was 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA. He then had his worst outing of the season by far in allowing seven runs over five innings, but that just shows you how good he has been when a Jimenez-like performance raises his ERA by nearly a point. Following with a common theme among the top organization pitchers, McFarland doesn’t walk many batters at all. He’s been sensational — and probably a bit lucky — in clutch situations this year, forcing batters to go 0-for-17 with runners in scoring position and two outs. Again, he’s rather young and thus will likely be in Columbus for at least the next 12 months, but it’s great to see him moving on up in the system.
RHP Steven Wright, 8/30/1984, Hawaii, second round of 2006 MLB draft
AA Akron: 3-2, 1.87 ERA, 7 starts, 43.1 IP, 33 H, 18 BB, 38 K
Wright’s minor league tale is almost made for Hollywood. A second rounder out of Hawaii in 2006, he shot up fairly quickly in the system, earning a promotion to AA Akron in mid-2008 with an impressive five-pitch repertoire. By May 2009, he moved to the bullpen, and on the season in 36 appearances (five starts) for the Aeros, he finished 10-0 with a 2.48 ERA. But that’s where he stalled, as he proved to be ineffective the next season (4.78 combined ERA in 48 games) despite a couple of short promotions to AAA Columbus. The next offseason, he changed his game entirely. He was set to begin anew with A Lake County, and instead of mixing it up mostly with his four-seamer, two-seamer and slew of off-speed offerings, he’d now be a knuckleballer. It worked decently, and he posted a 4-8 record with a 4.58 ERA in 25 games (20 starts), moving up to Akron and Columbus again by the end of the season. This year, he’s finally got it all working again, dominating the Eastern League as a 27-year-old, and on the verge of returning to the Clippers again. He just returned off the DL Sunday, and let’s see what happens next.
LHP T.J. House, 9/29/1989, Picayune Memorial HS (MS), 16th round of 2008 MLB draft
AA Akron: 3-1, 3.30 ERA, 5 starts, 30.0 IP, 21 H, 10 BB, 27 K
High-A Carolina: 2-0, 1.44 ERA, 4 starts, 25.0 IP, 6 BB, 26 K
Back to the young side of things, this has been a huge comeback season for House. Another high school lefty, House struggled in his second year with the High-A Kinston Indians last season. He was just 6-12 (his third straight year of six wins and between 10-12 losses) with a 5.19 ERA, and his 89 K/66 BB ratio in 130.0 IP left a lot to be desired. He began in the Carolina League for a third straight year in 2012, but changed things around and quickly earned his first-ever promotion to AA Akron. He has continued his hot stretch there, showing that the Indians potentially were right to bank a lot of money to sign House away from a commitment to Tulane University for college ball. He’s not as tall as McFarland (6-foot-2 compared to 6-foot-5), so that’s how you’ll be able to tell the two T.J.’s apart in the future. They are hardly at all the same pitchers, but it’s pretty exciting to now see House finally making some progressions.
Jacob Rosen is a long-time contributor to WaitingForNextYear. He's also a writer online at SportsAnalyticsBlog and Nylon Calculus . An Akron native, Jacob is a current MBA student at the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. You can follow him on Twitter @WFNYJacob or e-mail him at udjrosen(at)gmail(dot)com.