Lee and Carmona are a given in the starting rotation next year (even if their performance is not). Beyond that we have Jeremy Sowers, Aaron Laffey, Anthony Reyes, Scott Lewis, Zach Jackson, and David Huff. All but Huff have major league experience and are already on the 40-man roster. Coming out of camp it is possible some combination of these pitchers will represent 60% of the Indians starting rotation. But which ones should make it? Who is the best guess to be successful? Here are some numbers to try and look at that question.
This second chart shows their rank-order in some of those categories at each level:
So what can we get out of these numbers?....
First, I think Laffey has the best single skill of anyone in this group in his ability to induce groundballs. It is something he has always done and kept up at the big league level. You can also appreciate how under the radar Laffey was as a prospect. I still think Laffey is the best bet in this group to be a successful major league pitcher. If he can have even marginal improvements in his K% and/or BB% at the major league level, he should/could be a very good major league pitcher.
Second, Reyes' numbers are a little hard to interpret because he has spent so much time going back and forth between AAA and the bigs. Prior to that, his brief stints in A+ and AA were dominating. Even at AAA Reyes was pretty studly (although so was everyone else here, for the most part). He has the best track record as a strikeout guy, although his numbers in that area have declined considerably at the big league level while his BB numbers have seen a similar decline. It's not reflected here, but he started inducing more groundballs last year. I don't know what has happened with Reyes in the bigs, but his numbers don't reflect his minor league performance. Either he has become a different pitcher or his stuff simply hasn't held up against better competition. Since he is out of options, he seems a good bet (and probably a worthwhile risk) to start the season on the staff. I'd give it a fair coin flip whether Carl Willis can straighten him out enough to turn him into an effective major league pitcher.
Like Reyes, Sowers was pretty much a stud in the minors (although with signs of decline in AAA) and a bust in the majors. Also like Reyes, Sowers has a reasonably long track record of not doing well in the bigs, dampening optimism for him. I honestly have no idea what it will take for Sowers to succeed. Fangraphs pitch data suggests Sowers was throwing considerably harder last year than in 2007, which I think is a good sign. I would like to see Sowers get another extended shot, but Sowers will clearly have to earn his way into that spot.
Zach Jackson looks to me like a lesser version of Laffey. Of all these players, he showed the most obvious decline with advancement (although he had some injury problems contributing to that as well). Of all these pitchers, I think I'm probably least excited by Jackson...but maybe hanging around Westbrook, Carmona, Laffey and Carl Willis will do good things for him.
Scott Lewis was a minor league stud, but his minor league numbers are biased towards lower level competition. The knock against him as a prospect was that his ability to strike guys out wouldn't hold up as he advanced and his ability to pound the strike zone would become a liability if he couldn't miss bats. His 4 starts for Cleveland are a miniscule sample size, but they are consistent with that scouting report as his K% dropped and HRs jumped considerably. I think if Lewis is in the rotation he has to be put on a pretty short leash. His numbers in the minors surely suggest he's earned a shot, but I'm skeptical about his long term prospects.
Huff looks like a stud. Unlike Lewis he showed an improvement last year as he advanced. Hopefully he won't have as many problems as the rest of this list in transitioning to the majors. Cleveland can afford to wait on him if they want to, which is a luxury, and given the options in front of him I think Huff would have to look like a total stud in the Spring to earn a rotation spot at the start of the season.
So, my order of preference for the rotation next year is:
Laffey > Reyes > Sowers > Lewis > Jackson with Huff slotting in depending on the success/failures of the others and his own level of dominance.