Mid-Season Prospect Report: Pitching

The 4th of July has come and gone which means it is more than time to provide an overview of how the Indians minor league system has fared to date.  The Indians entered the 2010 season with a very strong, very deep talent pool, with a lot of the high-end talent thought to lie in pitching (check here for a recap of the system at the beginning of the season).  The quick answer to how the Indians system has fared this season is that the hitters have done well and the pitchers have done poorly. The disparity in performance between pitchers and hitters is especially noticeable on the high end of the prospect list, as most of the hitters that matter have done pretty well, while most of the high-end pitchers have struggled in one way or another (or several).  I'll start the recap here with the bad (the pitchers), and then follow up in a second post with the good (the hitters) and a few summary thoughts.  N.B. this is really long.

PITCHING

Coming into the season the Indians had a huge list of pitching depth in the minors: H Rondon, C Carrasco, J Todd, J Gomez, A Perez, N Hagadone, J Knapp, TJ House, K De La Cruz, S Barnes, C Graham, B Price, M Talbot, Y Pino, E Berger, C Cook, F Jimenez, P Espino and J Mahalic.  Every single one of those guys was worth paying attention to, and that list doesn't even include 2009 draftees like 1st round pick Alex White or 3rd rounder Joe Gardner (more on them later).  As always, injuries have taken their share, but poor performance has been the larger problem.

Columbus

Charles Nagy (AAA pitching coach) has had a lot of talent at his disposal on the Clippers pitching staff.  The results have not been pretty. 

Hector Rondon: Rondon's season was mercifully cut short by injury after just 7 starts. Arguably the Indians top prospect entering the season, Rondon managed to give up more HRs (12) in his 31 innings this season than he surrendered in all the 146 innings he pitched last year (11).  An astonishing 18% of the flyballs Rondon allowed went for HRs.  This has not, historically, been Rondon's problem.  The source of his struggles, if they weren't directly related to his injury (UCL strain), are somewhat mysterious as his peripheral numbers were pretty much in line with past performance (21.7 K%, 6.6 BB%).  Whatever the cause, Rondon's performance and injury are both significant setbacks for him and the organization.

Carlos Carrasco: Carrasco has not been felled by injury, but does continue to be plagued by opposing batters periodically teeing off on him.  In his 96 innings he has already allowed 15 HRs to go along with 24 2Bs and 3 3Bs.  Huntington Park does seem to be playing a role with some of these HR numbers, but Carrasco has an undeniable problem, whether it be focus on the mound or consistency in his stuff.  Carrasco has not been helped by his lowest K-rate (19.6%) in three years.  On the whole Carrasco's season has been disappointing and at some point he needs to show on a more regular basis outings like he had on June 9th against Rochester (8IP, 3H, 0R, 1BB, 9K).

Jeanmar Gomez: The Indians 2009 breakout pitcher has not done well in his AAA debut.  Gomez's breakout last year was marked by a decrease in his GB% (in 2008 he was one of the highest GB pitchers in the system) and an accompanying spike in K% and decline in BB%.  In short, he seemed to be transforming into a more standard successful pitcher prototype.  2010 has seen Gomez hold onto the lesser part of this transition, the decline in GBs (44%), while falling off drastically in his K-rate (14.9%) and his control (9%).  Not a good path to success.

Yohan Pino: The Columbus pattern holds for Pino - more walks (5.5>8.2%), fewer Ks (24.0>17.7%), and a lot of HRs (8% of FBs).  Lesser pure stuff than the guys above him, Pino, more than anyone, needs to minimize BBs and HRs to be successful.  In a year in which he might very well have gotten a chance to audition for a major league starting role, Pino has fallen considerably short.

Josh Tomlin: The least valued guy in this group, Tomlin has had far and away the best season.  Although, it does not take much to see Tomlin's .239 BABIP and be suspicious.  Your suspicion might rise if you see that he too has seen a decline in his K-rate (20.8>17.6%) and an increase in his walks (4.5>8.0%).  Tomlin's success is also connected with his avoidance of the HR, "only" 8 allowed, relative to his peers.  Tomlin's season has without question been good and raised his chances of appearing in Cleveland, but it is not as good as it looks.

The Bullpen Bunch: Unlike the starters, the Clippers bullpen has done quite well.  Jess Todd didn't do what he needed to earn a spot in Goodyear and got out of the gate slowly in April, but has been strong for two months now.  In his 28 appearances since May 1 he has 28Ks against just 3BBs.  Frank Herrmann, now in Cleveland, has been the Josh Tomlin of the group.  Although his K-rate hasn't gone up since his move to the bullpen, his fastball has ticked up a notch or two as is evident from his performance in Cleveland.  Josh Judy and Vinnie Pestano have also both performed well.  The newest addition to this bullpen is Bryce Stowell, who began the season in Kinston but has been obliterating hitters all season long.  He has a power arm and has certainly raised his stock more than any other reliever in the system.

Akron

Alex White: 2009 top pick Alex White was listed by Baseball America as one of the top 50 prospects in baseball in their recent midseason report.  After showcasing 8 successful starts in Kinston, Alex moved up to Akron and has not slowed down in 9 starts since.  His success in Akron has included a disturbing decline in Ks though (22.4% in Kinston, 13.2% in Akron), something which has not hurt him yet but something we should hope improves in the second half.

Scott Barnes: Nobody Barnes has been hit or miss this season.  On the whole there is a lot to like in the 22-year old lefty, but he has had the tendency this year to string together starts that are awesome (June 9th, 7IP 2H 0R 0BB 10K) with starts that are dreadful (June 26th, 4IP 8H 9R 4BB 2K).

Kelvin De La Cruz: Coming off of a lost season due to injury, it is tempting to give De La Cruz a pass.  But wouldn't it be nicer if we didn't have to?  Kelvin's control simply hasn't been there so far, allowing nearly as many BBs (15.0%) as Ks (16.9%).

Eric Berger: One of those guys in the "just hanging around and doing well" category, Berger hasn't done particularly well in 2010.  Berger's always somewhat high BB-rate has jumped to an unacceptably high 14.6% this season.

Zach Putnam: The yo-yo between rotation and bullpen continues for Putnam.  Batters hit him a bit too well as a starter and after 7 starts he moved back to the pen.  With a short DL trip in the middle, Putnam has done pretty well out of the pen.  Still a guy to watch.

Paolo Espino: One of the beneficiaries of Putnams departure from the rotation, Espino has performed well for Akron.  He appears to be getting lucky, but this is the second consecutive season he has had a significantly depressed BABIP, which might be a reflection of how he pitches and not luck.  Not exciting, but somwhere in between the Berger/Putnam nexis.

Nick Hagadone: Scouts still drool over his stuff, he still racks up Ks, but he walks a ton of guys and uses a ton of pitches in the process.  Still seems destined for the bullpen given his inefficiencies.  Also a good example of why rate numbers for Ks (K/PA) are better than K/IP numbers.  In Akron he has 9.4 K/9...not too bad.  But he faces more batters than most given his atrocious BB-rate (7/9 IP).  His K-rate, 22.2% in Akron, is still ok - but it is really just "ok".

The bullpen bunch: The strong Akron bullpen performers have been CC Lee and Bryan Price.  Both of these guys are doing a great job of racking up Ks while minimizing damage out of the pen.  Connor Graham is at the opposite end of this spectrum.  Still trying to figure out how to be "effectively wild," July is the first month Graham has recorded more Ks (4) than BBs (3).

Kinston

Joseph Gardner: The most impressive, and perhaps surprising, pitching performance in the system.  Across two levels (A and A+) Gardner has put up outstanding GB number (>65%) while gettting great K numbers (>25%).  When a huge percentage of the guys are either striking out or pounding the ball into the ground you are going to have a lot of success.  How good a prospect he is depends on his ability to maintain those results as he progressed up the system.

TJ House: House has kind of been forgotten this season.  His walks have climbed up a bit and his numbers still aren't dominating, but he is still just 20 and holding his own at high-A.  A quietly good year for him.

TJ McFarland: Even more under the radar, this TJ is having his best pro season.  The latest in Cleveland's long line of control/groundball pitchers, McFarland has effectively combined the two this season (63% GB, 5.7% BB).

Joey Mahalic: The original Aaron Laffey 2.0, coming off an injury lost 2009 Mahalic has the GBs working (64%) but like Kelvin is struggling with his control on the way back.  Like McFarland, just 21.  Still worth tracking on the periphery.

Alexander Perez: Over almost before it began, Perez is headed for TJ-surgery.  Sad, but he should be back.

Austin Adams and Brett Brach: Two guys recently promoted to Kinston, these 2009 draftees could be making names for themselves.  Adams, in particular, has a huge arm and fantastic strikeout numbers.  That 2009 draft really is looking pretty nice.

The bullpen bunch: Rob Bryson (remember him) was off to a fantastic start but has been sidelined since mid-June.  Hopefully he'll bounce back.  Santo Frias, another once interesting arm, also went down early to injury.  Cory Burns, Chris Jones and Marty Popham have all done well out of the pen (Popham has just been promoted and made some starts).

The Lower Realms....

Trey Haley: Haley has shown glimpses of control and his potential, but lately he has fallen back into his no control self. Still young, but not getting younger.

Clayton Cook: Even younger than Haley, but actually has great control.  Doesn't have great K-numbers and scouts question his stuff, but worth following.

Matt Packer: One of the more recent additions to Lake County's rotation, Packer has been sensational, surrendering just 9 walks so far on the season.

Vidal Nuno: Like Packer, a recent addition and 2009 draftee.  The 1445th pick in last year's draft, Nuno continues to defy expectations with very strong numbers (28.7 K%, 3.2 BB%).

Felix Sterling: If you really want to dig deep in the system, look no further then just turned 17-year old Sterling.  The Dominican right-hander is pitching in Arizona and has wonderful K numbers in the early going.

Bullpen bunch: Tyler Sturdevant, Preston Guilmet, Jose Flores and Jeremy Johnson all have put up outstanding numbers.

Summary:

The top ranks of the Indians pitchers have flailed badly.  A devastating combination of poor control and a tendency to surrender an uncomfortable number of HRs seems to have descended on this group like a plague.  There are exceptions of course, and the bullpen work has generally been better.  But this has not been a good group.  The Indians minor league coaching system had a fair amount of transition this past off-season and I hope the team is keeping track and evaluating some of the people in new roles. 

That said, the discouraging performances at AA and AAA are offset somewhat by positive surprises in Cleveland (Carmona and Talbot).  We don't need all of these guys to succeed, we need enough of them to succeed.  Pitching is about timing and attrition

The success in the low end of the minors is nice, but doesn't it always seem like there are guys who dominate the low minors?  But the lower bunch does speak again to the possibility of improved drafting in recent seasons.  Hopefully the second half will be better across the board, including the return of top prospect Jason Knapp.

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