When you cheer for a team that makes a habit of breaking your heart, bit players rarely become heroes. For a team that makes the playoffs nearly every season, there's ample opportunity for transient players to make an imprint on fans; for a team like the Indians, these transient guys become useful mostly for identifying the truly hardcore. Many people will tell you they cheer for the Indians, and all those people are willing to talk Jim Thome. In the spirit of the 2012 Indians, a team that features Chris Seddon and Corey Kluber, for pete's sake, how many of us remember Brian Slocum?
The Tribe drafted Brian Slocum 63rd in the 2002 Draft — he was the team's fourth pick behind Jeremy Guthrie, Matt Whitney, and Micah Schilling. Guthrie has sneakily become one of the better Indians draft picks of the last decade if evaluated on total performance (as opposed to performance for the Indians) and he was certainly the best pick of that Indians draft. The other major leaguers selected by the Tribe were Ben Francisco, Jensen Lewis, and Slocum.
Slocum came to the Indians from Villanova University, a school that's produced very, very few major leaguers in its long history. In 2009, Kevin Goldstein pointed out that then Twins prospect Kevin Mulvey was battling with Slocum to see who would deliver the university's first ever major league win. To this point, it's been a draw and Villanova's composite major league record is 0-7, compiled by Mulvey and Rafael Nova (Slocum never had a decision in his brief major league career).
Slocum's drafting predates the internet prospect boom, so it's difficult to tell exactly how he was regarded. He had missed most of his sophomore season with an injury, but he pitched well as a junior and Baseball America had him ranked a the 40th best prospect in the draft. If the Indians took him as a second-round pick today, the immediate reaction would likely be positive, with the hope being that he could reach the majors quickly.
21 when he was drafted, Slocum reported to Mahoning Valley and had a nice professional debut before beginning a long slog through the Indians' full-season teams. Slocum spent all of 2003 and 2004 in Kinston, 2005 in Akron, and then finally reached Buffalo in 2006, at age 25. All up the ladder, he was a solid but unimpressive pitcher.
Still, being unimpressive isn't the same as being useless, especially when you remain average all the way up the ladder. Slocum's average-seeming 2006 in Buffalo was rewarded with some big league time that season. Slocum made his major league debut in mop-up relief against the Royals in mid-April (seems like an appropriate metaphor for this sort of career), and he did little to show he belonged on the big league roster. The Indians hung with him for a couple of weeks though, and he managed to throw up some zeroes over his next two appearances out of the 'pen, including recording his first major league strikeout against Brad Wilkerson. When he entered a bad Cliff Lee start against the White Sox and threw more gas on the fire, it seems the Indians had seen enough and they sent Slocum back to Buffalo.
At that point, the Indians were 13-13 and already trailing in the Division by 5.5 games; 2005 had been heralded as the arrival of a new contending team in Cleveland, but panic was already setting in by May of 2006. The Indians would leave that month 8.5 back after seeing Victor Martinez OPS just 422 in the month and with Jhonny Peralta, a surprise MVP candidate in 2005, already showing signs that he wasn't nearly as "core" as Indians fans had wanted to believe.
For his part, Slocum felt good about being on the organization's radar (young Castrovince alert), had had a strong start in AAA, and he went back to Buffalo and kept working; it looks like he moved between the Buffalo bullpen and rotation, and when he returned to the Indians when rosters expanded, he filled both roles. Initially, he made two more relief appearances (one horrific, one scoreless), before getting two starts to end the year. His numbers across those starts were actually fine: 10 IP, seven strikeouts, and three walks. His best major league appearance was his final one of the 2006 season, and this positive impression, along with his nice year in Buffalo, kept us hoping that he might end up as a decent back of the rotation piece. In the offseason prior to 2007, Jay wrote:
Meanwhile, back at the Jake, LWB is looking more expendable than ever, particularly to those with an eye on the Indians farm system. By the end of 2006, a bunch of young pitchers had pushed themselves into the Indians' long-term plans. Carmona has one foot in the majors already, and Slocum and Miller are poised to contribute as early as this year; all three are serious candidates for the 2008 rotation. Martin, Lofgren and the Lewis Brothers are right behind those guys.
LWB, if you don't recall, was the shorthand for Lee/Westbrook/Byrd, then viewed as the back of the rotation and potential trade chips to address deficiencies elsewhere on the Indians roster (for instance, first base or the a corner outfield spot — sorry, I just passed out. What are we talking about?). This was Slocum's chance to be a major leaguer: had he pitched well in Spring Training or AAA, he may have been able to latch onto the Indians roster as a swingman or fifth starter and, with a string of decent appearances, he may have turned himself into the kind of player that hangs around the fringes of the majors for a decade, working towards a pension and pitching in the backend of terrible team's rotations.
Unfortunately, that's not what happened. Slocum was hurt for most of the 2007 season, accumulated only 26 innings total, and was leapfrogged by a number of players who did pitch for the 2007 Indians: Rafael Perez, Tom Mastny, and Aaron Laffey, to name three. Laffey is probably the absolute best case scenario for players of his ilk and it's not that difficult to imagine that a healthy Slocum could've ended up with some version of Laffey's career (although you might argue vehemently that Laffey, a lefty with a much younger debut, is a much more talented player. If you argue vehemently about that, I'll probably just nod and try to get you to stop talking).
With 2007 a wash, Slocum had gone from "poised to contribute" to just another player in a very big pile. Jay pithily captured the plight of this kind of pitcher well prior to 2008 when he tagged Slocum a prospect "Too Old To Matter":
Slocum kept working in Buffalo and started the 2008 season well, well enough for Adam to consider that he might have actual trade value when 2008 went the way of 2006 and we suddenly were left considering what the trade value was of anyone or anything associated with the club. Adam was probably being optimistic, and the 27 year-old continued to shift between the bullpen and rotation for the AAA club, finding less success in both roles as the season wore on. Guessing from his line, it also looks like injuries were limiting his innings. He did make it back to the Tribe for two early July mop-up appearances. Both were unsuccessful. At the end of the 2008 season, after six years in the Indians system, Slocum was granted free agency. He was scooped up by the Indianapolis Indians, the Pirates AAA affiliate, but pitched very little for the team and has not made the majors since.
Success and failure for a major league pitcher is, as the cliche goes, separated by a razor thin margin. Sometimes understated in the cliche, though, is how the pitcher's actual performance isn't the only factor that matters. Many pitchers could probably, with a bit of luck, perform well enough to hang around as the last guy in a bad bullpen or rotation; the trick, for many, is being healthy and effective when the opportunity arises. The difference between the career of guy like Slocum and one like Mastny isn't that immense in terms of value to the club, but it is immense in terms of value to the player and his family. And, at the end of the day, would you obviously pick Mastny instead of Slocum if you had to get a single batter out?
|162 Game Avg.||0||0||7.78||57||11||6||112||198||96||96||28||51||68||11||11||567||59||2.237||16.0||2.3||4.1||5.5||1.33|
|AAA (4 seasons)||AAA||12||15||.444||4.06||81||31||18||0||0||4||237.1||212||119||107||21||114||228||1.374||8.0||0.8||4.3||8.6||2.00|
|A+ (2 seasons)||A+||21||13||.618||4.39||47||46||1||2||2||1||242.0||248||127||118||20||82||168||1.364||9.2||0.7||3.0||6.2||2.05|
|AA (1 season)||AA||7||5||.583||4.40||21||18||2||1||0||0||102.1||98||52||50||9||36||95||1.309||8.6||0.8||3.2||8.4||2.64|
|A- (1 season)||A-||5||2||.714||2.60||11||11||0||0||0||0||55.1||47||19||16||1||14||48||1.102||7.6||0.2||2.3||7.8||3.43|
|Ind (1 season)||Ind||4||4||.500||4.08||15||14||1||1||0||0||81.2||83||43||37||10||25||51||1.322||9.1||1.1||2.8||5.6||2.04|