Indians 2013 in Review: Danny Salazar goes from prospect to Wild Card Game starter

Catch it if you can. - Jason Miller

Danny Salazar went from a prospect way down the depth chart to Wild Card game starter in the span of one season.

Danny Salazar

Right-Handed starting pitcher

Age: 23

Acquired: amateur free agent, 7-3-2006

2013 Salary: ~$500,000 (split contract)

2014 Contract Status: Pre-arbitration (< 1.00 service time)

Last winter Terry Francona went to the Dominican Republic to see Ubaldo Jimenez, and while that set the stage for great things as far as Ubaldo was concerned, another pitcher caught his eye as well:

He and pitching coach Mickey Callaway had gone to Cleveland's academy on the island to meet with pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, but he was quickly blown away by the young pitcher playing catch with Jimenez.

"I went up to Mickey, and I was like, 'Who is that guy?'" Francona recalled.

"You're going to love him," Callaway replied.

Callaway was prophetic, as Salazar had one of the great breakout seasons in recent Cleveland memory. When the season started he was on the depth chart, but behind guys like Carlos Carrasco, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Trevor Bauer, in other words perhaps fourth or fifth in line in case of injury or ineffectiveness. But because of his performance in Akron and Columbus and others ahead of him faltering, he made his MLB debut in early July and joined the rotation on a full-time basis in August. And not only did he join the team, but was one of the main reasons why the Indians made the playoffs.

2013 in Review Hub: Your destination for Let's Go Tribe's look at key prospects and players from the Indians in 2013

Salazar wasn't a heralded signing by the Indians. He threw fairly hard for his age, but his slight build tended to pigeon-hole him into a future relief role. But as he matured. his stuff improved, and a starting role became a possibility. He made his US debut in the Indians' Gulf Coast League affiliate in 2008 (they were still in Winter Haven), and jumped to Lake County as a 19-year-old in 2009. The following year he developed elbow soreness, and that eventually led to Tommy John surgery in August. He almost all of 2011 recovering from the surgery, and a so when he returned to the mound in 2012 the Indians put him on a very strict pitch count. That monitoring continued in 2013 when he started in Akron.

Salazar came out of the Tommy John surgery with better velocity to the point where his fastball was sitting in the upper 90s. And it was an effortless delivery, with the ball jumping out of his hand. Despite only having really two pitches, he was dominating pitchers in the upper minors: in 33.2 innings in Akron, he struck out 51 and allowed just 27 hits, and he was even better in Columbus (59.1 innings, 44 hits, 78 strikeouts). And he was very efficient to boot, walking only 24 batters in 93.0 minor-league innings. The Indians called him up for a spot start on July 11th against Toronto, and he was extremely impressive. He made his second start against the Detroit Tigers on August 7th, pitched very well again in a high-pressure situation, and would remain in the rotation the rest of the way.

Danny Salazar will be a part of the Indians rotation next season, but he'll have some things to work on. He does need to develop a better feel for his breaking ball so opposing hitters have something else to think about at the plate. His location could be refined a bit. But man, with the stuff he has, those are minor quibbles. With essentially two pitches, he did this to major-league lineups:

*A lot of pitchers have said that it's not the surgery that makes them throw harder, but all the strengthening exercises they do as part of rehab.

Year Age Tm Lg ERA GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2007 17 CLE-min FRk 1.96 14 64.1 52 14 1 12 49 7.3 0.1 1.7 6.9 4.08
2008 18 CLE-min Rk 2.87 11 53.1 46 17 5 13 43 7.8 0.8 2.2 7.3 3.31
2009 19 CLE-min A 4.44 20 107.1 114 53 10 40 65 9.6 0.8 3.4 5.5 1.63
2010 20 CLE-min A 4.45 7 32.1 34 16 7 13 23 9.5 1.9 3.6 6.4 1.77
2011 21 CLE-min A,Rk 3.07 8 14.2 14 5 1 4 18 8.6 0.6 2.5 11.0 4.50
2012 22 CLE-min A+,AA 2.36 22 87.2 71 23 4 27 76 7.3 0.4 2.8 7.8 2.81
2013 23 CLE-min AAA,AA 2.71 20 93.0 71 28 5 24 129 6.9 0.5 2.3 12.5 5.38
2013 23 CLE AL 3.12 10 52.0 44 18 7 15 65 121 7.6 1.2 2.6 11.3 4.33
1 Yr 3.12 10 52.0 44 18 7 15 65 121 7.6 1.2 2.6 11.3 4.33
162 Game Avg. 3.12 34 177 150 61 24 51 221 121 7.6 1.2 2.6 11.3 4.33
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 11/1/2013.

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