Indians to watch in 2014: Danny Salazar

Danny Salazar - David Maxwell

With a new year upon us, we take a look at some of the Tribe players who are breakout candidates for 2014, beginning with 23 year-old flamethrower Danny Salazar.

It's fair to say Danny Salazar had a pretty impressive rookie season. The 23 year-old Dominican right-hander rose through the ranks at a rapid pace to become one of the Tribe's most exciting pitchers. He impressed us all with his devastating fastball, striking out batters at a higher rate than any starting pitcher in franchise history (min. 50 IP). In his 56 innings in an Indians uniform (including the Wild Card Game), Salazar showed enough of his talent on the big stage to get Tribe fans all kinds of excited about his future.

Salazar began 2013 as Baseball Prospectus's 6th ranked prospect in the Indians organisation, and ranked 11th on Minor League Ball's list. He opened the season at AA Akron before quickly rising to AAA Columbus. Danny enjoyed a successful stint with the Clippers, well enough to earn his Major League debut at home against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 11th. Over 6 strong innings, Salazar out-dueled R.A. Dickey (the reigning NL Cy Young winner) for his first MLB victory, surrendering just 2 hits, 1 run, and 1 walk, with 7 strikeouts. A fine afternoon's work by all standards.

It was a superb start to his career, enough to earn a recall to the big league club in early August, and he played an important role in the Tribe's push for the postseason. Salazar made nine more starts during August and September, seamlessly slotting into the rotation. Despite being placed on a strict innings-limit that often saw him forced out of games earlier than most fans would have liked, Salazar brought a degree of energy in each of his starts that really helped propel the Indians.

So successful was Salazar that when the Tribe made the postseason, it was young Danny who inherited the responsibility of taking the mound against the Tampa Bay Rays in Cleveland's first playoff game since 2007. It felt strange to place a season's worth of hopes and hard work in the relatively unproven hands of a rookie pitcher who'd only been with the club a couple months. If the pressure and responsibility weighed heavily upon Salazar, you couldn't tell from his electrifying start to the game. He cruised through the first 2 innings, striking out Wil Myers, James Loney, and Evan Longoria as the home crowd roared their approval. Salazar's level of calm and poise in that atmosphere was extraordinary.

Unfortunately the good times didn't last as Salazar came undone in the 3rd and 4th innings. However, for a young pitcher in his first Major League season, making his first playoff start in a high-stakes elimination game, it was a valiant effort to say the least. Those first couple of innings captured people's attention, effectively putting Salazar on the map as a player to watch in the future.

Which is exactly where we find Danny today. Predictions this time last year saw him as a relief pitcher. Now Salazar is featured to be a prominent member of the Indians rotation and a future ace if we're really lucky. He has the tools to do it. That high 90s fastball is damn near un-hittable and Salazar's slider is developing nicely as well. If he can bring his changeup to a similar level, Salazar has the makings of an elite pitcher who could potentially dominate in Cleveland for years to come. An enticing proposition, no?

2014 is set to be an exciting year for Salazar. After whetting our appetites over the course of 10 big league starts and an intense playoff game, the anticipation ahead of the new season is at fever pitch as far as Salazar is concerned. Terry Francona, Mickey Callaway, and the rest of the organisation clearly have an enormous amount of faith and belief in the young pitcher's abilities. Now Salazar has an entire season to showcase his remarkable talents and realize his enormous potential.

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