As part of our coverage leading up to the 2014 MLB draft (which takes place in three weeks), we'll be looking at the organizational depth at each position/group of positions. Today, a look at pitching...
Pitching depth has been very much top of mind around these parts. The Indians have already gone to a sixth starter on the MLB roster, bringing up Josh Tomlin, and Trevor Bauer is doing his best to force his way into the rotation, as well. But looking at draft implications, we need to look at who is here, who is staying, and who is on their way.
At the top of the rotation, Justin Masterson's contract status has been a topic of much debate. Coming off a stellar 2013, Masterson is set to be a free agent after the season and seemed to have offered a relatively team-friendly deal before the year. The front office passed, and now Masterson is struggling, with an ERA north of 4 (although his FIP is just 3.69). He seems to want to be in Cleveland, and the Indians presumably want him to stay (if the price is right). Once you add the almost sure-fire Qualifying Offer into the mix, there's a good chance Masterson is back in 2015, but it is not guaranteed.
While Masterson may be gone, the best pitcher in the rotation thus far has been Corey Kluber, and he isn't going anywhere. Kluber has posted a 3.48 ERA and has actually pitched even better than that shows. The 28-year-old won't even hit arbitration for two seasons, meaning the Indians can pencil him into the rotation through 2018. Nice to have that spot locked up.
The young gun of the rotation (at least until Bauer gets in the mix) is Danny Salazar, who has looked much better over his last three starts than he did out of the gate. Salazar should join Kluber in the ranks of the arbitration eligible for the 2017 season and therefore would be under team control through 2018, as well.
Zach McAllister is a year younger than Kluber, but will reach free agency at the same time (although he is projected to get one extra year of arbitration in there, so he may be a bit more expensive). His performance, while solid, does not create the same confidence as that of Kluber or a healthy Salazar. Ideally, the Indians don't need McAllister through 2018, but as a back-of-the-rotation option, he'll be nice to have around.
The newest addition to the rotation is Josh Tomlin, but - other than Masterson - Tomlin's stay could be the shortest lived, as he is set to hit free agency after the 2016 season. Like McAllister, Tomlin is better suited to a back of the rotation/depth role, but that has a lot of value.
We may never see him get another start in Cleveland, but it is worth mentioning that Carlos Carrasco is under team control through the 2017 season. At this rate, he'll likely get DFA'ed well before then, but as long as he is in the organization, he is worth keeping in mind.
You already know where I am starting - Trevor Bauer is undeniably the top pitching prospect in the organization, and will likely be impacting the Indians rotation before the summer is up. Assuming he comes up and sticks, he'll likely hit free agency after the 2019 season.
Cody Anderson struggled in his first taste of AA last year, and 2014 isn't off to a much better start. A solid top-10 prospect in the organization, Anderson profiles as an innings eater (it would be great if he turned into McAllister). He's likely at least a year away from Cleveland, and depending on when he comes up, will probably be under team control through 2020 or 2021.
Depending who you ask, Dace Kime is headed towards either the bullpen or a back-of-the-rotation role. He's only in A-ball (and not pitching particularly well just yet), so he is a ways away. If Kluber, Salazar, and Bauer are at the top of the 2017 rotation, with McAllister in the #4 slot, Kime and Anderson may be the guys fighting to fill it out, if nothing else changes.
Mitch Brown is another guy in Single-A and another guy who is struggling. But the potential is there if he can harness his stuff and cut down on the walks. Some scouts think he can be a back of the rotation guy, others think he has middle relief in his future.
Another very young kid, Sean Brady, was impressive last year, but has yet to pitch this year. He could sneak up to a mid-rotation projection, but he's also still only a teenager.
The first guy on our list to profile purely a reliever is Austin Adams, currently pitching out of the pen in Columbus and having mixed results, showing improved control, but a drop in strikeouts, and unimpressive numbers overall. He could be up this year, meaning he'd be on about the same timeline as Bauer, but as a reliever.
There is no one on this list I am pulling for harder than Kieran Lovegrove, just because that is such an awesome name. He hasn't advanced past rookie ball and at 19-years-old, is far more project than prospect. Not someone you count on as much as dream on.
Last, but not least, another guy who could be up later this year: Kyle Crockett. The deceptive lefty has been pitching out of the pen since college and has that dream combination of swing-and-miss stuff with pinpoint control. He's in Akron, but AA hitters better get their licks in soon, because he'll be headed to Columbus and perhaps Cleveland in short order. He'll join current MLB relievers Cody Allen and CC Lee as the future of the pen in Cleveland.
Outside of Kluber, Salazar and Bauer, there isn't a lot of front-of-the-rotation potential in the system, but a solid amount of depth. And that is not bad - three top end starters and solid depth behind them, plus a free agent or two and you have a decent rotation. But don't be surprised if the Indians look to add an elite arm in the draft, giving the system an injection of future potential with Salazar and likely Bauer graduating to the show.