Huff Is Running Out of Options in Cleveland
During Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and examine the coaches and players that make up and are vying to be part of the 2013 Cleveland Indians—A Team With A New Direction. Today, we examine one of the players on the 40-man roster that is in a roster battle to earn a spot on the 25-man roster.
By Bob Toth
Pitcher David Huff is simply running out of time and running out of options with the Cleveland Indians organization.
Huff was selected 39th overall by the Indians back in the 2006 First Year Player Draft. By May of 2009, the young left-hander got his big league call-up and impressed over 23 starts. But in each of the last three seasons, Huff’s numbers have not been sufficient to lock down a consistent spot in the Indians rotation.
Now, with time against him, the 28-year-old could become a casualty of the numbers game in Cleveland as he fights as a long shot with several other pitchers for a position in the back end of the starting rotation or even as a long man or left-handed arm out of the bullpen. If he is unable to make the Opening Day roster, he must clear waivers before being sent to the minor leagues.
When the 2012 season ended, Huff had surprisingly played himself into some consideration as a fifth starter or long reliever in the bullpen after a solid month of September with the Tribe. He initially worked in relief after his recall to help aid a starting rotation taxed by an awful month of August while he worked on his mechanics. His first two appearances came in relief of former Indians starter Jeanmar Gomez. In each outing, he shut down the opposition after the ineffective Gomez was unable to pitch into the middle of the ballgame without giving up a handful of runs. Between the two relief appearances, Huff struck out eight batters over six innings and gave up just four base runners (one walk, three hits). The last four strikeouts all came swinging.
After replacing Gomez in the rotation, Huff made four more starts. He lasted into the fifth inning in each start but allowed three earned runs in three of the four games. In the season finale 9-0 loss against the Chicago White Sox, he was hit hard, giving up three home runs and nine total hits in four and two-thirds innings. Seven runs would score off of him, but just three were earned.
Huff finished the season in Cleveland with a 3-1 record and a 3.38 ERA in six outings for the major league club.
Huff’s call up was unexpected by many fans because he did not necessarily impress throughout his five months of the season at Triple-A Columbus. When he was called up to Cleveland, he had just completed a 7-6 season with a 4.97 ERA. He made a total of 22 starts for the Clippers and threw two complete games, including a shutout. He had done much better to control his walks, averaging 2.3 walks per nine innings there, but he gave up 27 home runs in 134 innings and struck out batters at a rate nearly one full strikeout less than he did at the major league level.
“I got hurt in Spring Training and really didn’t pitch well at Triple-A until the month of August; I almost was off the radar,” Huff said September 12 after his second relief appearance of the season. “I’m trying to get back on the radar for them. I’m out of options after this year. So I’m either going to be playing for these guys or I’ll be somewhere else.”
After being named the Indians’ 2008 Minor League Player of the Year (the Lou Boudreau Award), Huff quickly found himself in the mix for the major league rotation in 2009 after starting the Columbus season with a 5-1 record in seven starts. After his rookie promotion in mid-May, he led the Indians pitching staff with eleven wins and made the second-most starts on the team with 23. He tallied the second-most innings pitched on the season behind Cliff Lee. His earned run average, though, left something to be desired as he was second-worst amongst Cleveland’s regular starters with a 5.61 ERA.
In 2010, he started the season in the rotation for the Indians, but after an abysmal 2-9 start with a 6.04 ERA and a .310 batting average against him, he was demoted. He allowed two earned runs or less in just three of his first 13 starts. He was recalled from Columbus on August 3, 2010, and would make just two more starts, allowing eight earned runs (7.45 ERA) and a .310 batting average. He was demoted back to Columbus and his season was over with a 2-11 final tally and a 6.21 ERA for the year.
At Columbus on the season, he was quite the opposite, posting an 8-2 record with a 4.36 ERA in twelve starts.
At the end of Spring Training in 2011, Huff was optioned to Columbus. He was recalled in mid-July to replace Gomez in the rotation after Huff posted a 9-3 record and a 3.87 ERA in Triple-A in 18 starts. He would make ten starts and eleven total appearances for the Indians and initially looked good, allowing just one earned run over his first four games (0.51 ERA) and a .209 batting average against him. He followed up a shelling against the Tigers on August 20th with a win, not allowing a run on three hits in six innings of work over the A’s. But following that victory, he lost four of his final five starts, allowing 17 earned runs (6.20 ERA) in 24 2/3 innings while giving up five home runs and a .309 batting average.
He finished his half-season with Cleveland with a 2-6 record and a 4.09 ERA in those eleven major league games.
Huff has now spent parts of each of the last five years pitching for Triple-A affiliates for the Indians after what was a fairly quick ascent through the minor leagues. He pitched just four games for short-season Mahoning Valley, eleven games in Single-A at Kinston, and twelve games at Double-A Akron in 2008 and again last season.
Complicating Huff’s pursuit of a spot on the 25-man roster is the number of players fighting to claim a role on the pitching staff.
The potential internal options for the final rotation spots were already plentiful before the team brought in formerly successful starting pitchers Scott Kazmir and Daisuke Matsuzaka on minor league contracts with Spring Training invites. The left-handed Kazmir is the only other southpaw in the mix in an otherwise right-handed dominated rotation mix.
The internal options, including Zach McAllister, Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber, and Trevor Bauer, have all had varying degrees of success in the big leagues. The fourth spot in the rotation is thought to be McAllister’s to lose. Carrasco had looked good prior to undergoing Tommy John surgery. Kluber got his taste of the big leagues as a starter last year, making twelve starts and finishing 2-5 on the season. Bauer may have the highest ceiling of the bunch, but was also rushed through the Arizona farm system after being drafted third in 2011 and may see more time in the minor leagues prior to joining the Indians.
Lefties Nick Hagadone and Scott Barnes both saw opportunities in the bullpen last season and are in the mix, but neither of them did enough to secure a spot for this season. There is a presumed depth on the right side of the mound and some legitimate competition there, but manager Terry Francona has said previously that he wants the best pitchers on his pitching staff, regardless of what arm they throw with.
Huff has unusual splits for a left-handed pitcher. Lefties hit him for a better average (.316) than right-handers hitters do (.286), which could work against him in an attempt to be used as a regular lefty out of the bullpen.
Many of the bullpen options have not seen significant time in long relief, so if Huff can show a proficiency in that spot, he may be able to sneak onto the staff as a long man and spot starter. Considering April showers and the possibility of the team needing a replacement for Carrasco’s suspension in the event he makes the rotation, the Indians may need an option for the long reliever role, at least temporarily.
Huff’s career numbers also show that the opposition’s offensive production steadily increases when getting multiple at bats in a game against him. If the team is able to limit the opposing roster to just one or two at bats against him, they may be able to increase his contribution to the staff.
Huff may be another in a long line of Indians’ pitching prospects who is able to find success at Triple-A, but is unable to translate his game to major league quality hitters on a consistent basis. Over the last ten years, several left-handed starters have struggled in much the same way as Huff has to latch on to a big league spot and many instead have been forced to try to claim a position as a specialist or long reliever.
Former teammates Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers spent years unable to find consistent major league success. After four years unable to hold down a spot in Cleveland, Laffey was traded to Seattle and found himself making 16 starts and six other appearances in Toronto last season. Sowers was unable to find the majors again after four years as a starter in Cleveland. In situations almost identical, Brian Tallet, Jason Stanford, and Billy Traber all have also suffered similar plights in the last ten years.
If Huff is not among the 25 players to break camp with the Indians, he will be exposed to waivers. As a left-handed pitcher with some previous success at the major league level and consistent success at Triple-A, he may not clear waivers unclaimed by another ball club, which would spell the end of his time with the Indians.
While Huff may be in Spring Training fighting for a spot with Cleveland, he is really auditioning for the entire league and could be facing that possibility at the end of the month.
Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer