Merritt Progressing on More Than Merit Alone
Bob Toth | On 24, Jan 2016
You can never have too much pitching. You can never have too much pitching. You can never have too much pitching…
If there is one thing the Cleveland Indians did not seem too concerned about heading into this offseason, it was the status of their starting rotation. Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber, and Danny Salazar solidified positions at the front end of the Indians rotation. Trevor Bauer had some bumps in his road, but has age and stuff both very much on his side moving into the 2016 season. Josh Tomlin and Cody Anderson both had impressive stretches in small sample sizes to throw their respective hats into the competition for the limited number of innings available for the remaining Tribe staff moving forward.
After that, though, the picture is a bit murky, at least for the immediate future. While Cleveland has some options at the Triple-A level, the real depth and optimism may lie in some of the arms further down in the farm system. But where the team is lightest – southpaws – they do have an enticing option in the state who is coming off of back-to-back impressive seasons in Ryan Merritt.
Merritt, 23, completed his fifth season in the Indians farm system and his first as a member of the club’s 40-man roster. With some added security that he may be a part of the club’s future, given his add to the extended roster following the completion of the 2014 season, he did not falter, posting a combined 12-7 record with a 3.63 ERA in 2015. He is a name to know and could be an intriguing candidate for the club to consider for a call-up if injuries or other such disasters strike the starting rotation.
It has been a steady climb up the minor league ladder for Merritt, who was the Indians’ 16th round pick out of McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, in 2011. He made four appearances for the Indians in the rookie Arizona League that year and 14 in a partial season for short-season Mahoning Valley in 2012.
In 2013, he spent the majority of his year in Class-A Lake County, compiling a 6-9 record in 26 games with a 3.52 ERA. He also pitched in two games for High-A Carolina to complete his season. The next campaign, he returned to Carolina and put up arguably his best single season effort, going 13-3 in 25 starts with a 2.58 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP. The results earned him both mid-season and post-season All-Star nominations in the Carolina League and the nod as the Indians’ Bob Feller Award winner as the club’s top minor league pitcher for the season.
He started 2015 at the Double-A level for the first time, making 22 starts for Akron while going 10-7 with a 3.51 ERA and 1.14 WHIP while throwing a pair of complete game shutouts. One of those outings fell on July 11, when he needed 94 minutes and 78 pitches to blank the Reading Fighting Phils in a seven-inning no-hitter, the club’s first since Giovanni Soto threw a nine-inning no-hitter on July 15, 2012. Three starts earlier, Merritt notched his other complete game against the same Reading club, allowing four hits and a walk over seven scoreless for the win.
He wrapped up the year with his first taste of the Triple-A talent, making five starts and winning a pair of games for the Clippers.
Numbers are not always the best indicator of success in the minors, as players have to make adjustments while working through the system as they progress towards the Major League level. Pitchers especially are in the habit of breaking in new pitches, working on mechanical adjustments, and altering their in-game approach, all during their outings while knowing full well it could have a negative impact on their statistics and the outcome of the game, which was something that Merritt was actively doing over the course of the 2015 season.
“My whole life, I’ve been taught to throw strikes, and throwing strikes is key,” Merritt shared with Did The Tribe Win Last Night last July. “I feel like I’ve had to learn how to throw balls on purpose.”
He elaborated by stating that he was making a transition to set up batters differently, sharing he was trying to “[throw] balls with intent to set guys up to make the zone bigger. Getting more swing and misses out of the zone. That has definitely been a challenge for me as I’m learning how to throw balls, also.”
It is too early to know where Merritt may start his 2016 season, but if he lands in Columbus as a starter as would be expected after his second consecutive strong showing last year, it will reunite him with his former pitching coach and long-time Major Leaguer, Steve Karsay, who will work as the Clippers pitching coach in 2016. The two have worked together on the farm on two other occasions in Lake County and Carolina already, which could go a long way in helping Merritt continue with his progression up the Indians pitching prospect list.
“The numbers show what he is capable of doing. He is a guy I have had before, so I have seen growth,” said Karsay in a May of 2014 story on Did The Tribe Win Last Night. “He needs to work on his direction. He needs to make sure he has consistent arm slot on pitches. He certainly has the stuff and work ethic to go very far.”
With his strong showings in both 2014 and 2015, it might be safe to say that his direction, arm slot, stuff, and work ethic have all kept his ascent through the farm system on track.
“I have had him for two years, so I am comfortable with him and he is comfortable with me,” said Merritt in the same quoted story about his relationship with Karsay. “He knows me and what types of things I need to work on. The benefit of having a pitching coach that has pitched in the big leagues is he can help you improve from a mental standpoint based on the way he pitched. You can then put that into your game.”
Wherever Merritt ends up, it would appear he will continue his pursuit of a career at the MLB level. His early success and presence at the top half of the farm system as one of the team’s top left-handed starters should make that dream a bit more attainable as he becomes a candidate to be one of the next men up in Cleveland.
Photo: David Monseur/MiLB.com