Indians Select Contract of Karinchak, Recall Zimmer
Bob Toth | On 13, Sep 2019
Do you know the name James Karinchak? If you’re a Cleveland Indians fan, it may be time to get acquainted.
One day after the Cleveland Indians’ Triple-A affiliate, the Columbus Clippers, clinched the Governors’ Cup with a 6-2 win over the Durham Bulls to complete a three-game sweep to earn the International League championship, the parent club added two more September call-ups to the roster by selecting the contract of the right-handed reliever Karinchak and recalling outfielder Bradley Zimmer.
To make room on the 40-man roster for Karinchak, the Indians designated left-handed reliever Josh Smith for assignment.
A 23-year-old ninth round pick in the 2017 draft by the Indians out of Bryant University (in Smithfield, Rhode Island), Karinchak has been on the fast track to the big leagues, somewhat unusual territory for a player within the Cleveland organization. Karinchak appeared at three different levels of the farm system a season ago in his first full year of pro ball and spent part of the year at Triple-A after an eye-popping April performance in Akron.
The only thing to slow down the progression of the 6’3”, 230 lb. Karinchak was a midseason hamstring injury. In ten games at Double-A Akron to open the season, he was a perfect 6-for-6 in save opportunities. He appeared in ten innings and allowed just two hits and two walks while striking out 24 (accounting for a mind-boggling 80% of his total outs recorded). He faced 36 total batters, so his 21.6 K/9 rate far more resembled video game numbers.
Karinchak made three appearances for the Clippers, striking out eight of the eleven batters that he faced before landing on the injured list. When he returned to the club after some rehab work in the middle of July in Arizona, he had a couple of rough outings, but remained a strikeout machine. In 17 total appearances at Triple-A (a span of 17 1/3 innings), Karinchak posted a 1-1 record with two saves, a 4.67 ERA, and a 1.56 WHIP. He struck out 42 batters there for an absurd 21.8 K/9 mark.
The Cleveland front office has typically maintained a slow-and-steady developmental process in their farm system, but there have been some exceptions in recent years. Right-hander Shane Bieber was a fourth round draft pick in 2016 and debuted in the Majors on May 31, 2018, after making just 40 appearances total from mid-season 2016 through the first month of the 2018 campaign. Zach Plesac, a 24-year-old right-hander selected in the 12th round in 2016, made his Major League debut on May 28 this season and has logged 19 starts. Aaron Civale, who was the team’s third rounder ahead of Bieber and Plesac, debuted this season on June 22 after making just two Triple-A starts.
Cody Allen, after being drafted by the Indians for a second time in 2011, debuted with the parent club just over a year and a month after signing his first professional contract. It worked out with the reliever Allen, who became an underappreciated fireman in the American League for years and was a key reason that the Indians found the success that they did in 2016. As for the starter Bieber, the circumstances were different a year ago, but he plowed through the farm system in short order when an opening in the starting rotation in Cleveland was looming. Civale and Plesac have been important pieces to that staff as well this season after circumstances removed Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger, Corey Kluber, Jefry Rodriguez, and Danny Salazar from the mix for a variety of reasons.
These kind of performances have been nothing new for the 23-year-old Karinchak, who has been putting up impressive numbers for quite some time.
In his debut season with Mahoning Valley in 2017, he averaged 12.0 K/9 in ten appearances. His overall numbers were not as tidy as this season, as he allowed 15 runs (5.79 ERA) on 30 hits with nine walks (1.67 WHIP) while making six starts and four relief appearances.
Used exclusively as a reliever last year, Karinchak took off. He spent April at Class-A Lake County, earning three wins and a save in seven appearances while striking out 20 (15.9 K/9) and walking seven and giving up eight hits in 11 1/3 innings of one-run work. While the command was still a little suspect by the numbers, he moved south to Virginia and suited up with the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats. He spent 25 games there (finishing 24 of them) while going 1-1 with 13 saves, a 1.00 ERA, and a 1.15 WHIP. The new level and better hitters did not prevent him from whiffing the opposition with ease, as he struck out 45 of the 107 batters that he faced (15.0 K/9) over 27 innings of work. He still walked 17 (5.7 BB/9), but the dominating strikeout mark and a miniscule amount of traffic elsewhere (just 14 hits allowed for a career-best 1.15 WHIP at the time) got him a ticket back north to Akron, where he joined the RubberDucks’ bullpen. He closed out the season at the Double-A level, working 10 1/3 innings over ten games. He struck out 16 and walked 12 while allowing just seven hits.
Karinchak may factor in the Indians bullpen down the stretch, especially with the club lacking left-handed closer Brad Hand this weekend against the Minnesota Twins while he rests his tired arm. If Karinchak can keep his walk rate in check, he could become a valuable piece of the Indians bullpen for the years ahead. His statistical track record indicates a long history of wildness, but he also can be unhittable, making himself his own worst enemy on the slab. But even more so, he has been an enemy of opposing hitters, striking out 186 of the 431 career hitters that he has faced while holding them to a .150 average in parts of three seasons on the minor league mound.
As for Zimmer, he makes his long awaited return to the Major League roster after missing nearly the entire season after a longer-than-anticipated recovery from right shoulder surgery last season. He was transferred to the 60-day injured list in the middle of June and dealt with some oblique issues before starting his formal rehab assignment on August 11. He was activated by the Indians on August 30 and optioned to Triple-A to continue to work there with the Clippers heading to the International League playoffs.
The 26-year-old and 2014 first round pick appeared in 15 games in total between Arizona, Double-A Akron, and Columbus, hitting .372 (16-for-43) with three doubles, one triple, three homers, seven RBI, eight runs scored, and three stolen bases in three attempts.
Zimmer had previously played parts of each of the last two seasons in the Indians outfield, serving as a regular center fielder for the club. He worked in 101 games in his rookie season in 2017, hitting .241 with a .307 on-base percentage with 15 doubles, two triples, eight homers, 39 RBI, and 18 stolen bases in 19 tries. He was limited to 34 games a year ago after suffering a left rib contusion in May ahead of his shoulder injury. He had five doubles, two homers, and nine RBI that season while hitting .226.
Smith, 29, made eight appearances for the Indians during the season, posting a 5.40 ERA and a 1.92 WHIP with 12 strikeouts, eight walks, and two hit batters in eight and one-third innings of work. The eight-year pro made 41 relief appearances at Triple-A Columbus this year, putting up an 8-1 record with six saves, a 2.73 ERA, and a 1.06 WHIP with 74 strikeouts in 52 2/3 innings of work (12.6 K/9).
Photo: David Monseur/Akron RubberDucks (MiLB.com)