Can Columbus Provide 2014 Bullpen Help?

After a surprising 2013 Cleveland Indians season the organization has higher expectations for 2014 than any season dating back to 2008. The Indians and their fans will expect a playoff team and World Series contender. For the month of October, we’ll look at the how the Indians became a contender, but most importantly, How Do the Indians Reach the Next Level?

The Cleveland Indians bullpen has, for many seasons, been a ray of hope amidst otherwise lackluster teams. Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano lit up the pen in season’s past, and there was not much of a worry as to who was coming in to pitch for the Tribe at the end of the game. However, this season proved that even those most consistent of groups can have their struggles.

The dominant forces of Pestano and Perez left much to be desired throughout the season and suggest a change in the bullpen for next season. By potentially moving Cody Allen into the role of a closer should Perez leave, and having to fill a spot left by Joe Smith should the Indians not reach a contract deal during his current free agency, it means a lot of room to jumble the pen and add more strong arms to the group.

Ending the season with a 15-man pen, the Indians have more than enough options to fill out a bullpen in coming seasons. However, which of these options can truly be difference makers in the year to come? Can the bullpen be revamped by including a number of young pitchers showing their strengths in Columbus throughout much of the 2013 season?

C.C. Lee, Preston Guilmet, and Scott Barnes are all options for the Tribe bullpen who made their mark on the Indians system throughout their past season. All three have of the pitchers have played at the major league level, demonstrating their abilities to become part of the team on a full-time basis further down the road.

Lee was called up to the Major League stage in 2013 contingent upon Danny Salazar‘s return to Columbus following his first start with the big league club. He was recovering from Tommy John surgery this past season, having thrown an impressive 2012 with the minor league Columbus Clippers before he was plagued with elbow problems. In 2012, Lee appeared in five games with the Clippers and went 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA. He gave up five hits and allowed two runs, both earned, including one home run. He walked one batter and struck out eight before he was out for the season in early June. Former Indians manager Manny Acta felt Lee impressed him during 2012’s spring training and he had expected him to appear in the Majors at some point during the 2012 season.

Despite not accomplishing that goal, Lee did make his big league appearances in 2013 with the Tribe, appearing in eight games and posting a 4.15 ERA. He allowed four hits, three runs (two earned), walked three, and struck out four. He posted minor league numbers more reminiscent of previous seasons throughout 2013, going 1-0 in Columbus with a 2.48 ERA and 37 strikeouts. He allowed 18 hits and only eight runs, while walking 10 batters.

Should Lee be able to maintain the command he possesses on the minor league stage, he has the ability to help the 2014 bullpen in a major way. He was ranked as one of the the organization’s top 20 prospects, despite his injury at the end of last season. If this season proved anything, it’s that he still has the potential to perform at a high level. As long as he can remain healthy, it seems likely that Lee will get a shot at the Tribe bullpen more consistently in 2014.

Another player it seems can likely make a difference in 2014 is right-handed reliever Guilmet. Guilmet has long been a dominant pitching prospect, with a career 2.57 ERA and 18-14 record. He has moved up levels consistently since his start with the Indians organization in 2009. He spent most of 2013 with the Columbus Clippers, where he went 5-4 with a 1.68 ERA in 49 games. He notched 20 saves and struck out 72 batters while giving up 43 hits. Guilmet is currently up for a MiLBY award as Relief Pitcher of the Year for his outstanding performance in Columbus.

Guilmet made his big league debut this season on July 10, in which he pitched 0.2 innings and struck out one batter. He struggled in appearances in August and September. Overall, Guilmet went 0-0 on the Major Leauge stage and posted a 10.13 ERA. He gave up eight hits and allowed six runs, while walking three and striking out one. Many of Guilmet’s appearances with the Indians, however, were in earlier innings, despite his regular appearances in late innings at the minor league level. If Guilmet can grow more comfortable at a high level, it seems that he has the potential to become a true benefit to the Tribe bullpen. His track record is one of proven success, and demonstrates an ability to continue that success in years to come. He only needs to become accommodated with his new surroundings.

Barnes is the third Columbus reliever who could have a chance to help the Tribe bullpen in 2014. He has made big league appearances in both 2012 and 2013, earning a 4.26 ERA in 2012 and 7.27 with the Tribe in 2013. He has struck out a total of 26 batters in his two seasons appearing on the big league stage. He has made a total of 22 appearances and has a lifetime 0-1 record and 5.20 ERA. Barnes did not appear with the Tribe after May of 2013 due to injury. He gave up five runs in one inning during the Tribe’s 9-2 defeat in the infamous rain delayed game that lasted until 3 a.m. He was recalled by the Tribe, then placed on the disabled list in late August to make room on the 40-man roster for Jason Kubel. He also suffered an injury in 2011, having to undergo surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee in July. Despite the setbacks, Barnes has shown promise with the team.

When looking at the bullpen of 2014, it seems that Lee, Guilmet, and Barnes could all find a place with the team. Much of their chances, though, will depend on what happens with Smith and Matt Albers. Albers is free agent, but, should he return, may be a stronger option than any of the three Columbus relievers for later innings.

It seems that the team has a number of options for late-game pitchers, leaving the middle and early innings of the game open. Lee, Guilmet, and Barnes could prove to be strong in these roles, if they can bring their minor league successes to the Major League level on a consistent basis.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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