Internal Pitching Options for the Cleveland Indians

After a hugely successful season in 2013 the Indians are losing two major pieces of their pitching staff. Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir combined for 23 wins and 356 strikeouts in the Indians rotation last season, and those are going to be tough numbers to replace. Though it may seem like a daunting task, it may not be as difficult as one may think. Through free agency, or internal options, the Indians will do all they can to fill those holes with the best possible option.

Free agents like Matt Garza are way out of the Indians price range, and pitchers that may be in that range may not be worth the roster spot, either due to an injury laden background, or poor current performances. The possible lack of activity on the free agent market may not be a failure for the Indians; they have several pitchers already in the fold that could step into those rotation spots and find success. The Tribe could find a future star or at least a couple solid Major League starters right in their own back yard. Looking at the young talent that could win a rotation role in 2014, four names came right to the top.

Trevor Bauer is currently the Indians number 4 ranked prospect. He came over to the Indians in a huge trade, and was one of the top prospects in all of baseball at the time. Bauer may no longer project as a top of the rotation starter in most minds. The big road block for Bauer is his control. In 121 innings for the Columbus Clippers, he walked 73 batters. These numbers got even worse, albeit with a small sample set, when he reached the Major Leagues; he walked 16 batters in 17 innings for the Indians in 2013. If you add his brief stint with the Diamondbacks in 2012, he has walked 29 batters in 33 career Major League innings. One major issue causing his lack of control is his mechanics. His violent finish and snappy head jerk cause inconsistency both in his mechanics and in his control. Still, Bauer has a great deal of talent, especially in his secondary pitches. He throws a solid change-up and slider, as well as a dominating curveball; he also has an electric cutter that moves like a screwball. The problem pitch is his fastball – it is flat and hittable. Another road block for Bauer is his makeup. He is still a very young pitcher, turning 23 in January, and his immaturity shows. He is stubborn and already has a reputation as uncoachable. It is never a good sign when a team is shopping its top prospect just two years after drafting him, and that is exactly what the Diamondbacks did. Then came questions about his attitude, and apparently with good reason. Given the proper coaching and development, Bauer could still be a front end starter, but as it stands right now, it looks like his ceiling is as a three or four starter.

A player that really stood out last season as a kid with real rotation potential was Danny Salazar. He burst onto the scene in 2013 after racing through the Minor Leagues to reach the Indians in July. Starting the season with the Akron Aeros, Salazar pitched seven games with a 2.67 ERA and 13.6 K/9. He moved up to Columbus and looked even better. In 13 Triple-A starts, he went 4-2 with a 2.73 ERA, 11.8 K/9, and an amazing 5.6 K/BB. He made his Major League debut on July 11 against the Toronto Blue Jays, winning in impressive fashion. He went six innings, giving up one run on two hits with seven strikeouts and only one walk. In contrast to Bauer, Salazar showed very good command. For the Tribe, Salazar finished with a 2-3 record in 10 starts and a 3.12 ERA. He struck out 65 batters in 52 innings and walked just 15. Steamer, a popular baseball projection metric, predicts Salazar will pitch as the third starter in the Indians rotation going 13-9 with a 3.42 ERA and 189 strikeouts in 173 innings.

Carlos Carrasco is another internal option for the Indians. He pitched well for the Indians in 2010 and 2011 before suffering a season ending injury. He required Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2012 campaign. He came back in 2013 eager to prove he had what it takes to be a Major League pitcher. He performed poorly in his first two starts of the season, but in his third he showed what he was capable of. He pitched 7.1 innings giving up one run on four hits. He struggled through three more starts before pitching five shutout innings against the Los Angeles Angels. He finished the year pitching mostly out of the bullpen where he found much success. In 14 innings he gave up just two runs and struck out 11.

The last, but certainly not the least, pitcher in the top four internal options is right hander Josh Tomlin. Another pitcher coming off of Tommy John surgery, Tomlin has a solid base of Major League experience behind him. In his first full season as a starter back in 2011, Tomlin lead the Indians with 12 wins and pitched to a 4.25 ERA in 165 innings. The next season he experienced a slump that was apparently caused by a nagging elbow injury. After undergoing Tommy John, Tomlin came back late in 2013 for his Minor League rehab assignments. In eight Minor League starts from the Rookie Leagues through Triple-A, Tomlin pitched 27 innings, striking out 21 and walking zero batters en route to a 1.65 ERA. He did manage to pitch two innings for the Indians at the end of the season without giving up a run. With 54 Major League starts under his belt and a career 23-19 record, Tomlin will definitely vie for a rotation spot in 2014.

The Indians have needs to address with their starting rotation; there is no question about that. If they are going to be successful again in 2014, they need to have a strong performance from their starting rotation. The free agent market does not look promising in terms of what is available in the Indians price range, but that may not be a bad thing. They have several young options already in the fold that could step into those roles and shine for the Cleveland Indians.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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