The Cleveland Indians open the 2014 season with new expectations despite many questions. The Indians’ 25-man roster will look different than the group that won 92 games and lost the American League Wild Card game to the Tampa Bay Rays. While the roster may change and the expectations grow, Cleveland will need to answer many questions this spring before opening the season in Oakland on March 31. Today, we look at one of the Indians’ young players who likely won’t make the roster but could impact the Tribe’s season before it ends.
The dubious award of being the first player injured in the Cleveland Indians Spring Training workouts in Goodyear, Arizona went to reliever Bryan Price.
Price injured his right hamstring during fielding drills during the team’s first official workout on Thursday, February 13th. It forced him out of activities the next day.
For those who have followed Price’s career path, it seemed like a cruel irony for the six-year minor league veteran.
The right-handed pitcher was added by the Indians to their 40-man roster in November, ahead of the Rule 5 draft. For Price, it was proof of the potential he has as a pitcher, if able to stay on the field healthy for a full season.
Price began the 2013 season in Triple-A Columbus with the Clippers, but after a rough outing on April 12th against the Indianapolis Indians, when he allowed two runs on three hits in one and one-third innings, he was placed on the seven-day disabled list. He was assigned to Akron on April 21st.
During his time in Akron, he appeared in 12 games, notching a pair of saves and a win in 16 innings of work. He allowed just one run (0.56 ERA) and six hits while striking out 17 and walking just four. He struck out batters in ten of the 12 appearances, including a pair of four-strikeout, two-inning efforts.
On May 24th, Price got the call and packed up again for a slight relocation. He was moving from the bullpen in Akron back south to the home of the Clippers.
After a smooth first game back in Columbus, he was hit in three of his next four games. He gave up a solo home run to Louisville in two innings of work on May 27th, then allowed three runs in an inning and a third two days later. On June 2nd, he allowed four earned runs in an inning to Indianapolis.
Beginning with his next outing against Toledo on June 5th, Price settled in and set forth on a solid turnaround. In his final 28 games, he allowed six earned runs in 50 2/3 innings (1.07 ERA) and struck out 60 batters against just eight walks. Opponents batted just .212 against him during this span.
In 35 games on the season in Columbus, including one start, he was 1-3 with a 2.44 ERA and two saves. He worked a total of 59 innings and allowed 51 hits, walked 12, and struck out 75 for a strikeout-per-nine-innings rate of 11.4.
He struck out at least one batter in 43 of his 47 combined games for the season, including six games with four, and posted a 0.97 WHIP for the season. He had a streak during the middle of the year of 26 consecutive games with at least one K.
Price turned 27 while pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League in the offseason. In 15 games for the Bravos de Margarita, he earned an 0-1 record and a 1.89 ERA (four earned runs allowed in 19 innings pitched). He struck out 19 batters while walking six and allowed the opposition to bat just .133 against him. He made one start and saved six games.
Injuries had limited Price’s appearances throughout his minor league career.
Price made 40 combined appearances in 2012, split between Akron and Columbus. He posted a 2-4 record with four saves and a 4.00 ERA in 69 2/3 innings. He allowed 9.2 hits and 3.1 walks per nine innings with a strikeout rate of 8.1 per nine innings, compared to the 6.8 hits, 1.9 walks, and 11.0 strikeouts he averaged per nine innings in 2013.
In 2011, Price was limited to 28 appearances, including one start, and earned a 2-3 record with a 2.79 ERA in 51 2/3 innings. He averaged 5.7 strikeouts per nine innings.
“It was great,” shared Price about being largely injury free throughout his 2013 campaign during the Lake County Captains Hot Stove Dinner on January 30th. “The injuries are nagging, as they like to say. To have a full season of just being able to compete and really just go out there and give it your all and not be worried about what your arm is going to feel like, it was a great feeling.”
For the Indians, they finally got a glimpse of what Price had to offer if healthy over the course of a full season. It was something they had not had the opportunity to see during stretches of his time in the Cleveland organization after being acquired with Justin Masterson and Nick Hagadone in the Victor Martinez trade in 2009.
Price, who was the 45th pick in the first round of the 2008 draft by the Boston Red Sox, started the 2009 season at Single-A Salem, but after a rough 1-6 start with a 6.54 ERA there, he was demoted. He was 3-2 with a 2.45 ERA with Greenville of the South Atlantic League at the time of the trade.
The Red Sox had been using him as a starter, despite being a reliever in college. The Indians continued to use him for the remainder of the 2009 season as a starter while at Single-A Kinston, where he had a 2-4 record with a 4.95 ERA in seven games. With Akron in 2010, he was converted into a reliever and was 6-3 with a 3.25 ERA in 40 games.
Being involved in that high-profile deadline trade was something that affected Price at points throughout his minor league career. He has a different outlook on it now.
“In the beginning, I would have said yes. I’ve matured a lot in the last four and a half years,” said Price. “I’ve dealt with a lot of things. I would have said, probably four years ago, I’d have said yeah. Now…no.
“My career is going to be based on what I’m able to do out there. That external pressure and all that kind of stuff, that’s going to come from all sorts of different things. I don’t think just being a part of a trade is going to add too much. The biggest thing is just competing out there on a Major League level and you’re just going to do that no matter what.”
Price was one of 15 players invited to the Cleveland Indians Winter Development Program in January. Players spend a week at Progressive Field, acclimating to the ball park, the facilities, and the city of Cleveland while participating in seminars and tutoring through guest speakers. It was the 19th year for the program for the Indians.
“We’ve had a group of about 15 guys. It’s been a good time. I’ve learned a lot. They’ve had some great speakers come into town. I feel like it can definitely be stuff that I can apply to the season and I think we as a group can apply it to the season and see where it leads us. It’s been a lot of talk about winning and winning at the Major League level and teamwork and working as a unit.”
As for 2014, Price is ready to do what he can to help the Indians in their bullpen if and when the call comes.
“The goal is to help the Indians win at the Major League level. As far as big league Spring Training, I’m going in there to compete. That’s what they’ve asked of me. They’ve asked me to come out there, show them what I have. Hopefully that can lead to something, but that’s not for me to say.”
With a slew of relievers signed to help repair the damage done with the departures of four key bullpen arms and question marks surrounding some of the remaining pieces, Price could be a factor for the Indians bullpen at some point during the 2014 season. He likely will begin his season in Columbus so he can continue to get regular development and work, rather than be one of seven or eight arms fighting for innings in the Major League bullpen.
In the meantime, he plans to incorporate what he learned in the Winter Development Program and prepare to help in any way he can.
“It’s about winning. It’s about working as a team. Pulling each other, pulling together, pulling each other up. Worst case scenario, I start the year in Columbus and hopefully help out [in Cleveland] later on in the season.”
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer