Shawn Armstrong had been compared to Cody Allen, expected to rise through the Indians’ system with the same speed and talent. Progressive Field was Armstrong’s goal in 2013, though injury deterred him. In 2014, Armstrong and Kyle Crockett were the Akron RubberDuck’s go-to relievers at the start of the season, though Crockett received the coveted promotion to the big leagues before it was even officially summer.
Armstrong had once been the one skyrocketing through the organization. He was drafted by the Indians in the 18th round of the 2011 First Year Player Draft out of East Carolina and opened his 2012 season with the Lake County Captains. He didn’t stay in Eastlake long, quickly moving up to the High-A Carolina and finishing the season with the then-Akron Aeros, who won the 2012 Eastern League title. It was almost expected that Armstrong would have a 2013 that ended with him in a Cleveland Indians uniform.
“I want to go out in Spring Training and just pitch well, do everything I can to prove myself to them (the Indians organization),” Armstrong said prior to the 2013 season. “Wherever they put me to start, I want to finish in the Big Leagues.”
Then, injury struck.
Armstrong did not have a strong start to the season in 2013, posting a 6.35 ERA. His frustration with his performance came to a boiling point early in the season, when he injured his throwing hand on April 19 and found himself out of the action for six weeks. He found himself rehabbing in Arizona, working to improve physically and mentally.
Armstrong, once the bullpen golden boy, was humbled.
Humbled, but not deterred.
“It was a big eye-opener for me with the injury and everything,” Armstrong told Did The Tribe Win Last Night last May. “I had a lot of time to think about it and I used that to my advantage to see how quickly your career can be taken away from you.”
Armstrong’s 2013 injury put him back a bit on his progression through the Indians system. He ended 2013 with a 4.09 ERA with the Aeros and a 2-3 record. He pitched 33 total innings, striking out 43 batters and giving up 15 earned runs.
Quickly, 2014 would be a make-or-break season for Armstrong. Would he be able to resurrect his 2013 setback, or was that slip-up enough to deter his career?
Luckily, the time in Arizona in 2013 and is mental reset seemed to help Armstrong find himself again with the RubberDucks last year.
“He’s a guy who needs to pitch with that fire in his gut,” Akron Manager David Wallace said last year of Armstrong. “He’s learning how to control that and use that for his benefit and not let it overcome him to where he loses his temper out there or can’t throw strikes.”
Armstrong was named the Indians Minor League Player of the Week in May 2014, and reasserted himself as an asset to the bullpen. He posted a 2.12 ERA and 6-2 record in 44 games with Akron, including 15 saves, striking out a total of 68 batters in 51 innings. He received a promotion to Columbus late in August and spent five games as a Columbus Clipper, pitching five innings and striking out four to give him a 5.40 ERA.
Armstrong is back in the game and, luckily for him, the bullpen always seems to be a place where youngsters have the chance to shine with the big league team.
Armstrong is currently on the Indians 40-Man Roster heading into Spring Training. He is competing for a roster spot amongst a number of other strong arms and big league veterans, so the chance of him making the Major League club from the get-go is slim. However, it would be fair to say that Armstrong could make a name for himself in Columbus to start the season and a potential taste of Cleveland down the stretch in 2015 is not unimaginable. Players in the big league bullpen are getting older, and the younger members of the Indians system are on the cusp of having their day and making their mark on what has been a strong bullpen in recent seasons. Crockett proved he could hold his own last season and Armstrong should have his chance to reunite with his RubberDuck counterpart sooner rather than later.
“His stuff is there, the velocity is there, everything is there to be a successful back end of the bullpen guy in the big leagues,” Wallace said last season. “It’s just a matter of growing in to it and learning how to use his stuff and keep his energy and fire up but in control.”
“He’s a guy we really like and think will be in a Cleveland Indians uniform very soon.”
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer