Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 57: Kyle Crockett

As Did The Tribe Win Last Night helps fans count down the days until the Indians retake the field in an official Major League game, we look back at some of the players who wore the Cleveland jersey with pride.

Countdown to Opening Day – 57 days

A job in Terry Francona’s bullpen may be Kyle Crockett’s to lose this spring, as the Cleveland Indians relief corps is notably devoid of quality left-handed options.

It was clearly a focal point for the front office in the offseason, as they devoted several free agent signings to address the depth at the position, which is also thin at the upper levels of the farm system.

Crockett went into the 2015 season as one of two such arms for Francona, teaming with Marc Rzepczynski to give the Indians some options. He was coming off of a quality rookie season in 2014, when he joined the club in the middle of May and made 43 appearances on the year, working 30 innings and finishing the season with a 4-1 record, 1.80 ERA, and a 1.13 WHIP.

A glance at his numbers last spring would not have alerted too many to concerns with the young southpaw, as he made eight appearances, logging seven and one-third innings while allowing just one run on three hits with three walks and eight strikeouts. It was good for a 1.23 ERA, a 0.82 WHIP, and a .130 batting average against.

The leash was short, however, when the season kicked off. He struck out a pair in his first appearance on April 9 against Houston, but walked one in throwing 20 pitches over the inning, including eight balls. In his next outing the next day, he walked one and struck out one, but threw eight balls to seven strikes. The ratio trended the wrong way making a third consecutive appearance to start his season, as he faced two batters, walking one and striking out one, while throwing seven balls to just four strikes.

In a bit of a surprise to some, Crockett was optioned to Triple-A Columbus in a flurry of moves as Yan Gomes headed to the disabled list and Austin Adams and Shaun Marcum were recalled.

With the bullpen taxed in the early going, it was believed that Crockett’s stay in Columbus was going to be short, with manager Francona sharing at one point that Crockett might not even get a chance to make an appearance with the Clippers before he would be summoned back to Cleveland.

That, however, was not the case.

Crockett’s struggles to find the strike zone consistently continued in Columbus. He faced seven batters in his first game with the Clippers, striking out two in an inning and two-thirds. He also allowed a run on a hit and issued another walk while throwing 15 of 26 pitches for strikes. Two reached in his second outing, on a hit and a walk, and his strike-to-ball numbers were again very close to even at 13 and 12.

On April 22, he was tagged for five runs on five hits in one inning against Indianapolis. He allowed two more earned runs in each of his next two outings. The latter of the two, he threw 40 pitches to six batters, giving up two hits and two more walks.

As the calendar turned to May and Cleveland seemed much further away than the two hour and 15 minute drive between the two ballparks he would call home in 2015, Crockett seemed to find his control. In ten outings, he allowed nine hits and a walk over eight and one-third innings, giving up three runs while striking out nine. He was pitching well enough in June that he got a return call to the Indians but the stay was brief, lasting two quiet games on consecutive days against the Tampa Bay Rays.

After returning to Columbus, whether it was misfortune or the frustrations of another demotion, he struggled. In four games and five and two-thirds innings, he gave up five runs on eleven hits with four walks and five strikeouts. It did not prevent another voyage north to Cleveland during the second week of July, but the roller coaster season continued as he appeared in just four games for the Tribe, giving up two runs on two hits in his final game, before once again being optioned to the Clippers.

He logged four more games for the Clippers during the season and joined the Indians after the roster was shuffled with trade deadline deals. He remained with the club for the rest of the year as the team’s lone left-handed relief option for the bulk of the time. He worked in 22 games and a total of eleven and two-thirds innings, striking out ten, walking four, and allowing six earned runs on 12 hits.

Crockett got some extra help in September, when the club added Giovanni Soto for his first MLB appearances.

He limited lefties to a .256 average and .313 on-base percentage against him in 2015, striking out nine of the 48 left-handers he faced. Right-handers hit .286 against him with a .385 OBP and he averaged two strikeouts for every walk against them.

With all that has been said above about the decline in year two of Crockett, there are several things worth noting to help his cause moving forward.

He turned 24 less than two months ago and is only a couple of years removed from his selection by the Indians in the fourth round of the 2013 draft out of the University of Virginia.

He was moved quickly through the club’s farm system, making stops at Mahoning Valley, Lake County, and Akron after signing with the team and finished the year with a 1-0 record, 0.36 ERA, and 0.85 WHIP in 21 games in those first three months of his professional career.

The following season, he earned a 0.59 ERA and 0.72 WHIP in 15 games at Akron and a 1.08 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in six games at Columbus before he got his call to The Show. The Indians saw something in his skill set and rapid development to put him on the fast track to the Major Leagues in the same manner that they had handled Cody Allen just years earlier, and that particular move is still paying dividends for Cleveland.

Crockett would presumably head the short list of options for Francona and he does have some impressive numbers to his credit when looking past the handful of bad outings that he had over the course of 2015. Internally beyond him, they have Soto, as well as minor league free agent additions in Joe Thatcher, Tom Gorzelanny, and Ross Detwiler, none of whom had the types of seasons in 2015 to put their names on the top of the short list of the one to two southpaws Francona and company would likely carry forward into the coming campaign.

So Crockett has some work to do, but with age and some positive numbers to draw upon, he has a few factors on his side. Some veteran camp competition can only help to push him back to his more consistent and reliable ways of 2014 or force the Indians’ hands at finding some arms who will be up for the task in the revolving door that will be Tito’s bullpen for 2016.

Photo: AP Photo/Jim Mone

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