Regardless of how strong a team’s starting rotation is, having some extra depth is never a bad thing.
The Cleveland Indians appear to be overloaded in their starting five, with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar looking to be locks on the staff in April, barring unforeseen injury issues. For the remaining two spots, the club already has Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin as the favorites, with Cody Anderson also very much deserving of an opportunity after his strong performance in the second half of 2015.
The Major League ready starting pitching depth at Triple-A Columbus, however, is not quite as defined and that is where six-year MLB veteran Felipe Paulino could see some time after signing a minor league deal with a non-roster invite to spring training with the Tribe this offseason.
The Indians are the seventh stop on the professional career of Paulino, who signed with the Houston Astros in 2001 at the age of 17 as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic.
He jumped from Double-A to the Majors in 2007 at the age of 23, appearing in five games (three starts) with less than stellar results. During a three-season stretch of his minor league career with the Astros from 2006 to 2008, Baseball America considered his fastball the best in the Houston organization, but it was not enough to give him success at the MLB level.
He missed nearly all of the 2008 season with arm issues and was hit hard in his return to the Majors in 2009, ending the year with a 3-11 record, 6.27 ERA, and 1.67 WHIP in 23 games (17 starts). He got another audition with the club the following season, but went 1-9 with a 5.11 ERA and 1.54 WHIP and, in the offseason, was traded to the Colorado Rockies.
The Rockies used Paulino as a reliever exclusively, but after 18 appearances and a 7.36 ERA, they sold his contract to the Kansas City Royals. Back in the rotation, he looked more like the former touted prospect, going 4-6 in 21 games with a 4.11 ERA. He started the next season strong for KC, posting a 3-1 record in seven starts with a 1.67 ERA, but first a strained forearm, then a strained groin, set him back. While rehabbing the latter injury, he felt the dreaded pop in his right arm and underwent Tommy John surgery. He returned to the Royals farm system late in 2013, pitching ineffectively, and following the season signed with the Chicago White Sox.
The Sox signed him to a one-year, $1.75 million contract with an option, but he made just four starts for the club, posting an 0-2 record, 11.29 ERA, and 2.56 WHIP in what remains his last Major League action to date. He lost time early to rotator cuff inflammation and suffered a setback during rehabilitation and never returned to the MLB mound. His $4 million team option was declined and he signed with the Boston Red Sox, but did not make the team out of spring training and signed with the Chicago Cubs a little over a month later.
He spent all of 2015 at Triple-A Iowa, going 5-9 with a 4.93 ERA in 20 starts. He struck out 83 batters in 104 innings. He followed up his season with some work in the Venezuelan Winter League.
When healthy, Paulino will throw both a two- and four-seam fastball and will mix in the use of a slider, curveball, and changeup.
After the tough season last year, Paulino’s camp invite gives him an opportunity to re-establish his value in the professional game while potentially giving the Indians an extra depth arm that they would hopefully not come to need over the course of the coming year. There also remains the possibility that the Indians could do the same as the Red Sox had done last spring and look at Paulino in a relief role, but the logjam of right-handed bullpen arms would be no easier for Paulino to crack through than the crowded Cleveland starting rotation.