On Monday afternoon, the Cleveland Indians made a dream come true for another pitching prospect in their farm system, as they recalled left-handed starter Ryan Merritt from Triple-A Columbus.
The move was made possible after Joba Chamberlain landed on the 15-day disabled list with a left intercostal strain.
With no voids to fill on the Indians starting staff currently, Merritt will get his chance to impact the big league club from the bullpen, something that he has done just five times in his minor league career. Four of those outings came in his rookie league appearance as a 19-year-old in his first action in the Indians organization after he was selected in the 16th round of the 2011 draft, and the other outing came in 2013 while with the Lake County Captains.
The Indians have used a pair of left-handers in the bullpen this season with minimal success from either.
Ross Detwiler began the year in the bullpen, making the club out of spring training as a non-roster invitee on a minor league contract. But after a 5.79 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in seven games, he was designated for assignment and wound up remaining with the organization and headed to Columbus.
Kyle Crockett, who was recalled from the Clippers on April 27, fared little better, struggling against left-handed hitters and against everyone in general. He appeared in eleven games, allowing seven hits and two walks in three and two-thirds innings, good for a 2.46 WHIP. He was also tagged for six runs, giving him a 14.73 ERA.
When the Indians optioned Crockett back to Columbus on Sunday morning, the team brought up Austin Adams, who has spent parts of the last three seasons on the Cleveland roster.
The Indians will need to find some stability from the left side of the bullpen if they want to give manager Terry Francona the opportunities to play the matchup options that he has shown a penchant for in his time back in Cleveland.
There have been some questions throughout Merritt’s development about where he would ultimately make his mark as a professional – in the rotation or in the bullpen. The Indians rotation is certainly packed, but lacks any southpaw starting options. The upper levels of the farm system were also devoid of strong lefty starting options, especially with the struggles of T.J. House over the last couple of years.
Like House did when he was called up in 2013, Merritt will take a seat in the bullpen and wait for his number 54 to be called on by Francona. While House would not make any appearances in that brief three day call-up in June that season, he did make one relief outing among his 23 games in an Indians uniform in 2014 and 2015.
Merritt will hope that is not the case for him and that he gets a chance to prove his worth, especially now that the Indians are in dire need of quality work from lefties in the bullpen.
The 24-year-old out of McKinney, Texas, and McLennan Community College will now get to see if his numbers throughout his minor league career will translate to success on the biggest stage of all.
Merritt has compiled a 37-27 record in 104 career games, including 99 starts. He has tossed five complete games and three shutouts in his career, including one complete game gem this season with the Clippers. He was the Indians minor league pitcher of the year in 2014 (taking home the organization’s Bob Feller Award) and tossed a seven-inning no-hitter on July 11, 2015, for the Akron RubberDucks.
He was 3-4 with a 2.94 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in eight starts at Columbus this season, striking out 37 batters and walking just eight in 52 innings on the mound. He has limited lefties to a .239 average this season with a 2.89 ERA, allowing 16 hits and five walks in 18 2/3 innings with 16 strikeouts. Right-handers were hitting .260 against him and were responsible for 32 hits and three walks in 33 1/3 innings of work with 21 strikeouts.
Merritt entered the season ranked 27th in the organization’s top prospect rankings, per MLB Pipeline.
Photo: Adam Cairns/The Columbus Dispatch