When the 2016 season started, southpaw Shawn Morimando was making his return to the Double-A Akron starting rotation with a crowded mix of obstacles in his way at Triple-A Columbus. Given the number of road blocks present and a strong starting rotation in Cleveland, the opportunity that he received when he made his Major League debut on July 2 against the Toronto Blue Jays seemed all the more improbable, even after being added to the 40-man roster the previous offseason.
In his sixth season of professional ball after being selected in the 19th round of the 2011 draft out of Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, improving results throughout Morimando’s minor league career paid off for the young left-hander.
After a three-game debut in the Arizona League after signing with the Indians, he spent 22 games at Class-A Lake County in 2012 while putting up a 7-6 season with a 3.59 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP. He joined the High-A Carolina Mudcats for the 2013 season, but control issues plagued him. He went 8-13 with a 3.73 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP with 102 strikeouts in 135 innings, but he walked 76 batters over his 27 starts. In nine separate outings he walked at least four batters and five times walked at least six in a start.
He returned to Carolina for the 2014 season and made 18 starts for the Mudcats, sandwiched around one spot start for Akron at the end of May. With a much more promising start to his fourth season in the organization, he earned a permanent promotion to the RubberDucks rotation in the middle of July after going 9-3 with a 2.81 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP over 102 1/3 innings. The good numbers did not translate in his first real look at the Double-A level as he went 1-6 to close out the year over his final nine starts with a 4.29 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP.
Morimando got a second look with the RubberDucks in 2015 and seemed to put it all together over the course of the season. In his third start of the year, he threw six hitless innings in what would be a one-hitter for Akron. He set a personal best with 158 2/3 innings of work scattered over 28 starts on the year. He struck out a professional career-high 128 batters while walking 65 and posted a 3.18 ERA and 1.29 WHIP while making 16 quality starts. He limited left-handers to a .163 average against him over the course of the year.
The encouraging results landed him on the 40-man roster that November, but he returned to Akron for a third stint to start 2016. He started strong, winning nine straight decisions and going 10-3 with a 3.09 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP while holding opposing hitters to a .225 average through the end of June.
He looked primed for a promotion once a spot became available at Columbus and that chance appeared to be coming in early July, but after being called upon to work for the Clippers in Pawtucket against the Red Sox, the Indians instead added him to the 25-man roster after the club used their July 2 starter Trevor Bauer for five innings of relief in Toronto in a 19-inning 2-1 victory the day before.
Morimando, after a bit of passport related drama, made the trip from Rhode Island to Ohio to Ontario in time to work three and two-thirds innings of relief in his Major League debut, allowing two runs on six hits with a walk and four strikeouts before being optioned back to the minors.
Instead of returning to Akron, he joined the Clippers and made his first five Triple-A starts of his career before he was again summoned by the Indians to help out the bullpen. His second outing was a bit less successful as he allowed four runs on three hits with four walks and a strikeout in New York against the Yankees. He was again optioned back to Columbus after the appearance and closed out his year with six more starts for the Clippers.
He finished his 2016 season with a combined 15-5 record with a 3.25 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP across his three stops in Ohio. He was 10-3 at Akron in 16 starts, 5-2 at Columbus in eleven starts, and did not earn a decision in two relief appearances for Cleveland.
With just eleven Triple-A games under his professional belt, the 24-year-old Morimando will likely benefit from more time at that level while keeping himself ready and stretched out for the moment that the Indians have another need in the starting rotation. But it is not without reason to believe that he could once again see time in Cleveland assisting the Indians bullpen at some point in 2017, as the organization is light on left-handed pitching at the top levels of the farm system. Both Morimando and fellow rookie lefty Ryan Merritt could see usage similar to the ways that they were handled this past season, even after the club went out and added three new left-handers to the 40-man roster (two via waiver claims, one through the Rule 5 draft) so far this offseason.
Photo: Frank Gunn/Canadian Press via AP