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Countdown to Opening Day – 57 days
The Cleveland Indians have a number 57 on their roster right now in left-hander Kyle Crockett. How long he remains a part of the Indians organization remains to be seen.
The Indians’ addition of free agent southpaw reliever Boone Logan this week would seem to put Crockett’s future in Cleveland in jeopardy, as the veteran adds a bona fide, regular season and playoff tested arm into Terry Francona’s bullpen. It is tough to envision the Tribe running a bullpen with three left-handers, which would seemingly put Crockett’s roster spot in a state of flux.
Crockett was fast tracked to the big league club after posting steady numbers through his brief minor league experience. Taken in the fourth round in the 2013 draft out of the University of Virginia, Crockett signed a couple weeks after his selection and quickly got to work on the farm. He did not allow a run in nine and one-third innings over eight games at short-season Mahoning Valley. He allowed just one run (on a homer) in five innings of four games at Class-A Lake County, and then worked ten and one-third scoreless innings over nine appearances at Double-A Akron, giving him a minute 0.36 ERA and 0.85 WHIP in 24 2/3 innings in his professional debut season.
He returned to Akron to start 2014 and showed the same kind of dominance, putting together a 0.59 ERA and 0.72 WHIP with the RubberDucks in 15 games before hurdling the Triple-A stage to make his debut with the Indians. Utilized in multi-inning outings, he made three May appearances for the club, giving up a homer in his debut game, before getting optioned to the Columbus Clippers.
He was back in Cleveland in the middle of June and remained with the club for the rest of the year, posting a promising 4-1 record in relief with a 1.80 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP with 28 strikeouts and eight walks in 30 innings.
Crockett broke camp with the Tribe in 2015, but after walking three of the nine men he faced and throwing just 23 of his 46 pitches (50%) for strikes, he was optioned back to Columbus.
He would get some heavy travel mileage back and forth between Cleveland and Columbus throughout the rest of the season, appearing in 29 games for the Clippers (3-1, 5.97 ERA, 1.85 WHIP) and 31 games for the Indians (0-0, 4.08 ERA, 1.36 WHIP).
Crockett was a camp cut in 2016 and started the year in Columbus, but in a trend for most relievers in the organization last year, he was able to make multiple guest appearances in the Indians bullpen. He was up by the end of April and hung around through late May, but was hit hard over three and two-thirds innings of eleven games, working a 14.73 ERA and a 2.45 WHIP before returning down I-71 to the state capital.
He would make two more extended trips to the Indians roster over the course of the season, coming up in the third week of July through the middle of August before returning for five games of action in September. He ended strong, giving up just one hit in his final five outings with four strikeouts while firing 72% of his pitches for strikes, but it was not enough for him to get any action in the Indians bullpen mix for the postseason.
He ended the year with a 5.06 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 16 innings of work (29 games) for Cleveland and a 1-1 record with a 3.90 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP in 30 innings over 29 appearances for Columbus.
The Indians have yet to formally announce the Logan signing, leaving a question mark about what move will be made on the 40-man roster to create room for the newest addition to the club. The 25-year-old Crockett could be on that chopping block, as could several other arms on the pitching staff as that is the area of largest concentration of players on the 40-man. Austin Adams, Shawn Armstrong, and Dylan Baker all could be at risk.
Being one of four left-handers on that roster (joining Andrew Miller, Logan, and Hoby Milner) may earn Crockett a longer stay, but the bigger problem will present itself towards the end of March. Miller and Logan will be on the squad as long as they are healthy. Milner was a Rule 5 pick from Philadelphia and needs to remain on the 25-man roster for the season in order for the Indians to retain him for the future (barring some other arrangement being worked out with the Phillies organization). Left-handed depth at the top of the Indians farm system, especially in relief, is thin as the club used starting prospects like Ryan Merritt and Shawn Morimando to assist the Major League pitching staff over the course of last season. Tim Cooney was claimed off of waivers from St. Louis in the offseason, but he has made all but three professional appearances as a starter. Tyler Olson is a non-roster invite to spring training and would be the one true left-handed reliever at the Triple-A level heading into this coming season.
Crockett, meanwhile, is out of options. If he does not make Francona’s bullpen out of camp, the club will need to designate him for assignment and expose him to the waivers process in order to send him back to Columbus. Being a 25-year-old left-hander with three years of Major League experience and previous success will make the task of retaining Crockett’s services all the more difficult.
If Crockett gets the chance to head to Goodyear with the Indians later this month, the pressure will be on him to fight for a spot on the staff. Francona is the type of manager who will take the best seven to eight relievers that he has available, regardless of pitching arm used, and the club could have several spots available behind Miller, Logan, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Dan Otero, and Zach McAllister.
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