Indians Sign Zarate to Minors Deal, Invite Seven More to Spring Training

The Cleveland Indians announced on Thursday morning that the team had come to terms on a minor league contract with left-handed pitcher Robert Zarate, who last pitched professionally in 2015. He will join seven other Indians minor leaguers who were extended non-roster invitations to spring training next month.

In addition to Zarate, the Indians have invited position players Bobby Bradley, Nellie Rodriguez, and Richie Shaffer and right-handed pitchers Louis Head, Cameron Hill, Josh Martin, and Cole Sulser to play with the team during the spring.

The Indians now have 17 non-roster players scheduled to participate during spring camp in Goodyear, Arizona.

The well-traveled 30-year-old Zarate has been out of action for some time after undergoing reconstructive surgery on his left elbow during the 2016 season. He debuted in the pro game at the age of 19 with the Toronto Blue Jays organization and spent three years with the club, but did not pitch professionally from 2009 through 2011, aside from a brief appearance in the Venezuelan Winter League during the 2009-2010 season.

He emerged in Japan in 2012, pitching in two games in 2012 and 2013, and worked in seven games in the Venezuelan Winter League in 2014-2015 before getting a shot with the Tampa Bay Rays. He went 2-1 with a 2.76 ERA in 18 games (five starts), with 17 of the appearances coming at the Triple-A level with Durham, but he missed time early in the year with a left pectoral tear and later an oblique problem. He again pitched that offseason in the Venezuelan Winter League and was a non-roster camp invitee with the Pittsburgh Pirates ahead of the 2016 season, but he was unable to participate in camp due to an elbow injury, one that appeared during the VZWL playoffs and lingered into the spring. He tried to avoid surgery with four months of rehab work, but ultimately went under the knife.

He worked in eight games for Aragua this offseason, posting a 1-2 record with a 3.79 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP in 35 2/3 innings.

Of the existing internal candidates to be offered non-roster invites Thursday, Bradley may be the most exciting of the bunch. The 21-year-old has spent parts of four seasons in the Indians farm system after being selected in the third round of the 2014 draft out of Harrison Central High School in Gulfport, Mississippi. He spent last season with the Double-A Akron RubberDucks, slashing .251/.331/.465 over 131 games while working as the team’s first baseman. For the third straight year, he topped the 20-homer mark, providing the ‘Ducks with 23 blasts and 25 more doubles while driving in 89. He drew 20 fewer walks in 40 fewer plate appearances than the season before (when he hit .235 with 23 doubles, 29 homers, and 102 RBI for the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats), but he shaved 48 strikeouts off of his previous mark. He followed up his season with 18 games in the Arizona Fall League.

Rodriguez, 23, was a 15th round pick by the Indians out of George Washington High School in New York in 2012. He has shown plenty of pop throughout his six seasons of minor league ball, but strikeouts have come in bunches. He reached the Triple-A level for the first time last year, working in 120 games for the Columbus Clippers while hitting 14 doubles and 17 homers and driving in 49 runs with a .170 batting average and .271 on-base percentage. He had previous spent more than a year with the Double-A Akron squad, where he hit .229 with 30 homers and 99 RBI in 157 games. Like Bradley, he plays first base exclusively.

Shaffer is the only one of the eight invited with previous Major League experience. He joined the Indians at the end of last January after being selected off of waivers from the Cincinnati Reds to culminate a busy offseason that saw him traded from Tampa Bay to Seattle, only to be selected off of waivers by Philadelphia and then Cincinnati before Cleveland took a shot (and even designated him for assignment to get him off of the 40-man roster, a process in which he finally went unclaimed). The 26-year-old was taken in the first round of the 2012 draft by the Rays out of Clemson University and reached the Majors in 2015, hitting .189 in 31 games. He returned for 20 more games in 2016, hitting .250. He spent all of last season with the Triple-A Columbus team, slashing .227/.338/.464 in 131 games with 18 doubles, 30 homers, and 89 RBI while being named an International League All-Star, a Home Run Derby participant, and the game’s Top Star for the IL. He led all Indians minor leaguers in homers last season and finished second in RBI to Bradley. He spent time at both corner infield and corner outfield spots last season.

Head, a 6’1” right-hander out of Texas State University (18th round of the 2012 draft), has logged six seasons on the farm for the Tribe and twice has been named a midseason All-Star for his club (2013 with Lake County; 2016 with Akron). The 27-year-old spent all of last season at Triple-A Columbus, posting a 3-2 record with seven saves in 50 games with a 3.23 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP. He followed up his season with work in the Dominican Winter League, striking out seven in four and one-third innings over five games.

Hill, another 6’1” right-hander, is 23 and has spent four years in the Tribe farm system. A 17th round pick in the 2014 draft out of Redlands Community College in El Reno, Oklahoma, he spent the majority of the season with the Akron RubberDucks (41 games), but did make a couple of appearances for the Columbus Clippers as well. He was 4-4 in his second season of Double-A play with a 3.18 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. Midseason, he was named to the Eastern League All-Star team.

Aside from Shaffer, Martin was the closest of the bunch to have a Major League opportunity so far in his career. He was selected in the Rule 5 draft by the San Diego Padres following the 2015 season, but did not make the club out of spring training and was returned to the Indians. He has spent the last two years pitching at Columbus, but he missed two full months last summer with right elbow inflammation. In his two seasons of work with the Clippers, he has gone 3-7 over 77 games with seven saves, a 3.35 ERA, and a 1.22 WHIP. Last season, he averaged just over a strikeout per inning and he trimmed more than a walk per nine innings off of his previous season’s mark. The 6’5” righty out of Samford University (10th round of the 2012 draft) turned 28 at the end of December.

Sulser, 27, joined the Indians organization when he was selected in the 25th round of the 2013 draft out of Dartmouth College. He split last season between Akron and Columbus, going a combined 3-1 with three saves, a 2.70 ERA, and a 1.41 WHIP with 70 strikeouts in 63 1/3 innings pitched. The right-hander followed up his 2017 efforts by pitching in the Dominican Winter League, posting a 3.48 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP in ten and one-third innings of work. He was a starter at the beginning of his baseball career and had pitched twice at the Double-A level in his second pro season in 2014, but he missed all of the 2015 season, slowing his progression through the farm system some. Since that lost season, he has worked almost exclusively as a reliever.


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