Using a 27th round pick from last June’s draft, the Cleveland Indians purchased a lottery ticket for their thinned out bullpen on Monday in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Indians announced the acquisition of right-handed pitcher Chih-Wei Hu from the Rays in exchange for first-year pro Gionti Turner, who spent last summer playing for Cleveland’s Arizona League club in Goodyear.
Abbott and Costello jokes aside, the addition of Hu to the Indians’ 40-man roster brings a needed candidate to camp to audition for a role on the Tribe’s relief staff, one that took a hit when the contracts of Cody Allen and Andrew Miller came to an end after the club’s early postseason exit. While the team has a handful of returning internal options, there will be plenty of spots available for arms to enter through the center field gates at Progressive Field.
Hu, who turned 25 earlier this month, is a 6’0”, 220 lb. right-hander out of Taichung, Taiwan, and is a sixth year pro who started his career in the Minnesota Twins’ organization in 2012. He was traded to the Rays in 2015 at the trade deadline for reliever Kevin Jepsen. He profiles as a fly ball pitcher with a low 90s heater, but home runs have accounted for one-third of the hits that he has surrendered in his brief sample size in the Majors.
Hu reached the Majors for the first time in 2017, appearing in six games in relief while going 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP. He followed it up with five more games of work out of the bullpen last season, failing to factor in a decision with a 4.15 ERA and a 0.77 WHIP in limited work. He was recalled five separate times during the season by the Rays as part of their innovative means to handling their pitching staff in 2018, when the club turned to “openers” instead of using the more conventional five-man rotation.
While his big league experience has been limited to relief work, Hu was primarily a starter from 2014 to 2016. He moved into regular bullpen work in 2017, only to find himself back in a starting role at Triple-A in 2018, going 5-7 with a 4.66 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP in 24 games (19 starts). His stint with Durham marked his third straight season with the club and his fourth year overall at the Triple-A level. During his time in the minors, he was twice named a mid-season All-Star, was once selected as a post-season All-Star, and was picked to participate in the 2016 MLB All-Star Futures Game. That season, he also won the Southern League’s ERA title.
Similar to the Indians trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates last week, the Hu trade helped the Rays create extra space on their 40-man roster ahead of Tuesday’s deadline to add players to protect them from exposure in December’s Rule 5 draft.
Turner, 18, was the Indians’ 27th round pick in June out of Watson Chapel High School in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Just a week after the signing of his first professional contract, Turner was on the diamond for the Tribe’s rookie league club in Arizona, suiting up at second and short at just 17 years of age. The right-handed hitter appeared in 46 games in total (while also logging innings in center field), putting up a .296/.348/.396 slash with ten doubles, two triples, one homer, and 22 RBI.
The trade for Hu brings the Indians’ 40-man roster to 36. He has a minor league option remaining, giving Cleveland some flexibility in how it can juggle its bullpen throughout the 2019 season.
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