The Indians made a handful of minor roster moves on Saturday, highlighted by a waiver claim of pitcher Jordan Stephens from the Chicago White Sox.
A 26-year-old right-handed pitcher, Stephens was added to the 40-man roster as a result of the waiver claim and optioned to Double-A Akron. To make room on the 40-man for Stephens, outfielder Bradley Zimmer was transferred from the 10-day to the 60-day injured list while rehabbing his right shoulder injury.
Stephens had fallen on tough times this season in his second stint at Triple-A Charlotte and his first workload since being added to the 40-man roster by the White Sox in November. He was in camp with the White Sox this spring but was an early cut in the second week of March. He made six starts for the Knights and was 2-3 with two quality starts and three rocky ones before a trip to the injured list on May 8. Command issues early in the season and some difficulties keeping the ball in the yard were among his early issues. He made a rehab appearance at High-A Winston-Salem on June 1 and returned to Charlotte on June 4, making three relief appearances before the White Sox designated him for assignment to make room on their 40-man roster.
A fifth round pick in 2015 out of Rice after three years and Tommy John surgery there, Stephens pitched briefly in rookie ball after being drafted. He skipped over the short-season and Class-A levels in 2016 and reported to High-A Winston-Salem, posting a 7-10 record with a 3.45 ERA, a 1.26 WHIP, and a 9.9 strikeout per nine rate in 27 starts there.
He spent 2017 at Double-A Birmington and made just 16 starts, going 3-7 with a 3.14 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP with a drop to his strikeout rate, but most of his other peripherals were on target with his strong first full season the year before. He missed the first two months of that season on the disabled list with forearm tendonitis. Last year, he split the season between Birmingham and Charlotte, combining to post an 8-10 mark in 28 starts with a 4.23 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. His hit rate jumped nearly an extra hit per nine innings, accounting for someone of the changes to his stat line.
Stephens has been primarily a starter throughout his career, working solely in that capacity from 2016 to 2018. His three relief appearances for Charlotte to close out his tenure there marked a potential change in career trajectory, as his skill set has been considered a better fit for a multi-inning reliever than as a starter. He had a deep pitching arsenal, including the fastball, curveball, slider/cutter, and changeup, but his fastball is considered to be below average velocity for a right-hander, sitting around 90 MPH. His curveball has been mentioned as his best offering and one that will keep him in consideration as a true pitching prospect, whether as a backend starting pitcher or in a more likely role in middle relief.
Zimmer opened the season on the 10-day injured list (retroactive to March 25), but as he inched closer to joining the Columbus Clippers for a minor league rehab assignment earlier in the month, he suffered a setback after experiencing discomfort in the shoulder before leaving Goodyear, Arizona. Rather than to push through, the team delayed his rehab to evaluate the injury.
“He felt something in his shoulder,” Tribe manager Terry Francona said last week. “So rather than start his clock in Columbus, we decided to hold off. Hopefully it’s only for a couple of days. But we just didn’t want to get him started in games, like we said, start the rehab clock, until we know he’s full-go.”
Zimmer last played for the Indians on June 3 of last season and has not played a professional game since June 10 of a year ago. His right shoulder surgery had an initial recovery time anticipated of eight to 12 months, but he suffered an additional setback in March when he strained his oblique.
The move of Zimmer to the 60-day injured list is more of a business move for the club, as it gives them added flexibility on the 40-man roster in the short term until Zimmer is able to return to action.
In a second minor move of the day, the Indians dealt minor league pitcher Brooks Pounders to the New York Mets for cash considerations. The 6’5”, 265 lb. right-hander signed with the Indians late in December on a minor league contract with a non-roster invitation to spring training. He was assigned to Columbus at the end of spring camp and had worked in 24 games for the Clippers this season, all in relief, posting a 2-1 record with one save, a 2.31 ERA, and a 0.86 WHIP with 46 strikeouts in 35 innings of work. Despite a sometimes revolving door at the Major League level, the Indians had not added the 28-year-old Pounders to the big league roster and instead provided him an opportunity to pitch in the Majors for the Mets.
The Mets added Pounders to their Major League roster on Saturday. He has spent parts of the last three seasons in the Majors, pitching for Kansas City in 2016, the Los Angeles Angels in 2017, and the Colorado Rockies last year.
Photo: Laura Wolff/Charlotte Knights (via MiLB.com)