Well, I hope that everyone had a good holiday weekend. I don't know about you guys, but the weather here in Chicago has been nothing short of beautiful the past couple days. And frankly, that's kind of weird for Chicago, so it's been a pleasant surprise.
There's been a whole lot of focus lately here on the LeBron James sweepstakes and whether he'll come over to Chicago along with Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade, but I'm guessing that fans in Cleveland don't share nearly the same excitement. LeBron seems like almost a lock to leave now, and that's something that will probably set the Cavaliers back for a couple years. Oh, and the Cleveland Indians? Maybe they didn't want to take any attention away from LeBron or anything, because they went into the tank almost immediately, and currently sit 11.5 games back of the Twins with a 32-48 record.
They have the second-worst run differential and winning percentage marks in the AL. They have baseball's sixth-worst offensive according to wOBA, only the Orioles have a worse xFIP as a team, and while DRS grades out their defense as above-average, UZR is in complete disagreement, calling them by worse the worst defensive team in the game so far. So yeah, the Indians haven't exactly been anything to get excited about this year. But what about 2013? Me thinks that we should give it a look.
No. 1: LHP Drew Pomeranz, Opening Day 2013 Age: 23, Current level: Unsigned first-round pick
No. 2: RHP Alex White, Opening Day 2013 Age: 24, Current level: Double-A
No. 3: RHP Carlos Carrasco, Opening Day 2013 Age: 26, Current level: Triple-A
No. 4: RHP Justin Masterson, Opening Day 2013 Age: 28, Current level: MLB
No. 5: RHP Hector Rondon, Opening Day 2013 Age: 25, Current level: Triple-A
First off, I'd like to say that choosing five guys to slot into Cleveland's 2013 rotation was really, really hard.
Not because there were no options, but because of the nature of the options. The Indians have guys with ace-upside, like Nick Hagadone and Jason Knapp, but they're both battling durability and injury issues that put their entire status as starting pitchers in question. In the end, I just couldn't include either one, as I felt that there are just too many question marks surrounding their abilities to remain in the starting rotation long-term.
Let's look at who I did include, though, starting with Cleveland's first-round pick from this year's draft, lefty Drew Pomeranz. Regarded as the best college pitcher in the draft, and considered a possible option at No. 2 behind Bryce Harper before some injury concerns cropped up, the Indians snapped up the Ole Miss product with the fifth overall pick. He has yet to sign with the club but is expected to before the August deadline passes, and will immediately become one of the better prospects in Cleveland's farm system. Armed with a low-90's fastball, a power curve and a developing change-up, Pomeranz flashed impressive poise and polish to go along with three pitches that have the potential to be above-average. With the build of a workhorse, at least two pitches that project as plus, and enough command to make it all work, Pomeranz has the look of a truly high-quality left-handed starter.
Like Pomeranz, White was a college pitcher selected in the first-round by the Indians, although he was taken ten picks later, with the 15th overall pick in the 2009 draft. After some early reports came out that the Indians would try using White in the bullpen, he made his full-season debut in the starting rotation this year and has already made it to Double-A, where he's currently showing off a 1.72 ERA in his first 8 starts. His peripherals aren't nearly as impressive, though, as his 4.48 FIP in Double-A shows. He's still clearly a work-in-progress, but one good sign would have to be his groundball rate, which sat at 52.8% with Advanced Single-A Kinston and sits at 57.8% so far in Double-A. With all of that said, though, White still has top-of-the-rotation upside if he can develop more consistency. And that's certainly nice to see from an organization that took the likes of Adam Miller, Brad Snyder, Michael Aubrey, Jeremy Sowers, John Drennan, Trevor Crowe, David Huff and Beau Mills with eight consecutive first-round picks.
Carrasco is an absolute enigma, an exceptionally talented pitcher that's so erratic and inconsistent that it's really difficult to gauge what kind of pitcher he'll become in the near-future. He was a key piece of the trade that sent Cliff Lee to Philadelphia and has the raw stuff to be a No. 3 starter or better, but there have been legitimate questions about his poise and inconsistency. It's not surprising to see why Cleveland wanted him, the guy was ranked No. 41, No. 54 and No. 52 in three consecutive years on BA's Top 100 as evaluators hoped that he'd get past those issues. The thing is, despite those issues, Carrasco has actually pitched pretty well in the minors. In 2008, split between Double-A and Triple-A, Carrasco put up a 9.1 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 47% GB rate and a 3.59 FIP in 155 innings. In 2009, split between the Triple-A affiliates for Philadelphia and Cleveland, he put up an 8.3 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 41% GB rate and a 3.71 FIP in 160 innings. Carrasco has continued to pitch well in Triple-A this season, he's had a pretty unlucky HR/FB so far which has hurt his numbers, but the Indians have yet to give Carrasco another opportunity after four ugly starts in his MLB debut last season. If Carrasco can get things figured out, he could end up being one of the best pitchers on the team. It's just that people have been wondering when Carrasco would figure it out for years.
Masterson will be the grizzled veteran in Cleveland's projected 2013 rotation, as he's been in the majors since early in the 2008 season. A sinkerballer with a very, very pronounced platoon split, many evaluators have projected the bullpen as Masterson's eventual destination given his struggles with left-handed hitters. But here we are in mid-June, and Masterson is sitting pretty with respective FIP and xFIP marks of 3.86 and 3.91 in his first 16 starts on the season. His command continues to be underwhelming, as he's walking roughly 4 guys per 9 innings, but he's shown the ability to miss bats and, more importantly, he's been churning out grounders like nobody's business. On the season, Masterson is one of just two qualified starting pitchers with a groundball rate over 60% right now, with his 64.2% trailing only Tim Hudson's crazy 67.8% rate. Even with his struggles against lefties, Masterson has the looks of an effective starter with his abilities to miss bats and keep the ball on the ground.
If one of those high-upside guys actually comes close to his potential by 2013, Rondon would probably be the first casualty in the rotation. The Venezuelan native's upside is fairly limited by inconsistent offspeed stuff, but he's got enough fastball and command to make it work in the starting rotation. It also helps to have a track record of success like Rondon's, as he's never put up an FIP mark over 3.9 in any full season thanks to consistently good strikeout and walk numbers. But things really peaked for Rondon last season, as he put up a 3.11 FIP in 150 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A to emerge as one of the team's best young pitchers. He struggled early this season with home runs, I suppose that happens when you have a HR/FB over 25%, but it's likely that he wasn't totally healthy then as he's been on the DL since mid-May with forearm pain. At this point, the injury might be a bigger concern than the performance, because Rondon definitely had the looks of a solid back-of-the-rotation starter coming into this season.
Closer: LHP Nick Hagadone, Opening Day 2013 Age: 27, Current level: Double-A
I'm certainly not suggesting that the Indians should give up on Hagadone as a starter now, but realistically this is probably his most likely destination. The questions have never been about Hagadone's stuff, his fastball/slider combination is absolutely devastating when he has any command of it. Rather, it's a combination of durability questions, a track record of injury issues, inconsistent command and the lack of a quality third offering. The durability issues are pretty obvious, the guy has a fairly violent delivery and he threw just 57 innings in his first two professional seasons combined. And of course, those durability issues stem from obvious injury concerns, as Hagadone had Tommy John surgery in early 2008 and has taken a fairly long time to return to 100%. Inconsistent command is always a symptom of pitchers returning from TJS, but Hagadone's clearly having a tough time getting past it. He's walked 69 batters in 107 innings since returning from TJS, including 45 walks in 60 innings split between Advanced Single-A and Double-A in 2010. Factor in that his change-up is still mostly a show-me pitch at this point, and Hagadone would seem to be pretty far away from making a big league rotation, especially when you consider that he's already 24. In April, after seeing him pitch, Frankie Piliere mentioned that Hagadone has the look of "a potentially dominant reliever at the back of a bullpen" given his raw stuff and the lengthy strides he would need to take to take on a starter's role. It might not be what the Indians had in mind when they made him a key piece of the Victor Martinez deal, but it's presumably something they'd take, as Hagadone could become an elite closer down the line.