Five pitching prospects that could become the next Pestano
By Jim Berdysz
March 9, 2012
At this time one season ago, Vinnie Pestano was just another reliever looking for a chance to make his mark in the big leagues. After having some success as a September call-up in 2010, Pestano competed and won the final bullpen spot out of spring training last season, and seemingly never looked back.
One year later, Pestano has not only become a household name for Tribe fans, but has pitched himself into one of the main fixtures in the Indians bullpen, now known as the Bullpen Mafia.
With spring training now underway, what Indians pitching prospect could follow in the footsteps of Pestano and break out in a big way in 2012?
The Indians relief depth has been an asset throughout most of the minor league system over the past few years. With offseason trades of highly regarded reliever prospects Cory Burns and Zach Putnam though, the Tribe is now left with a smaller core of young relievers, who like Pestano, hope to make their own mark with the Tribe as early as this season.
Here are five pitching prospects that could break out this season and become the next Vinnie Pestano:
5. Bryan Price, RHP
Acquired from the Boston Red Sox along with Justin Masterson in the Victor Martinez trade, Bryan Price has put up solid numbers in his two-plus years in the Indians minor league system. The one time starter now reliever projects into a well rounded middle to back-end reliever, where he has shown great control by mixing in his two-seam fastball and slider, to go along with a mid-to-high 90’s fastball.
At Double-A Akron the past two seasons, Price has combined to go 8-6 with a 3.05 ERA in 68 games spanning 121 innings. The 25-year-old and former first round pick by the Red Sox in 2008 has gotten better in each of his seasons in the Indians organization, dropping a run off his ERA while maintaining strong control. His 2.20 SO/BB ratio was one of the best in the Akron bullpen in 2011, walking 15 and striking out 33 in 51.2 innings.
With lots of relief depth coming to the Tribe on minor league contracts this offseason, Price very well could open up the 2012 season with the Aeros once again. With no setbacks and a good first month, he will make his way further south to Triple-A Columbus during the first half of the year. Barring any injuries to the Indians bullpen, Price could become a September call-up to the big leagues as rosters expand near the end of the season.
4. Bryce Stowell, RHP
If there was an Indians prospect on his way to the majors with the best late inning stuff, it just may be Bryce Stowell. The former UC Irvine star was at one point on the fast track to the majors, having played games at the three highest minor league levels in 2010. After straining his right elbow late during the 2010 season though, the arm injury ultimately prevented Stowell from potentially making his Major League debut that year with the Tribe as a September call-up.
This past year, Stowell began a slow but productive road back, pitching in a total of just 38.2 innings between Class-A Lake County and Akron. The Indians former 22nd round pick in 2008 has dominated the most at the Double-A level each of the past two seasons, going a combined 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in 41.2 innings with the Aeros. In those 40-plus innings Stowell has allowed just 27 hits, walked 21 while striking out 61, posting a ridiculous 13.2 SO/9.
Arm injuries aside, Stowell cannot only flat out pitch, but become a force in the back-end of the Tribe bullpen for many years to come. If he can stay healthy this entire season and keep control of his fastball that can touch 100 mph, there’s no doubt Stowell can make his Major League debut sometime in 2012. With arbitration and salaries beginning to rise in the Indians bullpen, Stowell could become an excellent alternative in the bullpen should the Indians make a deal during the year.
3. Tyler Sturdevant, RHP
If Indians fans don’t know Tyler Sturdevant already, I almost guarantee they will before this season is over. Like Stowell in 2010, Sturdevant played at the three highest levels of the Indians minor league system in 2011. There is a lot to like when it comes to the former New Mexico State Aggie, as just one glance at his career minor league numbers will make any Tribe fan want to see what he can do in the big leagues.
The former 27th round pick by the Indians in 2009 owns a career minor league record of 15-6 with a 2.46 ERA. Totaling 175.1 innings, Strudevant has a career 2.60 SO/BB ratio where he’s walked just 51 batters while striking out 215. In the end, he ultimately may have a better chance to make it to the big leagues first when compared to Stowell, with health and the ability to stay consistent being the main differences.
One knock on Sturdevant is his age, as he is already 26 years old and has yet to crack the major league roster. Age could also become beneficial to him as the season progresses, as the Indians will need to find out if Sturdevant is in the team’s future plans, especially if he keeps pitching the way he has been the last two seasons. For now, Strudevant looks to be destined for Columbus out of spring training.
While the Indians have relief depth with lots of big league experience, some of the veteran minor league relievers can opt out of their contracts with the team if they don’t make the Indians roster by a certain date. This bodes well for any one of these prospects, and could end up being the opportunity for Sturdevant to get his first call to the pros as early as this season.
2. Chen Lee, RHP
One Indians pitching prospect that has done nothing but fly through the minor league system is right hander Chen Lee. The native of Taiwan may stand below six feet, but his numbers especially with the Clippers this past season will tell anyone he is ready to be tested in the majors. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2008, Lee’s querky Japanese-like delivery makes him unique from the other upcoming prospects, which may give him a little leg up in the competition.
Rated by Baseball America earlier this year as the fourth best prospect in the Indians' system, Lee went an undefeated 4-0 with Columbus this past season, sporting a 2.27 ERA in 31.2 innings. Throughout his minor league career with the Indians, Lee has never posted an ERA lower than 3.35, his highest coming in his first season in the Tribe system with Class-A Kinston.
As a dark horse in spring training for one of the final bullpen spots with the Indians, Lee has already proven at 24 years old that he is a winner at every minor league level. While Lee hasn’t exactly been lights out in spring training so far, he has already been called upon to close out the first exhibition game of the year, showing just how high the Indians are on the Taiwan native. With many veterans in camp, it’s tough to say whether Lee will make the big league club out of spring training. If not, Tribe fans will see a new kind of “Lee” at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario very soon.
1. Nick Hagadone, LHP
Also acquired in the Martinez trade with the Red Sox in 2009, Nick Hagadone has the best chance of becoming the next Vinnie Pestano this upcoming season. The six-foot-five left-hander saw his first taste of the big leagues last year, and did not disappoint notching his first Major League win in the process.
After having Tommy John surgery in 2008, the Indians believe Hagadone is best destined for a role in the back-end of the bullpen, where short inning work could benefit his already high-90’s fastball. With the Tribe, Hagadone went 1-0 with a 4.09 ERA, but what was most impressive was that the southpaw gave up just four hits in his first 11 big league innings, holding opponents to a dismal .118 average.
Rated by Baseball America as the third best prospect in the Indians organization this season, Hagadone is currently competing for one of the last two remaining bullpen spots with the Tribe. With two lefties already in the ‘pen in Tony Sipp and Rafael Perez, it may be difficult for Hagadone to win a spot out of spring training. With a good month of March and the will to show he belongs in the majors, Hagadone could very easily slip onto the big league roster this spring and not only help the Tribe contend, but become the next Pestano as well.
Follow Jim on Twitter @JBirdman27 or he can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As for the options lost in trades/waivers the last few months, the only real loss was Putnam. Burns is a fringy ML reliever, De La Cruz is fading, and Judy is a ML pitcher but probably is going to be a 4A guy now bouncing back and forth between ML/AAA as depth.
As for Cody Allen? I am excited about him too....but let's take a deep breath. He is not in Major League camp. He simply was a "backup" added to those two games he pitched in so they had extra arms to use if pitch counts for scheduled guys got high. He is not being considered for a ML role this year. The Indians bring 2-3 minor league pitchers over from minor league camp to big league camp for every game as backups. Different guys each day, but usually the same 2-3 guys every other day. In all honesty, you DON'T want to be a backup. It is a sign you may be organizational filler. That's not the case with Allen as they are considering starting him this year, but he is a guy that is going to have to continue to show health, perform, and most importantly develop and show he can pitch well at High-A and maybe some Double-A this year.
Bryson needs to harness his control. If he does, I believe he's a potential late-inning RP. Price, imo, is a 6th/7th inning RP, if he is able to get to the majors.