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IBI Power Poll: Is Danny Salazar elite?

His stuff certainly suggests it...

IBI Power Poll: Is Danny Salazar elite?
December 29, 2013
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In this week’s power poll, we are going to continue to take a look at the starting rotation, where the one tangible hole on the 25-man roster remains. While it’s vital that the Indians address the #5 spot in the rotation, what happens in the 1-4 slots may be equally important. While the Indians seem to have those spots locked down with Justin MastersonDanny SalazarCorey Kluber and Zach McAllister, there are questions that remain.

Before we get there though, let’s take a look at last week’s power poll, again, with interesting results.

Last week, we took a look at who the Indians #5 starter would be between Carlos Carrasco, Shawn Marcum, Josh TomlinTrevor Bauer, or by a potential move that had not been made yet. I was purposely vague on what that move might be, thinking that it could either be a big money signing, like Ubaldo Jimenez returning, or another minor league contract.

There was no clear majority, yet again, for the results, but there was a fairly clear cut between what Indians’ fans want, and what they likely don’t want. The top two results garnered 58 ½ % of the total voting, so it’s clear that there’s an arm that most want to see succeed, unless the Indians go about getting another proven arm.

Carlos Carrasco topped the list with 32% of the total vote. Carrasco is always an intriguing option, but really has been living off of the promise of his former stud status as a prospect from his Phillies days, and a scintillating stretch of five game stretch in June of 2011 in which he went 4-1, with a 0.98 ERA, over 28 2/3 inning, striking out 28, while only walking five. There were three starters ahead of Carrasco during that same stretch, and two of them wereCliff Lee, the player he was traded for, and Justin Verlander, who would go on and win the Cy Young that year (Lee finished third that season).

Carrasco would go on to struggle through July and a start in August, before getting shut down after his one August start thanks to some elbow inflammation that had shown up during a bullpen session. Rumors circulated that the arm had been hurting for much of July though, but with Carrasco having finally found himself during that stretch of June games, the righty didn’t want to lose a spot he had been battling for during the preceding four seasons in the minors and the majors.

Carrasco had been on the DL on April 24th of 2011 with similar elbow pain.

While his promise and pure “stuff” is unquestioned, Carrasco has been a head case on the mound over the years once he’s reached the big leagues. Going back to the 2011 season, Carrasco was ejected placed on a five-game suspension for a start on July 29th of that season when he threw a fastball over the head of Royals DH Billy Butler after Melky Cabrera launched a grand slam to right, giving the Royals a 7-0 lead.

In Carrasco’s first game back after Tommy John and serving his five game suspension, he beaned Kevin Youkilisin the top of the fourth inning after Robinson Cano had crushed a two-run homer to deep left-center, giving the Yankees a 7-0 lead.

Carrasco struggled in the starter role last season, but returned late in the season as a reliever and was extremely effective, speculating that Carrasco would be a back-end option in 2014.

Manager Terry Francona didn’t deny that Carrasco would ultimately be that option, but he immediately stated that the #5 spot in the rotation was something that Carrasco would have every opportunity to win.

Coming in second in the voting was “a move that is yet to be made,” garnering 26% of the overall vote. Without knowing what direction that Chris Antonetti may go in here, I think many were hesitant to pick this option. The Indians’ GM has already signed Shawn Marcum to that minor league deal, and I don’t think many fans want to see the Indians hunt for another Scott Kazmir at this point.

Signings like that are few and far between.

There’s also a wariness in a deal for Ubaldo Jimenez, understanding that he’s a giant wild-card, and also understanding that signing him would immediately limit their options with Justin Masterson.

Shawn Marcum, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer all received less than 16% of the vote, but all received more than 10%, so most had some momentum, showcasing that as of now, this really is a wait and see position. There’s a long way to go before Pitchers and Catchers arrive, and three full months before the season begins, so plenty of time for moving and shaking.

Today, we are going to take a look at the most pivotal pitchers in the Indians rotation heading into 2014, and that’s Danny Salazar. Jim Piascik took a quick look at Danny Salazar’s historical 2013 season, debating whether or not he would return to that form or not. He takes a close look at the rarified air of Salazar’s season in that only seven total pitchers (including Salazar) since 1903 “have posted between 1.0 and 1.5 fWAR with the ERA to match this early in their careers. Then projects forward.

At the end of Piascik’s piece, Jim ultimately notes that predicting Salazar’s future based on the 52-inning sample size isn’t easy to do, but does point to a short-term likelihood of having a really good second year, passed that, he could either turn into Steve Carlton (who can forget his defining moments as a member of the Indians), or Steve Busby.

Michael Hattery also tackled the Danny Salazar question in his Halloween edition of Trend Spotting. Michael addresses the unknown with regards to health rather adroitly, noting that the Indians were so concerned about the health of his arm that they never shut him down. He also notes that Salazar’s secondary offerings (his changeup against lefties, and his slider against righties) are each plus pitches. Salazar dominated lefties last year with his fastball-changeup, and was slightly above average against righties, with his fastball-slider combo, but should continue to improve.

Hattery notes, like Piascik, that predicting forward for any pitcher is unpredictable at best, but asserts that Salazar is on the precipice of becoming not a #1 starter, but is poised to become an ace. The key is health, and a continued progression of his already impressive secondary offerings.

This leads us into today’s power poll, and we are just going to focus on a very simple question: Will Danny Salazar be a legitimate Top of the Rotation starter in 2013? Don’t forget to defend your selection by commenting below.

Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as  the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at jpete@indiansprospectinsider.com.

User Comments

Hermie13
December 30, 2013 - 10:37 AM EST
Not sure it's fair to compare CC and Salazar. CC was just 20 years old his rookie year when he pitched for Cleveland in 2001. Threw over 180 innings and struck out nearly a batter an inning. Salazar struck out well over a batter an inning last year but only 52 innings and was 23. Both great pitchers. Can see the Salazar better "stuff" argument I guess. Very interested in seeing how he holds up against Major League talent over a full season. Don't think he becomes a FOR guy in 2014, think he'll have some struggles, but think he'll show that he can be a full-season starter and set himself up for a big 2015. Think he'll be very solid in 2014 too, just not elite (though would love nothing more than to be wrong on that last part).
Outage
December 30, 2013 - 9:10 AM EST
Bauer? Show me bauer's major league sample? There's thinking and seeing. With Salazar, it's more than thinking.
John
December 30, 2013 - 8:59 AM EST
Did we think Bauer would last year? Yes. Pitchers are too fickle to be this confident. But, the optimism is nice. 2014 is just too quick to assume this.
BrianM
December 30, 2013 - 12:06 AM EST
No, I do not think he will be elite this year.

Despite what Jim has said, I tend to agree with a lot of the other opinions shared thus far.

His Changeup is very good, but he did not throw his slider very much in the playoff game, and he will need to be able to use that third pitch to be successful.

His fastball may be too straight. He will always be susceptible to HR's because of it, and I really dont think he can go an entire year averaging 97 with his fastball.

No pitcher I have ever seen with the Indians has flashed a better one/two pitch combo than Salazar, and I would love to see him prove me wrong, I just have not seen enough to believe he can be an anchor to our rotation.
Rick
December 29, 2013 - 11:55 PM EST
I do know that I haven't been this excited to see someone on the bump since Sabathia - nor have I heard as much excitement coming from the baseball folks - be it on ESPN or MLB Channel.

It is also worth noting that with Ubaldo's 2nd coming in the second half of '13, plus the steps forward taken by Kluber, Salazar's progress will help establish how much credit Calloway & Tito deserve in all this.

AS well as how much progress - or regressing - Yon Gomes goes through in what will be a pivotal position in a full-time sophomore year.

I for one am a lot more confident that we have better decision makers as well as player development that we did early in the Dolan/Shapiro days - both in the dugout in Cleveland and up and down the organization.

Other than a bit of backslide concerning McCallister's 2nd half, and given that there have been several posts that Callaway has already gotten to much credit via Ubaldo, Salazar is only a part of what has been and continues to be a very exciting story.

I still wish that the Tribe would have matched Oakland's 'overpay' on Kaz, as much because I believe he's going to defy those who don't believe...and because we lack the balance of a qualify lefty.

Otherwise, I'm completely sold we have an outstanding narrative unfolding with these young live arms. Can't wait for Feb - with or without any more signings.
Canadian Joe
December 29, 2013 - 3:42 PM EST
Salazar is an elite arm. He needs to work on one major thing, pitch count. Like Masterson. Both have a tendency to run up 100 pitches in to the 6th inning. Both have to work at that, to get another inning or two out of them. IF Jiminez re-signs, this staff could be magic. And Carrasco and Bauer have not yet been factored in. With the changes in the rotation and bullpen, pitching will be closely monitored. If they are that good, could be a great year in Cleveland. If not, it could be a long one !!!
Jim
December 29, 2013 - 3:16 PM EST
Just to put it a bit in perspective though Art, as good as we remember Wright, and he was certainly very important in that 1997 season, his K per 9 that year was 6 1/4, and his BB per 9 was 3 1/2. His FIP was only below 4 once, and his xFIP that year was nearly 4. My point here is that as fondly as we remember Jaret Wright, he never had the stuff that Salazar has.

Now, we can certainly learn something from how he was handled...Wright...for sure...

My point has always been that Salazar's stuff is so much better than anything we've ever seen from a homegrown pitcher...

I don't have Sabathia's numbers in front of me, but I'll bet you that Sabathia, and Lee as well...and numbers that grew over their first few years from average to above average (and I'm talking pure stuff).

So if all things stay equal, Salazar has a shorter distance to dominance, and the higher upside overall.

Now again, getting and staying are two different things.

That's the question.

Pure stuff? Salazar is an exception in the history of this organization. No, I'm not comping him to Feller or McDowell or take your pick of the hall of famers that have dancing in Cleveland. I'm just saying this is stuff is unique to only a few.

What they have is a body of work, and that's Salazar's question. Can he adjust over the years, and stay healthy to stay relevant first, and exceptional...second...
art
December 29, 2013 - 1:40 PM EST
We'll see, I always have hope for a great arm in the Cleveland organization, but a lot of guys turn into Jaret Wright.
Charles Galeti, Jr.
December 29, 2013 - 11:24 AM EST
His fastball is straight, so saying it doesn't get any better -- does not appear so. Verlander's is preferable.
shy
December 29, 2013 - 11:15 AM EST
I am a big Salazar fan- I think his biggest challenge will be to try to pace himself to pitch effectively over the marathon that is the MLB season- you see elite arm kids like him and Ventura of KC debut and their stuff is so jawdropping you get really excited and start making projections. The key for Danny will getting ahead in counts keeping guys off base and pitching deep into games with reasonable pitch counts. If he tries to strike out every batter, he's going to burn himself out.
Jim
December 29, 2013 - 10:59 AM EST
Stuff-wise, he's better than even sabathia...now...HE'S NOT BETTER than Sabathia by any stretch, but his fastball is about as elite as you can get, and his change is vicious. If that slider improves, he's going to make hitter cry, if he adjusts.

I'm a big believer in body of work, and with pitchers, that's magnified, and always an unknown. If he stays healthy though, the sky is the limit, even with a bit of regression.
Walter
December 29, 2013 - 10:52 AM EST
Jim

Thanks for the info. I hope your right and I think you are right. Was playing it middle of the road at this point. Made because the slim chance that Jimenez might be signed.

If what you say is correct about Salazar, does that make him the best Indians pitcher to come through the system since Sabathia ?

I think Salazar is better than Carmona/Hernandez.
Jim
December 29, 2013 - 10:43 AM EST
I don't disagree with you Walter in theory, but do disagree with the overall fallacy that his secondary stuff needs adjustments.

His secondary stuff was incredibly effective. His changeup is a plus pitch, and his slider, while a word in progress, still graded as slightly better than average.

Read Hattery's piece, that I notated.

Now, could he adjust and make them better? He sure could.
Does he have to adjust now that "there's a book on him?" Absolutely.
Does he have to lower his HR rate? He sure does.

I think he'll do all three, and I 100% believe his floor on this rotation is as the #2, if we are going to talk numbers. I don't think there's going to be a healthy day ever that Zach McAllister is going to be better than him, and while people will point to Kluber...let me put it this way...

If Kluber is the #2 on this rotation based on numbers and how he pitches, and I suppose experience, then he'll be having a year that grades much better than I think we're going to get. That would be a really, really good thing.

People need to stop listening to what people SAY about his secondary stuff, and start actually looking at the results of it.

He's young though, so there are always questions...
Walter
December 29, 2013 - 10:32 AM EST
I think this year will be a learning /adjustment period for Salazar. There is a book out on Salazar this year and the hitters will adjust to that. The next step would he be able to make the proper adjustments that could lead him to become a potential top of rotation pitcher. Will need to work on the effectiveness of his secondary pitches.

I think he could be a #3 most of the year. If adjustments are made than he could be #2 by the end of the year. Hopefully that is the case with the potential of Masterson leaving after this season.

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