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Indians preview capsules: The non-roster invite pitchers

Marcum, Harang the most interesting NRI pitchers in camp

Indians preview capsules: The non-roster invite pitchers
Shaun Marcum (Photo: CBSSports.com)
February 28, 2014
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As a part of IBI's beginning of season festivities, we have preview capsules on all 54 players currently in major league camp with at least some chance of helping the big league team. The first batch of these running today are the non-roster invite pitchers.

There is just not much more to it; spring training is here and real baseball is just around the corner. Enjoy!

Shaun Marcum, RHPShaun Marcum (Photo: ESPN)

In Shaun Marcum's career, he averages an above-average 2.6 fWAR per a full 200-inning season. Of course, a full 200-inning season is something that tends to escape Marcum, as the right-hander  struggled with injuries throughout his career. Marcum only threw 78.1 innings last year, and coming off of thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, he is, as always, not a lock to be healthy in 2014.

When Marcum is on the mound, he gets results despite a fastball that hangs out in the 86-87 miles per hour range. Clearly the fastball is not going to be Marcum's bread and butter; that would be his changeup. Marcum throws his changeup around 22 percent of the time, one of the highest rates in baseball. The soft-tossing right-hander is far from overpowering, but when he is on the mound, Marcum gets outs with his limited stuff and actually posted average strikeout rates.

Marcum's injury history is extensive -- Tommy John surgery in 2008, surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome last year, etc. -- and it is possible his 5.29 ERA in 2013 was a result of pitching hurt. The right-hander's already slow fastball lost even more zip, and despite solid peripherals, Marcum simply had no effectiveness. Still, with a 4.21 xFIP in 2012 and a 4.22 xFIP in his limited 2013, there is a chance that merely being healthy will leave Marcum as a decent back-end starter for Cleveland in 2014.

There is no sense in betting on Marcum being healthy -- history has proved that -- but that is why he only got a minor league contract. On a no-risk deal, the 32-year-old brings in some significant upside. Much like the signing of Scott Kazmir last offseason, there is no harm looking into Marcum and if he can find a way to stay on the mound, if only for a year. Marcum has the ability to be an effective major league pitcher and was pretty good as recently as 2011 (3.54 ERA, 3.2 fWAR in 200.2 innings). If Marcum can capture even part of that 2011 form he will be a useful fifth starter on a Cleveland team that could use a little boost from the back-end of the rotation.

Aaron Harang, RHPAaron Harang (ESPN.com)

A late addition to the cavalcade of starters competing for the fifth spot in the rotation, Aaron Harang only got a minor league deal because of his home run problems. The right-hander actually increased his strikeouts and decreased his walks in 2013, yet seeing his HR/9 jump up to 1.63 left him with a 5.40 ERA and a 4.79 FIP while pitching for both the Mariners and the Mets.

The fact that Harang had home run issues in two home parks known for suppressing home runs is truly concerning for the right-hander's future. His home/away splits were essentially even in regard to home run rate (1.62 HR/9 at home, 1.66 HR/9 on the road), indicated this was one giant issue for Harang. Improving your strikeout and walk rates only goes so far when your issues with the long ball become as bad as Harang's in 2013.

Harang's xFIP in 2013 was 4.38 -- a decent figure and an acknowledgement that home run rates tend to regress to the mean in the long-term. If Harang manages to corral his home runs, then he would be a strong fifth starter; he has not lost his fastball velocity or much bite to his stuff. But if those issues are just a part of who he is now, then Harang is just a sub-replacement level arm.

David Aardsma, RHP

David Aardsma (Photo: ESPN)

Injuries have limited David Aardsma's effectiveness in recent years as the right-hander has not shown much since a 1.8 fWAR season in 2009. Aardsma has always walked too many batters (4.97 BB/9 in his career) and the high strikeout count the right-hander had in his successful years has not come back since his injuries. There is some upside in betting on the 32-year-old, as Aardsma has only thrown 73.3 major and minor league innings since the end of the 2010 season. If Aardsma ineffectiveness stems more from a lack of work, maybe he can knock the rust off in 2014 and help Cleveland. Though it is unlikely, it does not hurt to take a look.

Scott Atchison, RHPScott Atchison (Photo: ESPN)

Scott Atchison did not stand out while he pitched with the Mets last year (4.37 ERA, 3.75 FIP in 45.1 innings), but his solid performance got him a shot with Cleveland for 2014. Atchison will be reunited in spring training with Terry Francona, whom he pitched under while a member of the Red Sox in 2010 and 2011. The soon-to-be 38-year-old right-hander would probably be a solid middle reliever if he makes the team, though the training staff would need to keep an eye on his elbow. Atchison avoided surgery with a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in 2012, and while he is still pitching without the surgery, it could flare up at any time.

Travis Banwart, RHPTravis Banwart (Photo: MiLB)

Cleveland signed Travis Banwart as a minor league free agent this offseason, bringing him over from the Oakland A's. The 28-year-old was drafted in the fourth round in 2007, though he was only once a part of Baseball America's top-30 Oakland prospects (25th before the 2008 season). Banwart is essentially the definition of a readily available replacement level player; he has spent the last three and a half years in Triple-A, posting a 4.52 ERA and a 4.33 FIP without ever getting a call to the big leagues. The right-hander is a depth starter, someone useful to have around in case everything falls apart, but Cleveland is likely hoping to never need to use Banwart.

Matt Capps, RHPMatt Capps (Photo: ESPN)

Following a great stretch from 2007 to 2010, Matt Capps declined in 2011 and 2012 and struggled with a shoulder injury that ultimately led to surgery this past June while Capps was in Columbus. That shoulder injury will likely see Capps rehabbing for at least part of 2014. Cleveland brought him back into the fold because he has been one of the best relievers in baseball in the past and is only 31 years old, but this is a move with a low chance of success. Shoulder injuries are nasty for pitchers and Capps will need time to work back. Assuming Capps progresses well in his rehab (a pretty big assumption), the earliest he could help in Cleveland would be midseason.

Tyler Cloyd, RHPTyler Cloyd (Photo: ESPN)

According to Baseball America's 2013 preseason report, Tyler Cloyd opened the season as a poor man's Kyle Kendrick who relies heavily on his cutter. Kendrick is a decent fifth starter but not much more and Cloyd is likely the same. His limited exposure in the major leagues has not gone well (5.98 ERA, 4.76 FIP in 93.1 innings between 2012 and 2013) and both his fastball and cutter sit in the mid-80s. With a little time the 26-year-old right-hander could stick in the back of a rotation, but the larger plan is likely to have Cloyd in Triple-A as a depth option, especially considering Cleveland almost immediately took him off the 40-man roster after claiming him on waivers from Philadelphia earlier in the offseason.

J.C. Ramirez, RHPJ.C. Ramirez (Photo: ESPN)

J.C. Ramirez was a top-10 prospect in the Seattle organization in 2008 and 2009, though the right-hander's star faded after that. The 25-year-old has never struck out all that many batters, has some issues with walks, and became a reliever following the 2011 season. Ramirez still has a heavy sinking fastball that averaged 94 miles per hour in his brief 24.0 inning callup with the Phillies in 2013. As a non-roster invitee, it never hurts to take a look at a pitcher with some exciting raw stuff, though unless someone can teach him how to throw strikes consistently and a better second pitch, not much will come from the signing.

Mike Zagurski, LHPMike Zagurski (Photo: ESPN)

If you ignore Mike Zagurski's 7.05 ERA and 5.11 FIP in 75.1 major league innings, there is plenty to get excited about with the 31-year-old left-hander. Bouncing between the Triple-A affiliates of the Pirates, the Yankees, and the Athletics, Zagurski posted a 3.04 ERA, a 2.64 FIP, and had 14.01 SO/9 in 53.1 innings. Zagurski has never found a way to translate that success to the majors and the left-hander has shown a profound platoon split during his big league time (3.32 FIP versus left-handed batters, 6.50 FIP versus right-handed batters). But left-handers with this kind of strikeout ability are worth a flyer on the off-chance they can finally figure it out.

If you want to follow Jim on Twitter, he’s @JimPiascik. If you want to e-mail him, you can do so at jpiasci1@kent.edu

User Comments

Themaven
March 3, 2014 - 12:01 AM EST
I don't want Francoeur on this team unless somebody breaks a leg.
Tony
March 2, 2014 - 10:22 PM EST
Don't agree on a Morgan/Francoeur platoon at DH. I can see Francoeur as part of such a platoon (or Raburn if Francoeur gets more time in OF than Raburn).....but Morgan just doesn't fit and would make little sense to have three of your five bench guys be outfielders (6 outfielders on the roster). I think it ends up one of Giambi or LaHair as the lefty off the bench and likely the other half of that DH platoon. Depends on LaHair's health and Giambi's showing I guess this spring. Shoot, maybe they do in fact keep Chisenhall around to DH and play some third base...
Jwahoo
March 2, 2014 - 8:24 PM EST
If we take Chiz out of the equation.

If we take leadership out of the equation.

The best bet talent wise would be having Morgan/Francouer platoon at DH.

Although, Fancouer would actually play RF and Raburn would DH but you get my point.
Jwahoo
March 2, 2014 - 7:58 PM EST
I second the Oliver Perez comment. We need LH depth, he has a talented arm I really believe in Calloway.

The best thing for the team is if Marcum can return to 2011 form. Brings a nice solid vet in the rotation. I wouldn't even mind going with Harang to star the year if Marcum is not ready yet.

Of course like I have said with Chiz the best thing for the team in the long run is having Carrasco step up but your always going to have an injury and this gives us breathing room. Even more important I am very curious to see what Carrasco could look like in the bullpen for an entire season. He could be the "6th" starter out of the pen making every single other pitcher in the rotation better.

I also having a gut feeling Tomlin might become the 5th starter at some point this season. Give Trevor Bauer a year to really work on himself. We need him badly starting next year.
alton
March 1, 2014 - 3:24 AM EST
C'mon pathofkindness, Albers was a dime a dozen middle reliever and nothing more. Not every free agent that leaves is a "loss". We have plenty of young relievers that are ready to get a shot.

Smith was the man however and I'll personally miss seeing him the Cody Allen can match his production.
Themaven
February 28, 2014 - 3:55 PM EST
I'm still wondering why the Tribe hasn't gone after Oliver Perez.
I can't believe a lefty with an arm like that is still looking for a team.
Of course he does have a reputation as a world class knucklehead,so there is that .
With an all right handed rotation,three lefties in the bullpen is almost a requirement.
Hermie13
February 28, 2014 - 12:36 PM EST
Would be kind of fitting if JC Ramirez finally put it together in Cleveland. Another one of those Cliff Lee trade prospects that just flopped.
Walter
February 28, 2014 - 12:24 PM EST
If there is an injury to starting rotation during Spring Training I think Harang would then be a shoe in to start the season with Indians.

Aardsma intrigues me. I thinks he might get the last spot. I think he also better pitcher than Albers.
pathofkindness
February 28, 2014 - 12:15 PM EST
Thanks for the response Tony. I think I'm just not as impressed with the BP depth as you are. Of Wood, Guilmet, Lee, Price, Adams, Hynes and Hagadone, maybe Price and Hagadone come through, but I'm not so high on the others as being legitimate options for 2014.
Tony
February 28, 2014 - 11:46 AM EST
I think Marcum is heading down the Matsuzaka path as a guy who is still not 100% and will go to Columbus as depth (assuming he accept the assignment). Harang to me is more in play as an option out of the gates, and to me is Carrasco's stiffest competition for the 5th starter spot (Bauer no doubt going to Columbus and Tomlin probably too as depth starting arm).

As for the lack of minor league signings or Major League pickups for the bullpen.....I think it is a testament to the depth they already have. Just a ton of guys in Wood, Guilmet, Lee, Pestano, Price, Adams, Hagadone and Hynes to sift through already on the 40-man and legit options for the last 2-3 spots in the pen. I do think that Aardsma could factor into that last spot if they go with 8 relievers (so long as Carrasco is the #5 starter). Also, keep in mind, players looking to sign minor league deals with ML invites also have a good handle on the rosters for teams and probably saw all that internal depth the Indians already had....so I am sure it steered them away and they looked at better opportunities with other teams.
pathofkindness
February 28, 2014 - 11:35 AM EST
The good: Marcum and Harang were excellent minor league signings. The bad: everyone else.

I was surprised that the Tribe didn't bring in a more capable BP pitcher, or two. Losing Smith and Albers was significant, and maybe Shaw and Allen step up and do well, and maybe Pestano returns to form, but it still seems like some unknown guy needs to come through with some major innings this year and I wonder who that will be? Surely nobody from this list IMO.

Gotta admit though, after reading "somehow, someway, I'll end up still being here for a few more years," it's hard for me to think of much else...is it possible that Justin signs for three or four years at a home-team discount? Could the Indians possible offer a contract that gets anywhere near Bailey's 5yrs/$95m for his free agent years? I for one have not thought that either of those scenarios were even remotely possible, but this statement makes me question that position...I guess it's stay tuned...8--)

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