Category Archives: Indians

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Cleveland Indians 25 Man Roster Projection for 2019: Start of Spring

Category : Indians

Every season I do my best to predict the Indians opening day 25 man roster prior to the start of spring training with updates throughout after big signings, trades and cuts. Normally, this is a fairly simple undertaking as the roster has been greatly determined long in advance. This season, things are a bit different as even some of the biggest names on the team could still potentially see positional changes or trades before the regular season begins.
Kluber pitches during a 2018 minor league spring training game at Goodyear Ballpark. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball
Rotation
Ace – Corey Kluber
Options: Carrasco, Bauer
Kluber’s off-season has been shrouded with mystery despite being signed through 2021 on a very team friendly deal. It appears at the moment that the two time Cy Young winner (top three in each of the last three years, top 10 in each of the last five) will stay with the Tribe as they were able to free up enough money through the trades of Edwin Encarnacion, Yonder Alonso and Yan Gomes. As long as he’s still around, he deserves the ace connotation for his years of dominance in the Indians rotation.
SP2 – Carlos Carrasco
Options: Kluber, Bauer, Clevinger
While Kluber still deserves to be called ace, there is a strong argument that he is no longer the Indians top pitcher. Signed through 2023, Carrasco could be considered the Tribe’s top arm after averaging 4.1 bWAR over the last five years.
SP3 – Trevor Bauer
Options: Carrasco, Clevinger, Bieber
The third argument for ace belongs to Bauer, although his off-field antics and unwillingness to sign a long term deal will likely keep him from taking on the moniker. Despite that, he has the ability of a top line starter and could be the favorite for 2019 Cy Young among the Indians starters.
SP4 – Mike Clevinger
Options: Bieber, Shao-Ching Chiang, Salazar
Clevinger was incredibly underrated last year as he wasn’t quite up to the level of the three pitchers ahead of him, but he was still the 13th best pitcher in all of baseball. At just 28, there is still room for improvement for Clevinger, who has already been very impressive in his first two seasons.
SP5 – Shane Bieber
Options: Chiang, Salazar, Cody Anderson, Sam Hentges, Adam Plutko, Jean Carlos Mejia
The youngster in the Indians rotation at 23, Bieber also had an incredible and underrated season in 2018 as he was worth one win and posted a 3.23 FIP in 114.2 innings as a rookie. He is significantly better than his AAA competition and will almost certainly return as the Indians fifth man. If there is an injury or trade in the rotation it would potentially leave an opening for another rookie like Chiang or one of the long term injury replacements, Plutko and Anderson. Mejia and Hentges are in MLB camp, but won’t break camp with the team while Salazar is likely to begin the year on the DL.
Sep 7, 2018; New York City, NY, USA; New York Mets pitcher Steven Matz (32) is tagged out by Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Carlos Santana (41) during the third inning of the game at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Starting Line-Up
C – Roberto Perez
Options: Eric Haase, Plawecki
Perez was one of the worst offensive producers in baseball last year and had trouble making throws to second base, but with the trade of Gomes to Washington, he appears to be the default choice. After picking up Plawecki from the Mets, it’s likely that Haase will begin the year in AAA.
1B – Carlos Santana
Options: Bauers, Bobby Bradley
Guess who’s back, back again. Returned to Cleveland in the Encarnacion trade with Seattle, Santana is very likely to be the Indians starting first baseman again. He greatly improved his defense in his final year with the Indians and would weaken the line-up considerably if he was used at DH with Bauers at first.
2B – Jason Kipnis
Options: J. Ramirez
Like Kluber and Bauer, Kipnis’ off-season was filled with trade rumors, but for now he’s still with Cleveland and slated to be the starting second baseman. Since all the Indians offensive weaknesses are focused in the outfield, moving Kipnis to left with Ramirez taking back second could be an option that would greatly increase the Indians offensive output at the cost of a greater defense.
3B – Jose Ramirez
Options: Chang
If the Indians were to move Kipnis to left, Chang would slide into third with Ramirez moving to second. A strong hitter with the ability to play second, short and third, there is a good chance that Chang makes the team at least as a utility man. Ramirez has been clear in the past about wanting to stick at one position, so the Indians may try to clear up this situation completely during spring training.
SS – Francisco Lindor
Options: Chang
As arguably both the top offensive and defensive short stop in baseball, Lindor doesn’t have to deal with the confusion surrounding the rest of the Indians infield. As long as he’s healthy, he’ll not only start at short, but likely play more than 155 games there. This frees the Indians to have a utility man who is more of a hitter than a gloveman as he will essentially never have to play short stop.
LF – Greg Allen
Options: Kipnis, Luplow, Oscar Mercado, Trayce Thompson, Brandon Barnes, Daniel Johnson, Mike Freeman, Mike Papi, Naquin, Zimmer, Bauers
Very easily the weakest offensive position for the Indians, there are quite a few different routes the Indians could take to address left field. I’ve already mentioned that I believe the best offensive group would be to move Kipnis to left, Ramirez to second and Chang to third, but I don’t believe that will actually happen. Instead, it is likely to be a battle between two players who have two partial MLB seasons under their belts one of whom has been worth 0.2 bWAR over that span, the other -0.2. As the long term internal option and the more valuable player so far, I will guess that Allen gets the nod over Luplow, but both will likely make the team.
There is also an outside shot that someone like Thompson or Barnes could really stand out in spring, but the only way the Indians are going to get significant production out of this position is if they put Kipnis there or make a trade/signing.
CF – Leonys Martin
Options: Zimmer, Allen, Mercado, Naquin
The starting job here should belong to Zimmer, but a mid-season shoulder surgery in 2018 will keep that from happening from the start. Instead, look for the hopefully fully recovered Martin to try to pick up where he left off after having a very impressive six games with the Indians last year.
RF – Jake Bauers
Options: Every previously mentioned outfielder.
Considered a top 100 prospect in baseball in both 2017 and 2018, Bauers had a strong rookie season with the Rays in 2018. While he has primarily been used at first base during his pro career, he has spent significant time in the corner outfield positions including 20 games without an error in the majors last year. Expect the lefty to be a significant power threat, especially against right handed pitchers. He will almost certainly be in the starting line-up, even if it is not in the outfield. He will most likely be used in some kind of rotation at first base and DH along with Santana and Chang or Bradley.
DH – Yu Chang
Options: Bradley, Santana, Bauers, Thompson, Haase, Kipnis
This might not be the likeliest scenario, but I believe it would be the most beneficial for Cleveland. Using Bauers in the outfield and Santana at first would free up the DH to replace one of the weaker hitting outfielders otherwise expected to make the roster. This would allow them to use Chang in this role regularly while he gets used to Major League pitching. He is also an ideal candidate in that the DH could still be used to give players partial days off as Chang could just slide into third, short or second whenever needed. While I don’t believe he will make the opening day roster, Bobby Bradley could be a perfect fit for this spot later in the season.
Otero smiles while participating in PFP during the Indians 2017 spring training at Goodyear Ballpark. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball
Bullpen
Closer – Brad Hand
Options: Henry Martinez
You don’t trade your top offensive prospect who plays a position that you desperately need offense from for nothing and Brad will be the Indians guiding Hand in the bullpen for at least the next two years. The lefty has been incredibly consistent over the last three seasons and was selected for the All-Star game in each of the last two. Considering that Andrew Miller signed for over $11M per year this off-season, Hand, who is five years younger, is a steal at about $7M in 2019.
LH Set Up – Oliver Perez
Options: Tyler Olson, Sam Hentges, Plutko, Josh Smith, Rob Kaminsky, R.C. Orlan
With a left handed closer, I expect the Indians to carry just one other left handed reliever and that should be Perez, who just signed a $2.5M deal with Cleveland with a vesting option for 2020. Perez will turn 38 this summer, but was the Indians most consistently reliable reliever in 2018 with a 1.39 ERA across 51 appearances.
If the Indians decide to carry three lefties or need to replace Perez, Olson should be the first man in, however, his 2018 season (4.94 ERA in 27.1 IP) was nearly the reverse of his 2017 (0.00 in 20 IP) and he could be held on a short leash. Of the other options, Smith has actually been worse against lefties than righties over his three year MLB career and the rest are minor leaguers. Of those, Kaminsky may be the most MLB ready after having a dominating season in the Arizona Fall League in 2018. Injuries remain a serious problem for him, however.
RH Set Up – Dan Otero
Options: Martinez, Ramirez, Goody, Hu, Cimber, Anderson, Jon Edwards, Jean Carlos Mejia, Justin Grimm, Brooks Pounders, Chiang, Anthony Gose, James Hoyt, A.J. Cole, Jefry Rodriguez, Ben Taylor, Salazar
For the sake of brevity, all the relievers in camp are listed in the right handed or left handed set up men options lists and will not be repeated again.
With a guaranteed contract of $1.3M and an option for 2020, Otero could have one of the most stable positions in what appears to be a very volatile bullpen again in 2019. While he has a very useful skillset, a Tomlinian increase in home run rate to 1.8 per nine innings last year made him less than reliable. Considering that his primary use is inducing double plays with multiple runners on, allowing an inordinate number of home runs is particularly dangerous. The Indians must be hoping that 2018 was an aberration and he will return to the quality pitcher he was in 2016 and 2017.
If that is not the case, Chiang is a similar style pitcher who is essentially MLB ready and doesn’t need to be saved for a starting rotation opportunity to pop up.
BP4 – Neil Ramirez
It’s inexplicable, but Terry Francona absolutely adores Ramirez. Despite a 4.54 ERA and a long record of being an ineffective reliever, he was used 47 times last year, often in tight spots, and signed for $1M to pitch for the Tribe in 2019. He pitched in 14 save situations and allowed 6 runs off three home runs and four doubles in ten innings. This is a small sample size, but the numbers aren’t really different from his season long numbers, so why he was continuously placed in difficult situations made no sense. His return this year makes sense only when you consider how barren the Indians bullpen is. Look for multiple changes mid-season involving pitchers who are not listed above, but will likely be promoted quickly like Nick Sandlin and Adam Scott.
BP5 – Nick Goody
If you thought Ramirez was bad last year, just wait. Goody went from a 2.80 ERA in 2017 to a 6.94 in 2018 in a scant 11.2 innings. The good news for Cleveland is that the poor, injury laden season helped them resign Goody for cheap and it’s possible his struggles were completely injury related. If he returns to 2017 form, Goody could become the Indians most reliable right handed reliever.
BP6 – Chih-Wei Hu
Acquired from Tampa during the off-season for Gionti Turner, Hu has limited MLB experience over the last two seasons, but had good minor league numbers and decent peripheral stats in the big leagues. He has one option remaining, so he could start out in AAA, but expect to see Hu at some point in 2019.
BP7 – Adam Cimber
The side arming, rookie righty who went from a 9.5 K/9 with San Diego to a 3.2 with Cleveland could be the final man in the pen for the Indians to start off the 2019 season. Returning nearly an identical bullpen minus Cody Allen and Andrew Miller to a season where the unit was a complete disaster doesn’t seem to be a recipe for success, but there’s a good chance that will be what happens.
If the Indians decide to hold back Cimber and/or Hu, Taylor is probably the most reliable Major League option while Chiang and Martinez could be good choices among those who haven’t made the big leagues yet. Once he returns from his shoulder surgery, Salazar could make a huge difference in the pen as well.
Naquin roams the outfield prior to spring training 2018. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball
Bench
C2 – Kevin Plawecki
Options: Perez, Haase, Li-Jen Chu
Teams always bring in a few extra catchers prior to spring training to help get all the pitchers ready in time, but this year the Indians trade of Sam Haggerty and Walter Lockett for Plawecki may have been a bit more significant. With only the light hitting Perez and the rookie Haase as MLB options before, the four year MLB vet Plawecki should fill in nicely until the Indians feel like Haase is ready to take over the role.
MIF – Max Moroff
Options: Eric Stamets, Mark Mathias, Chang
Moroff was acquired in what was probably the Indians strangest trade this off-season when he and Luplow came from Pittsburgh for Erik Gonzalez, Dante Mendoza and Tahnaj Thomas. The reason it was strange is that they gave up two talented young pitchers to downgrade their utility man. Like Gonzalez, Moroff is out of options, but unlike Gonzalez, he can’t hit. His biggest advantage, playing good defense at short stop, is the thing the Indians need the least.
That being said, unless another starting hitter is added to the line-up allowing the Indians to use Chang in a lesser role, they will essentially need Moroff to be the utility man. The other options in camp are Stamets and Mathias, but Stamets struggled greatly in AAA in 2018 and Mathias is likely at least another full year away.
OF – Jordan Luplow
Options: Naquin, Thompson, Barnes, Allen, Martin, Mercado, Johnson, Freeman, Papi
The other half of the aforementioned Pirates trade, Luplow does have a minor league option remaining, but as the more valuable player in the deal, is equally likely to make the team out of camp. He hasn’t done anything offensively in his first two seasons in the big leagues, but along with Allen, Martin and eventually Zimmer, could help to completely turn around the rotten defensive situation in the Indians outfield that has been a plague over the last few seasons.
OF2 – Tyler Naquin
Options: Nearly every player in Indians camp.
This is essentially a flex position that could be used to house another infielder (like Bradley), a third catcher (like Haase) or an eighth reliever, but at the moment the Indians weakness in the outfield makes it most likely to go to a fifth outfielder. Naquin certainly has a case for that spot as he produced more in his rookie year than nearly every other outfielder in camp has in their careers combined. However, he has been unable to repeat his 2016 performance in either of the last two seasons. He is also a significant defensive liability, so if the Indians decided to get the greatest value out of this roster spot by bringing up Bradley to use in match-up situations or to shore up the bullpen it would make sense.
Disabled List
James Hoyt – Right Elbow and Knee Surgery, September 2018
Danny Salazar – Right Shoulder Surgery, July 2018
Bradley Zimmer – Right Shoulder Surgery, July 2018


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Burning River Baseball's 2018 Cleveland Indians Prospect Rankings: 41-50

Category : Indians

50. Jake Miednik – LHRP – Age: 22
Drafted 2018, Round 20
AZL Indians
One of five extremely successful left handed relievers taken by the Indians during the 2018 draft, Miednik walked just two batters in his first 18.2 innings while striking out 25. Although old for his level, Miednik’s power arm has a lot of promise and could shoot through the system quickly.
Miednik heads back into the dugout after pitching a scoreless inning in his professional debut. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball
49. Alexfri Planez – CF – Age: 17 – Unranked in 2017
2017 International Free Agent
DSL Indians
I was only able to see Planez for a limited time this spring and it was enough to showcase his incredible defensive skills. After the 16 year old went to the Dominican Summer League he was able to showcase his offensive skills to the world as he hit .279/.319/.482 with nine home runs, three triples and 18 doubles in 61 games against players who were often one to three years older.
His young age will keep him from flying up the minors (he doesn’t turn 18 until next August), but he should be in Arizona next year. For now, he remains the Indians best prospect that essentially no one has ever heard of.
48. Jonathan Engelmann – RF – Age: 22
Drafted 2018, Round 31
SS Mahoning Valley
Engelmann started his rookie season slowly and missed a couple weeks due to injury in late July/early August, but came back on fire. He hit four of his five home runs from August 8th on while batting .400/.464/.740 and that doesn’t include his 3 for 5 performance in the AZL Indians 2 semi-finals loss to the eventual AZL champion Dodgers. It’s an extremely small sample size and it was against players below his age level, so we won’t get too excited yet, but Engelmann definitely has great potential. Although he only played three games for the Scrappers at the end of the season, it would be nice to see him go straight to Lake County next year to see how he plays against his peers.
Gonzalez takes one the other way during a 2018 AZL Indians 1 game. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball
47. Marcos Gonzalez – SS – Age: 19 – 2017 Rank: 48
2016 International Free Agent
AZL Indians
A high energy player, Gonzalez took a step back in many ways in 2018 as his steals dropped and strike outs increased, but at the same time he improved his power and OBP. There should be significant worry about his arm defensively and it is surprising that on a team that moved players around so much defensively (AZL Indians 1) he didn’t play anywhere except short. While he has good range and a decent glove, 32 errors in 90 games is not something to overlook. His bat should play at any infield position and it will be interesting to see if the Indians try him at second next year, possibly holding him in short season ball.
Royalty starts a game for the AZL Indians 1 during the 2018 season. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball
46. Alex Royalty – RHSP – Age: 21
Drafted 2018, Round 8
SS Mahoning Valley
After a brief beginning in the Arizona League, Royalty was promoted both to Mahoning Valley and the starting rotation. Ultimately, he had a 1.59 ERA supported by a 2.0 BB/9 and 11.5 K/9 in 22.2 innings during his rookie season. Like many other pitchers from the 2018 draft, he’s difficult to truly evaluate given the fact that college pitchers have generally started out in Mahoning Valley or Lake County, but this season the Indians sent every single draft pick to Arizona. He should be in the rotation in Lake County next year where he will face more significant competition.
Cardenas fields a ball in left for the 2018 AZL Indians 1. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball
45. Ruben Cardenas – RF – Age: 21
Drafted 2018, Round 16
SS Mahoning Valley
Cardenas had a solid .308/.415/.455 line during his rookie year including an absurd .556 OBP during his limited time with the Scrappers. A very mature hitter with a refined approach, he walked more times than he struck out in 2018 (23 to 20) and was three for four when attempting to steal. He was less reserved in the field where he has no problem giving everything he has. One of his most notable plays came when he ran into a wall going after a foul ball that he didn’t catch, but he didn’t let that slow him down. He is one of many players (including many outfielders) who will fit somewhere between Lake County and Mahoning Valley and, given his age and ability level, he should rise to the Captains.
McCarthy pitches in relief for the AZL Indians 1 during the 2018 season. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball
44. Shane McCarthy – RHSP – Age: 22
Drafted 2018, Round 18
SS Mahoning Valley
McCarthy has a nearly identical story to Royalty except that he pitched nearly as many innings in Mahoning Valley as Royalty did overall and he walked just four batters this year in 41 innings. This lead to such silly numbers as a 0.854 WHIP, 0.88 ERA and 0.9 BB/9. Again, he probably should have started the season with the Scrappers and ended in Lake County, but the creation of two full rosters in Arizona necessitated the extra personnel at the lowest level within the US. At the moment, I’d say that Royalty has the higher ceiling of the two and McCarthy the higher floor which gives him the advantage in the rankings for the moment.
Clement takes batting practice during 2018 Indians MiLB spring training. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball
43. Ernie Clement – SS – Age: 22 – 2017 Rank: 44
Drafted 2017, Round 4
AA Akron
After playing exclusively in Mahoning Valley in his rookie campaign, Clement shot all the way up to Akron in his second season. While he split his time between second and short initially, Clement was used exclusively at short in 2018. He had a good offensive season, largely supported by his incredible, but short, stint in Lynchburg where he hit .346/.425/.421. Outside of the Carolina League, Clement showed almost no power although his high walk rate was consistent at each level. Although he doesn’t have the ceiling of many of the Indians short stop prospects (he’s ranked fifth among pure short stops on this list), his walk rate and defense provide him with a solid floor.
He should start 2019 back in Akron, but will most likely quickly surpass Eric Stamets (assuming he is still with the Indians next year) and could be the starting short stop for Columbus by early 2019 (Yu-Cheng Chang is almost certainly heading to third if he stays with the team). This could push Clement more towards a utility man role in the majors, although his inability to steal bases and lack of versatility in the field could hurt him.
Chu hits during a 2018 Glendale Desert Dogs game at Surprise Stadium. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball
42. Li-Jen Chu – C – Age: 24 – 2017 Rank: 37
2012 International Free Agent
AAA Columbus
With Francisco Mejia in San Diego and Eric Haase ending the year in Cleveland, Chu has become the Indians only real high level catching prospect (and the #2 catcher on this list). Chu has been fairly average defensively, although nowhere near as strong as he was prior to his 2015 Tommy John surgery. Offensively, he has been very consistent over his past two seasons, hitting .272/.340/.425 in 2018 with 22 doubles and 10 home runs. While they don’t blow you away, he is a solid hitter for a catcher. While the trade of Mejia opens things a bit, it will still be hard for Chu to break into the majors with Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez signed long term and Haase being a considerably better defender. He and Haase will likely spend 2019 in Columbus where they will remain emergency reserves for the time being.

Chiang pitches during the 2014 AZL play-offs in Goodyear, AZ. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball.com
41. Shao-Ching Chiang – RHSP – Age: 24 – 2017 Rank: 22
2011 International Free Agent
AAA Columbus
Chiang hit AAA for the first time this year, his seventh with the Indians, and didn’t take to it as well as hoped. While he was never considered a top pitching prospect for the Tribe, Chiang’s numbers in Lynchburg in 2017 and Akron in early 2018 made it seem like he could have a Major League future. Chiang is not the typical Indians starter, striking out just 5.7 per nine during his career, but he has great command (1.6 career BB/9) and is a superb ground ball inducer (46% of balls in play in 2018).
While still extremely young for AAA, the Indians will have to add Chiang to the 40 man roster now or risk losing him to minor league free agency. While he is extremely unlikely to break into an Indians rotation featuring five dominant strike out heavy starters, he could be extremely useful in the bullpen as a double play specialist.


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Strong Starts in AFL May Show End of Long Road for Justin Garza

Category : Indians

If you want to know how long the Indians have been affiliated with Justin Garza, the fact that Matt LaPorta was the Indians starting DH and Terry Francona was working with ESPN when he was first drafted by Cleveland should give you an idea. Of course, he didn’t sign then and was drafted again by the Indians in 2015 in the 8th round after attending Cal State Fullerton.
Less than a month prior to being drafted, Garza had Tommy John surgery. The Indians have picked up a few pitchers like this in the recent years as they feel comfortable with the rehab process, having gone through it multiple times with varying levels of success with the Major League staff including Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin and Danny Salazar. It was particularly a theme of the 2015 draft as he was taken the day after the Indians selected Brady Aiken. Of course, this would mean that the 22 year old would miss all of the 2015 season and he ultimately threw in just nine innings during the 2016 campaign.
Garza pitches for the Indians during the 2016 Instructional League. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball
After the Arizona League, Garza continued to work in Goodyear during the 2016 Instructional League, then in 2017 extended spring training. Working him back slowly, Garza was primarily used in relief in his first full season with the Captains, but he still made eight starts and nearly reached 100 innings.
While his numbers from his season in Lake County weren’t great, the important part was that he was healthy. In Lynchburg this year, he started performing as expected. In his first three starts he allowed one unearned run in 15.1 innings while striking out 19, walking five and allowing just four hits and, with the exception of one start against Wilmington in early June, continued on this roll through the first week in July. That’s where he hit another road block. Elbow pain cost Garza another stint to the disabled list, although this time it was only about a month. After two rehab appearances with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, Garza ended the season with the Hillcats with a six strike out, one hit, no walk appearance against Salem good for five innings and a shut out win.
In order to make up for lost time, Garza is now pitching with the Glendale Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League and he is doing so at an elite level. Things started off a bit rough in his first appearance as he allowed runs in each of the first two innings and lasted just 2.2 total, but since then he has allowed just two more runs in 11.2 innings.
In his first start against Surprise, Garza’s primary issues came with his command and he had to be saved with a pair of outs on the bases (a Connor Marabell assist to get Vladimir Guerrero Jr. between first and second and a Garza pick off of Nick Heath attempting to steal third) to keep things as close as he did. He ended up walking four in that game and striking out two, but since then has walked just three more and struck out 12. Whatever issues he had throwing strikes have been significantly addressed.
Garza pitches for the Glendale Desert Dogs against the Surprise Saguaros during a 2018 Arizona Fall League game. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball
October 30th against the Scottsdale Scorpions was not only the first time that Garza went a full five innings this fall, but was by far his most dominant appearance. He was perfect through the first three innings with four strike outs, then allowed his only hit and walk in the fourth, although he did make a throwing error on the Andres Gimenez single. After the slight blip, he came back for a perfect fifth to finish off his day with his fifth strike out.
That electric outing gives Garza a sparkling 1.88 ERA with just 9 hits allowed in 14.1 innings on the season. His strike out and hit rates are similar to his regular season numbers this year in Lynchburg and that is an impressive feat since he is not only pitching to some of the best hitting prospects in baseball (like Guerrero), but many who are significantly more advanced than himself. His ability to get AA and AAA hitters out consistently, especially with the amount of swings and misses he is garnering, is a great signal that he is ready for the next level.
There is a great chance that he will be playing at the next level next year. At the moment, Shao-Ching Chiang and Michael Peoples are the only returning starters for the Clippers and Triston McKenzie, Aaron Civale are most likely going to be promoted to start next year to fill in the gaps. This leaves an extremely slim Akron pitching staff that will likely include Garza as well as Jake Paulson and Zach Plesac from last year’s staff and at least Sam Hentges from Lynchburg. Of the group expected to be in Columbus and the one in Akron, only McKenzie and Hentges have a significantly higher ceiling than Garza and he could quickly move up the ladder to AAA if his AFL performance is any indication of how he will pitch in AA.
Ultimately, the important part for Garza is that he is beyond his elbow problems and has made up for all his lost time. Now reaching the mid-90’s with his fastball again with a plus breaking pitch, he should be considered highly among those pitchers in the highest levels of the Indians minor league system.
For the Indians, the best use for Garza at the Major League level could be out of the bullpen, but keeping him in the rotation now is the best way for him to get the greatest possible experience. It’s hard to see him making it to Cleveland as a starter, but things get really fuzzy after 2020, so there could be an opening in the long term even though there won’t be any in the near future. Given his career so far and the current situation, 2020 could be a likely season for Garza to break into the league as a reliever with 2021 more reasonable if he remains a starter.


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Dogs of the Desert: AFL Week 3 in Review for Glendale

Category : Indians , MLB

The Dogs completely turned things around in week three as they went from 1-9 on October 21st to 6-10 today. In particular, Glendale has greatly improved their offense, scoring 21 runs on Thursday alone after bringing home just 43 during the first 13 games.
To start the week, Yu Chang (CLE) hit the Desert Dogs second home run of the season on Monday at Peoria, cementing a 6-2 lead against the Javelinas. There were positive pitching performances all around here, particularly Ben Holmes (LAD), who started and went four innings with three hits and one run allowed, and Zach Thompson (CWS), who struck out five in two perfect innings.
Ben Holmes makes a start for the Desert Dogs against the Javelinas in Peoria during the 2018 AFL season. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball
The Javelinas got their revenge on Tuesday, taking an 8-1 victory against back in Glendale. Evan White (SEA), Hudson Potts (SD) and Braxton Davidson (ATL) each went deep as Peoria scored four in the second and four more in the fifth. Chang was again responsible for the Desert Dogs offense with an RBI single that scored Laz Rivera (CWS) after the second baseman had hit a double.
Again, the damage was limited to just two pitchers, starter Chris Lee (BAL) and Jay Flaa (BAL) who allowed seven earned of the eight runs. Between them, Nolan Long (LAD) had a great outing with 1.2 perfect innings including four strike outs.
On Wednesday against Surprise, the Dogs slipped by with a 3-2 win, again thanks to the heroics of Chang. Coming into the game with eight hits in his previous three games, Chang added two more including an RBI double in the third that brought Glendale within one. They would score again the next inning on a Li-Jen Chu (CLE) sac fly that scored Luis Robert (CWS), then again in the ninth when Chu doubled and Connor Marabell (CLE) scored the walk off run as a pinch runner when Errol Robinson (LAD) singled.
Chang hits for the Desert Dogs against the Javelinas in Glendale during the 2018 season. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball
Again, the Glendale pitching staff performed well as Justin Garza (CLE) allowed the only earned run of the game in the first, then was followed by eight shut out innings with just five hits and two walks allowed. With 1.1 perfect innings and three strike outs, Rob Kaminsky (CLE) was the stand out reliever.
That brings us to the mess of a game that was the Desert Dogs 21-8 win against Surprise on Thursday. The game got off to an ugly start as Shawn Morimando (TOR) hit two batters and allowed five hits while recording just two outs in the first. Jackson McClelland hit another and Glendale scored six in the first. The two teams would trade runs throughout the game, heading into the bottom of the 8th 10-4.
The Saguaros then blasted off on Dalbert Siri (CLE) for four runs on five singles and a double. With two out and Vladmir Guerrero Jr. representing the tying run at the plate, it was Zach Thompson to the rescue again as he finished the inning and ultimately earned a well deserved save. Of course, it would seem odd looking at the box score that any save was awarded as the Desert Dogs scored 11 in the 9th.
McKenna takes off towards first after hitting against the Saguaros in a 2018 Glendale Desert Dogs game. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball
The inning started with a Ryan McKenna (BAL) double and was continued later with a Ryan McKenna walk and didn’t end until 16 batters had come to the plate, ending with a Jared Walker strike out.
The Desert Dogs finished out the week with two more wins, both in dramatic fashion. On Friday fell down 6-0, then 8-1, but scored eight without response including three in the ninth to tie the game and one in the eleventh to win and on Saturday they came up with three runs in the 8th to take a one run lead and eventually the game. The walk off hero on Friday was Luis Robert who had two hits overall. Chang and Steven Sensley each knocked in two runs. Flaa, Matt Wivinis (NYY) and Tanner Chleborad (BAL) combined for six shut out innings to end the game, allowing just four hits between them.
There were quite a few standout performers this week with such a complete turnaround, but we’ll focus on just three hitters and three pitchers. Chang’s name was mentioned multiple times in today’s report and he finished the week on a eight game hitting streak with 14 total hits in that span including three doubles and a home run. McKenna has a seven game streak of his own including a four hit game on Thursday and a two triple game from last Saturday. Finally, Robert has only played in seven games this fall, but has hits in all of them for nine total hits and nine runs scored.
On the pitching staff, Chleborad pitched twice this week for three innings of scoreless baseball and two hits allowed. He now has a 2.25 ERA over his first eight innings this fall. Kaminsky earned his first win this fall in Saturday’s comeback with his longest outing (2 IP) of the season. He struck out two in that game for 11 on the season compared to just two walks in seven innings. His only run allowed and only appearance with two hits this season came in his first game. Our last pitcher, Holmes, made two starts this week, allowing three runs in 7.2 innings. This was a drop off compared to his first two starts, but he remains the Dogs’ most reliable starter with a 3.07 ERA and 17 strike outs in 14.2 innings.


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2018 ALDS Preview: Indians at Astros

Category : Indians , MLB

Heading into the 2018 season, no teams were greater favorites to win the AL pennant than the Indians and Astros. Cleveland had the best record in 2017 before being ousted from the play-offs in the first round by New York while Houston took home their first World Series championship. Now, the incredible season of the Red Sox and their long term rivalry with the Yankees has pushed this series to the backburner as we finally get to see the series that everyone expected in the  2017 ALCS.
Game 1, October 5: Corey Kluber vs Justin Verlander, 2:05 PM
Minute Maid Park
Game 2, October 6: Carlos Carrasco vs Gerrit Cole, 4:37 PM
Minute Maid Park
Game 3, October 8: Dallas Keuchel vs  Bauer/Bieber
Progressive Field
Game 4, October 9: If necessary, at Progressive Field
Game 5, October 11: If necessary, at Minute Maid Park
The Indians and Astros were great teams all around  this year, coming in fifth and sixth in offensive runs above average in all of baseball and first and third in pitching WAR, but the single most astounding aspect of both teams is the starting rotation.
Game one alone features the top pitcher in the American League (by fWAR, third best in MLB) and the fifth best. In fact, going back to 2006 (Verlander’s rookie year), Verlander and Kluber rank first and sixth in the AL in fWAR despite Kluber starting his career in 2011. This elite level of pitching will be exemplified in this series, but can be found all around the play-offs with 8 of the top 15 pitchers in all of baseball since 2006 participating (three others have retired).
To start, the season put together by Verlander this year has been nothing short of incredible. At 35 years old, he not only is the probable Cy Young, but had the second best fWAR, second best ERA and best K/9 of his already incredible 14 year career. In addition, unlike his only bad post-season (2011), he only threw 214 innings during the regular season, so he should have plenty left in the tank.
The Indians may have one advantage, however. While pitcher vs team stats are generally worthless, Verlander has pitched 324.2 innings against the Indians and the core of the offense has been around since 2011, so these are generally the players he has faced so many times over the years. The Indians veteran hitters are often more successful against pitchers they are familiar with and they have pushed him to a 4.71 ERA, his worst against any team he has faced at least 15 times.
May 19, 2018; Houston, TX, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber (28) delivers a pitch during the third inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Facing him in game one will be the 2017 Cy Young winner, Corey Kluber, another candidate for the 2018 award. Kluber is only three years younger than Verlander, but has about 1,400 fewer innings in his career. Kluber saw his strike out numbers dip this year as he focused on limiting damage rather than getting swing and misses and posted a career (and AL) best 1.42 BB/9 rate. While nowhere near as significant, Kluber has a 2.83 ERA and 11.5 K/9 in 60.1 innings against the Astros.
As mentioned before, game one will just be an appetizer for a series that will feature the number two pitcher in the AL, Gerrit Cole, against the number six, Carlos Carrasco in game two and, most likely, the number three pitcher in the AL, Trevor Bauer, against the number nine pitcher, Dallas Keuchel, in game three. Even with this the Indians have number eight pitcher Mike Clevinger available for game four or out of the bullpen while the Astros have number 13 Charlie Morton. Overall, the top ten starter list for the AL looks like a ranking of Indians and Astros pitchers with Luis Severino and Blake Snell thrown in for fun.
As a whole, the Indians pitching staff set a new MLB record for strike outs in 2017 and the Astros blew that away this year with 1,687 of their own. Before you think this series will be completely dominated by pitching, note that the Indians (18.9%) and Astros (19.5%) are the two teams least likely to strike out in all of baseball offensively. Both teams walk fairly often as well, so the pitchers who are greatly dependent on getting ahead early and getting hitters to swing wildly at breaking pitches out of the zone may be significantly less effective than they normally are.
To this point, the two teams have appeared nearly identical, but there are two major facets that separate them. The first aspect is the bullpen, where the Astros have a huge advantage. While a few teams have been successful while regularly throwing bullpen games or using openers, the Indians are one of few old school teams where they need their starters to stick around for the long haul. Luckily for them, they have five reliable starters and will be carrying just a six man bullpen.
This six man pen will feature Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Brad Hand, Oliver Perez, Adam Cimber and Dan Otero, a group worth 1.3 fWAR compared to the 0.4 the pen as a whole was worth this season. While still not good, it is not quite embarrassing and with Bieber and Bauer available, it will likely look completely different than during the regular season.
The Astros don’t have to mix things up as they had the third best bullpen in baseball (2nd in AL) during the regular season. They have two pitchers fully capable of finishing out a game in Hector Rondon and Roberto Osuna each of whom had a FIP below 3.00, a K/9 over 10.0 and at least ten saves. Forgetting saves, Collin McHugh was the team’s top reliever with a 1.99 ERA with a 11.7 K/9 through a team high 72.1 innings. The one advantage the Indians could have against this pen is that all of the top pitchers are right handed and the Indians feature a largely left handed or switch hitting line-up.
The aspect of the team that favors Cleveland over Houston is defense, particularly in the infield. Francisco Lindor is one of the best defensive short stops in baseball and the Indians improved their infield late in the season by adding Josh Donaldson at third and moving Jose Ramirez to second. This could hurt the team in the outfield as Jason Kipnis looks to be the starting center fielder with the slow moving Michael Brantley in left and Melky Cabrera in right, so it will be up to the pitching staff to keep the ball on the ground or to avoid contact entirely.
The Astros have the opposite problem as Jake Marisnick has been solid in center field, but Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman have been below average at second and third. While Carlos Correa is slightly above average at short stop, he can’t compare to Lindor who has saved 21 runs just through his defense alone.
In the end, this series could simply come down to who gets a hold of the few bad pitches that are likely to be thrown. It’s unlikely either team will be able to string together a bunch of singles against such accomplished pitchers, so a home run first approach might be the way to go. Working deep into counts can be dangerous against these pitchers, but for the Astros especially it will be the way to go. If they can push either Kluber or Carrasco out of the game early in games one or two, they could force  Terry Francona to use Bauer, the Indians most dominant pitcher in 2018, as a reliever rather than have him start a pivotal game three.


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