PT TOMORROW: AL Central—The starting rotation carousel in CLE

Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland rotation is in flux as two of its pillars recover from injuries.  Mike Clevinger (RHP, CLE) looks to return in June as he works his way back from a back injury, while Corey Kluber (RHP, CLE) who is out with a broken forearm hopes he can come back in August.  Filling in currently are Jefry Rodriguez (RHP, CLE) who’s been up since the second week of May, and Adam Plutko (RHP, CLE) who just made his second start this week. 

Control problems continue to plague Rodriguez at all levels as his 14/8 K/BB ratio over 16.1 Triple-A innings and 23/13 K/BB ratio over 35.1 major league innings this year show.  In his career, he has given up 50 bases on balls over 87.1 innings at the major league level and unless he can find a way to throw more strikes, his prospects for sticking at the highest level are slim.

Control is not an issue for Plutko who has allowed a relatively stingy 27 walks over 91.2 major league innings.  His 70 strikeouts over that same span is passable, but he won’t ever be a K/IP guy.  The red flag for this flyball pitcher is the 27 homers surrendered in the bigs, leading to a bloated 5.50 ERA.

If Plutko can channel his first start (6.0 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K with the only run allowed coming on a solo homer) going forward instead of his second (5.1 IP, 12 H, 7 ER, 0 BB, 3 K with 4 home runs allowed), he could be effective the rest of the way.

These two should round out the rotation for the foreseeable future.  If Cleveland needs additional reinforcements, who might get the call?

Cody Anderson (RHP, CLE) is likely the first man up again though his initial call-up was a little bumpy as he allowed 12 hits and eight walks over 8.2 innings pitched, resulting in an unsightly 2.31 WHIP.  He has fared better at Triple-A, posting a 14/3 K/BB ratio over 15.2 innings pitched, so it seems he has the skills to succeed as a backend starter at the very least.   

Chih-Wei Hu (RHP, CLE) has struggled at the Triple-A level this season, allowing 41 hits and 15 walks over 38.2 innings pitched and posting a decent 1.45 WHIP. His time in the majors, pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2017 and 2018, was much more successful, as his 21/7 K/BB ratio, and only 12 hits allowed in 23 innings pitched indicate.  He was victimized by the long ball in the bigs, giving up four over that span, but his 3.52 ERA and 0.83 WHIP remained strong.  It should be noted that all 11 appearances with the Rays were in relief, so he could end up in the pen even though he has been starting for Cleveland. 

Had he started the season healthy, Double-A hurler Triston McKenzie (RHP, CLE) may have been knocking on the door to the majors at this point, but he’s been nursing a back injury and has yet to pitch in a game this season at any level. Though his is a name to tuck away for the future.

 

Minnesota Twins

While the offense is on its way to shattering the single-season team record for home runs, the story of the Twins this year has been the steadiness and health of their starting pitching. Jose Berrios (RHP, MIN), Kyle Gibson (RHP, MIN), Jake Odorizzi (RHP, MIN), Martin Perez (LHP, MIN) and Michael Pineda (RHP, MIN) have all been ready and able to take the ball every fifth day, save the short stint Perez spent on the Paternity Leave list, and it has shown in the team results as they lead all of baseball with +97 run differential and a 34-16 record entering weekend play. Who’s on speed dial should they need to fill a vacancy?

Kohl Stewart (RHP, MIN) has started two games for the Twins this season, totaling 12 innings, with mixed results. In his May 11 start against the Detroit Tigers, he put up a line of 6.0 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 K with one home run allowed.  His other start, April 24 against the Houston Astros, was less successful: 6.0 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 1 K with two home runs allowed.  Historically, he has walked too many and struck out too few which could suggest his future is in long relief.

Stephen Gonsalves (LHP, MIN) has been injured since the beginning of the season (he is dealing with a strained left forearm/sprained left elbow) and has yet to pitch this year. Even when healthy, Gonsalves lacks premium velocity and will have a very thin margin for error when he reaches the majors.

The most interesting starter at Triple-A for the Twins is Australian Lewis Thorpe (LHP, MIN) who has struggled somewhat this season, but has put up solid career numbers in the minors.  Since the start of 2018, Thorpe has become more homer prone and that has carried over through his 45.2 innings pitched this year as he has surrendered seven home runs thus far.  His 57/12 K/BB ratio is impressive and though he is giving up just over one hit per inning, if he can limit the damage done by the long ball, he has the makings of at least a No. 4 starter.

The starting pitcher to remember in the Twins organization is not-yet-21-year-old Brusdar Graterol (RHP, MIN) who is excelling at Double-A.  While he still has a few things to work on in the minors, walks allowed being the most obvious, his future is bright.

 

Detroit Tigers

Detroit is navigating the injuries to its starting rotation but it’s the offense that is lagging.  Outscoring only the Miami Marlins on the season, the Tiger hitters are struggling across the board as utility infielder Ronny Rodriguez (INF, DET) leads the team in BPV with a score of 68 across 118 plate appearances.  His 36/6 K/BB ratio highlights a low-OBP player (.281 OBP) with solid power (nine doubles, three triples and six homers, good for a .545 Slg) who is better cast as a supporting piece rather than a leader on offense.  Where is the proverbial shot in the arm coming from for Detroit’s offense, and when?

Now in Triple-A, Daz Cameron (OF, DET) is a dynamic player who possesses low double-digit home run power and could steal 30 bases or more annually and is an exceptional defensive center fielder.  If he is able to improve his walk rate and contact rate even a little bit, his glove could be his carrying tool at the major league level.  The other piece of the puzzle he needs to address is his stolen base efficiency.  Though he has stolen 95 bases in his minor league career, that is offset but his 44 times caught stealing, resulting in a suspect 68% success rate. Until he can pick his spots better, he won’t be getting the green light as often as he should otherwise.

In his first full season at Triple-A, Willi Castro (SS, DET) is putting up some strong numbers across the board with seven doubles, six triples and a pair of home runs in 153 at bats and a 40/16 K/BB ratio, resulting in an impressive .327/.407/.490 slash line.  Though he has 89 steals in his minor league career, he has been caught stealing 38 times, for a 70% success rate, but he has improved on that in recent seasons, as 2018 and 2019 combined have resulted in 25 steals with only 6 times caught stealing, good for an 81% success rate.  If he can keep his OBP in the high threes when he arrives, he could become the leadoff hitter Detroit needs.  He just turned 22 in April so there is room for growth here.

Though only at Double-A currently, 20-year-old Isaac Paredes (INF, DET) is young for the level and should have a handful of growth years ahead of him before reaching the majors.  His excellent 185/124 K/BB ratio over 1,215 career minor league at-bats bodes well and though he might not possess the power desired in a third baseman, it should be more than adequate if he ends up at second base.  Paredes is not a stolen base threat but could collect a few each year by picking his spots well and taking advantage of situations.

 

Kansas City Royals

Four pitchers have registered saves for Kansas City this year and in that category Ian Kennedy (RHP, KC) leads the way with a whopping two.  Brad Boxberger (RHP, KC) and Wily Peralta (RHP, KC) were expected to cover the ninth inning in some fashion, either with Peralta continuing in his role as closer from last year, or Boxberger seizing the job based on performance as Peralta’s peripheral numbers in 2018 were not great.  None of those scenarios have happened as both pitchers are underperforming so far this season and the job is wide open.

Kennedy was moved from the rotation to the bullpen before the start of the season and has thrived in his new role, outpitching both Boxberger and Peralta, and sliding into the primary choice of this closer-by-committee situation. It remains to be seen whether this uptick in performance is for real or illusory (3.20/3.54 ERA/xERA over 20 innings pitched suggests it is for real so far,) but a fuller assessment should be made after the season.

The last save earned by the Royals bullpen this year belongs to Scott Barlow (RHP, KC) who has been superb through 24 innings pitched, posting a fine 38/8 K/BB ratio and is currently the most closer-worthy reliever on the roster. If he can sustain that level of production, it would be surprising if he isn’t tapped for ninth inning duties for the rest of the season.

Jake Diekman (RHP, KC) is another viable option for the ninth-inning slot, as he’s pitched nearly as well as Kennedy and Barlow.  His 29/9 K/BB ratio is strong, but nine walks given up over 20 innings is a little higher than is ideal.  If he can rein in the free passes, his potential for save chances are likely to increase accordingly. 

The forgotten man in all of this is former closer Drew Storen (RHP, KC) who underwent Tommy John surgery in September of 2017 and has been assigned to Double-A as he continues to work his way back to the majors.  His fastball velocity was understandably down before undergoing the procedure so it will be interesting to see if he can work his heater back to the mid-90s and put himself in a position to close once more. 

 

Chicago White Sox

Both Tim Anderson (SS, CHW) and Yoan Moncada (3B, CHW), as expected, could not keep up their torrid starts and have cooled considerably since the start of the season. Jose Abreu (1B/DH, CHW) started a little slowly, but has rounded into his usual form the past few weeks, but beyond those three and James McCann (C, CHW) the offense has been incredibly mediocre.  Uber-prospect Eloy Jimenez (OF, CHW) hasn’t been able to provide the immediate spark the front office was hoping for yet, and recently promoted speedster Charlie Tilson (OF, CHW) has started promisingly enough, but will need to continue his early production to establish himself. Who are the next wave of bats for the South Siders?

Luis Robert (OF, CHW) is the name that should come to mind immediately, now that Jimenez is in the majors. Robert demonstrated he was too good for high Single-A and was promoted quickly to the Double-A affiliate after a mere 75 at-bats where he slashed a monstrous .453/.512/.920 with eight homers and eight steals.  Double-A has not been quite as easy so far, but Robert is holding his own, posting a respectable .280/.341/.493 line with two home runs and six stolen bases.  He may get a cup of coffee this year and I would suspect he could be up for good near the 2020 All-Star Break if he continues to progress.  One area that needs attention is his walk rate as he has only 10 on the season over 150 at-bats across two levels. 

Though he will likely never hit for a high average, Zack Collins (C, CHW) could be an impact offensive player in his own right, with an intriguing combination of power and on-base skills.  There is ample swing-and-miss in his game as his 41/22 K/BB ratio over 98 at-bats indicates, but his seven homers and five doubles (and one triple) in that sample suggest that just a slightly better contact rate could be the turning point and earn him the promotion from Triple-A. 

Nick Madrigal (2B, CHW) is a name to remember as he could move quickly.  At high Single-A currently, he is putting up some decent numbers, but the item that stands out is his 6/14 K/BB ratio as he has walked more than double the number of times he has struck out.  Madrigal is only 5’ 7”, and 165 pounds, so the doubles he’s hitting now might never become homers, but his knack for getting on base, his bat control, and his above average speed bode well for him as a future leadoff hitter.


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