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The Sports Daily > Burning River Baseball
Bullpen Development for the Present and Future

The Cleveland Indians are usually in pretty good shape when it comes to pitching after the sixth inning. Most often, that’s when you’ll see bullpen studs Andrew Miller and Cody Allen enter the ballgame especially when the Indians have a lead.

Throw in Bryan Shaw, who does the bulk of his work in the seventh and eighth innings, and it’s the best bullpen in baseball. In fact, the Tribe is ranked first in MLB with a 2.99 ERA when pitching from the seventh inning on and that includes 231.2 innings. The Indians also rank fourth overall in Ks during this time in the game with 282.

In the 2017 postseason, we all watched how Corey Kluber and a tremendous bullpen powered by these three nearly lead Cleveland to its first World Series title since 1948. They most likely will be called to duty to once again in October for another postseason run. With starting pitching not the strength it had been, these guys are going to be counted on heavily as the season progresses. So far, they’ve mostly been up to the task.

However, this power trio might only last together for this season or two with Shaw eligible for free agency after this season and Miller and Allen eligible after 2018. Unless the Indians decide to pay handsomely to extend these guys into the 2019 season and beyond, it might be time to slowly start grooming some late-game replacements to be counted on in the future. Hopefully, it won’t be forced due to injury.

Of course, the tricky part is the Indians are trying to win the World Series in 2017. That means player development isn’t the main goal for this season. It’s about winning now. The Indians and fans want players capable of performing well in their respective roles today. But there also is the benefit of developing other players to perform more comfortably and well in high-pressure situations. So the challenge is to try to develop or challenge the player without racking up losses.

A couple pitchers already on the team aren’t likely to see their roles change much this season. Zach McAllister, 29, is eligible for free agency after 2018, and Boone Logan, 32, is eligible at the end of this season or after 2018 if the Tribe picks up its team option at the end of the year. McAllister was formerly a starter, but seems to have found his niche as a middle reliever who can throw more than an inning when needed and for the most part he’s performing pretty well this season. He’s appeared in 27 games and has thrown 35.2 innings with a 2.52 ERA. The lefty Logan is mostly a matchup specialist. He’s pitched in 35 games, but has only thrown 18.2 innings and has given up 11 runs. Neither is probably a long-term answer in high-pressure situations toward the end of the game for the Tribe. However, right now both veterans could get the call in higher pressure middle innings when Shaw, Miller and Allen aren’t available.

Rest assured, there is quite a bit of young controllable bullpen talent already on the 25-man and 40-man rosters. It might be time to not only get some of them ready for the future, but also to ready them for the high-stakes pressure involved in a World Series championship run.

For instance on the 25-man roster right now is Dan Otero, 27, who isn’t eligible for free agency until 2020, plus Nick Goody, 25, and Shawn Armstrong, 26, who both are not eligible until 2023.

Otero has finished six games this year, but those end-game appearances are typically with little pressure at that moment and the game’s outcome already decided. But he’s doing well again overall in 2017 appearing in 29 games with a 3.38 ERA in 32 innings. In his two seasons with Cleveland, his ERA is a sparkling 2.10 in 102.2 innings. Is it time to put him in big spots to give Miller, Allen or Shaw a break and to get him used to these situations?

Goody was a quiet, under-the-radar trade made by the front office in December with the Yankees. He was acquired for a player to be named later. The Indians eventually sent Yoiber Marquina on May 5, 2017, to complete the trade. In 31.2 innings this year, Goody has struck out 36 and given up just 4 earned runs for a 1.14 ERA. He’s also given up just 20 hits, but has issued 12 walks. Goody could potentially be a player whose role could expand greatly this season and beyond. He’s been surprisingly successful so far and could potentially be counted on to contribute much more as this season progresses and for seasons beyond.

A 40-man roster player such as Kyle Crockett, 25, who has shuttled between Columbus and Cleveland this season isn’t eligible for free agency until 2022. It seems like he’s been around forever as he’s appeared in parts of the last four seasons with the Tribe. The soft-tossing lefty has appeared in 106 games with CLE at the MLB level, but pitched only 64.1 innings including appearances in just three games and 0.2 innings this season with the Tribe . He’s probably a matchup guy at this point in his career, but Crockett is still young and controllable and could continue to develop. It will be interesting to see what happens with him after he is out of minor league options.

Perci Garner, 27. is eligible for free agency in 2023, when he will be 34. He’s already spent most of his eight professional seasons in the minors. Unless he suddenly blossoms unexpectedly in his peak years or transforms into a late bloomer, Garner probably won’t be someone to count on heavily in the future.

Guys like Mike Clevinger, 26, Ryan Merritt, 25, Adam Plutko, 25, and Shawn Morimando, 24, are all under team control until 2023. However, these players are starters or are being groomed to be so.

There also are a couple of wildcards to keep in mind who looking to rebuild their careers after major injuries. They are minor leaguers Dylan Baker, 25, who missed the entire 2016 season and is now pitching for Double-A Akron, and Cody Anderson, 26, who is on the 60-day DL and out for this season after Tommy John surgery this spring.