The Cleveland Indians should have one of the best bullpens in baseball headed into the 2017 season. All of the important pieces are back and what was a major strength in 2016 was boosted even further with the free-agent signing of lefty Boone Logan.
He should fit in nicely as the second lefty behind Andrew Miller and be part of a relief corps that also includes Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Dan Otero, and Zach McAllister. Relief pitching is a source of tremendous depth for the Tribe and this last spot or two on the team is likely to be the a key position battle as Spring Training continues. Guys who might not make the Indians 25-man roster could very easily play at the MLB level for other teams. Instead, they will provide organizational depth in Columbus or even move on to other teams.
Manager Terry Francona and the front office might keep up to eight bullpen players when possible, meaning one or two spots could be open on the MLB roster. Mike Clevinger could end up in the bullpen or fill in as a starter if an injury occurs in the rotation or start the season in the rotation in Columbus as the de facto sixth starter. The role of Clevinger likely has a domino effect on the bullpen. If he’s a starter with Columbus to begin the season then that leaves one or two reliever spots open depending whether a seven- or eight-man bullpen is utilized.
Of course, injuries are likely to occur at some point in the season or perhaps someone won’t be nearly as successful as they have been before. That’s why organizational depth is important. So here’s a look at some pitching depth involving the 40-man roster.
Armstrong has logged 18.2 innings with the Tribe in parts of two seasons and has a combined total of 18 Ks and five BBs along with giving up 5 earned runs and 14 hits. With Columbus in 2016, Armstrong appeared in 47 games and pitched 49 innings giving up 27 hits and 29 walks while striking out a whopping 72 hitters. Looks for Armstrong to have a bigger role with the Tribe especially if he shows better command. He could be the favorite to earn a spot in the Indians bullpen.
Baker hasn’t pitched in a game since 2015, which was one start for Carolina. He’ll be 25 in April. He’s logged 225 innings in four minor league seasons and has made 46 starts in 48 appearances with a 48-46 record giving up 195 hits and 113 runs (3.64 ERA). He’s still a work in progress and probably remains in the minors to continue his development.
Colon, 27, has appeared in 11 games and pitched 10 innings all in 2016 with the Indians. He gave up 8 earned runs and walked 7. Not the best statistically line, but he struck out 10 hitters. In 20 appearances in Columbus, Colon was much better and pitched 22 innings and gave up 2 earned runs (0.82 ERA) and walked 12 and struck out 21. He’s like Armstrong in the sense that if he can achieve better control, he could factor into the bullpen. He likely begins the season in Columbus, but could be moving between Columbus and Cleveland when needed.
The former St. Louis Cardinals prospect was claimed in the off-season and has been mostly used in his career as a starter. Injuries kept him out all of 2016 and most of 2015 when he made six starts St. Louis and went 1-0 with a 3.16 ERA in 31.1 innings. At age 26, he still has a future, but will start the season on the disabled list and will likely spend much of the season there. Perhaps a future in the bullpen may be in store.
Crockett has appeared with the Indians in parts of three seasons. The soft-tossing lefty enters his age 25 season and has bounced between Cleveland and Columbus. He has made 103 appearance with the Tribe. In Cleveland, he’s pitched in 63.2 innings and given up 59 hits and 23 earned runs (3.25 ERA) while walking 22 and striking out 60. His role has been to pitch early in middle relief and in mostly favorable matchups. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he claims a spot in the Indians bullpen to give the team three lefties.
Frias, 27, was acquired from the Dodgers in January for a player to be named or cash. The right-hander has bounced between the minors and MLB for the last three years. He’s made 33 appearances in MLB including 15 starts. In 114 innings, he’s given up 123 hits and 60 runs and 34 BB while striking out 75. He likely starts the season in Columbus.
Garner earned a late-season callup in 2016 for the Indians and will enter his age 28 season. The right-hander has appeared in eight MLB games, all with Cleveland last season, and has pitched 9.1 innings. During that time, Garner has given up 12 hits and 5 earned runs.
Goody turns 26 in July. The right-handed reliever was acquired in a trade with the New York Yankees for a player to be named or cash. Goody appeared in 27 games for New York in 2016 and finished 10. In 29 innings he gave up 30 hits, 15 runs (4.66 ERA) and 12 walks. He also struck out 34 batters. He might have an edge here due to his more lengthy time in MLB especially as we’ve seen the Tribe brass prefer veterans when most other considerations are equal.
Milner was selected from the Phillies as a Rule 5 drafted player. That means he must stay on the 25-man roster for the entire season or be offered back to Philadelphia. He’s a lefty and was picked before the Tribe signed Logan. If he stays on the team, perhaps the Tribe could work out some other compensation to keep him. Otherwise, it’s likely he’s offered back to Philly. In the minors, Milner is 36-21 with a 3.53 ERA in 144 games including 66 starts.
Other pitchers on the 40-man roster such as Ryan Merritt, Cody Anderson, Adam Plutko and lefty Shawn Morimando are poised to start in the rotation in Columbus and also to provide organizational depth.