One year away from being named the Cleveland Indians farm system’s "Pitcher of the Year," 23-year-old Ryan Merritt was not even one of the Tribe’s 20 best prospects by the end of the 2015 season, according to MLB.com. But he still had a solid season anyway.
Merritt’s award-winning season in 2014 had him starting 2015 in Double-A after not making the Major League roster cut in Spring Training. He pitched well for the Akron Rubberducks over his 22 games at the Double-A level, throwing 141 total innings with a 3.51 ERA and a 3.25 FIP, but his strikeout numbers continued to decline. In an era of "stuff" pitchers dominating the league, low strikeout totals play a large part in why he has dropped off many analysts radars as a potential future Major League pitcher.
Merritt’s strikeout percentage has steadily dropped since at each level since he had a 17.4 K% playing in A-ball in 2013. It peaked last season to 20.1%--when he was named "Pitcher of the Year," remember--then dropped back down to 15.6% in his 22 games at Double-A.
While Merritt was very effective in Double-A, he was less so at the next level. As the Rubberducks season was winding down and the Columbus Clippers were preparing for a playoff run, Merritt got the call and moved to Triple-A for the first time in his career. While there, he threw in five regular season games where he allowed 14 runs and 38 hits in his 30.0 innings of work. He also struggled in the three playoff games he started, allowing nine runs in 14.3 innings. Three of those runs came in the Triple-A Championship game against the Fresno Grizzles where he was pulled after only two innings.
The obvious highlight for Merritt’s season was a no-hitter he threw on July 11. Merrit’s no-hitter came during Game 1 of a doubleheader--which only requires the teams to play for seven innings--and he handled the Reading Fightin’ Phils masterfully. The box score alone shows what Merrit is capable of at his full potential: 7.0 IP, 1 BB, 3 SO. Merritt is never going to blow anyone away with amazing stuff, but he knows how to effectively get outs when he is on and he will not give away anything for free.
Similar to Tyler Naquin, Ryan Merritt’s biggest hurdle in getting to the Majors will be high-level talent quickly catching up to him. The Indians selected pitchers with their first three picks of the 2015 MLB Draft and traded for Rob Kaminsky at the trade deadline. None of them are projected to be in the Majors as early as Merritt, but he still needs to get there and establish himself before they do.
Merritt could easily surprise everyone and appear in the Majors sooner rather than later, much like Cody Anderson did this year. The two are very similar pitchers, relying on location and control rather than blow-you-away stuff, but Merritt is two years younger at 23.
Ryan Merritt could start the 2016 season in Triple-A, but if he does not, expect him to be promoted the second he shows that he is outclassing the competition at Double-A.