Now most readers here at LGT are pretty big fans of Mr. Clevinger, but what do the men who are paid to take a professional look at young talent think of him?
Let's get started with earlier in his MLB career. Clevinger was a fourth round pick by the Angels in the 2011 draft, so obviously he was pretty highly thought of at the time by Los Angeles management. Before he was traded to the Indians in 2014, here is what the scouts thought of Clevinger's stuff while he was still with the Angels organization:
Taylor Ward - Scout.com (Dec. 2013)
Clevinger's big problem is following through in his delivery to the plate while throwing his fastball, his arm slot drops progressively as games go on, and he tends to overthrow the ball sometimes. Clevinger's three-quarter arm-slot delivery has helped with his off-speed pitches and their ability to break. Something even more special about Clevinger's off-speed pitches though is his command and ability to throw them over the plate.
Clevinger has a changeup that has become his most effective swing and miss pitch, and is probably the best overall pitch in his arsenal. He also has a slider that is very effective in forcing groundballs. Clevinger's final pitch in his arsenal is a 12-6 curveball, just to throw something very off-speed and get batter's unbalanced, that became his two-strike pitch just prior to the injury. According to an Angels scout, all four of Clevinger's pitches are "Major League average or better, and can only get better."
After a bit of a rough 2014, something clicked for Clevinger in 2015. He was dynamite last year for Double-A Akron, leading the entire Tribe minor league organization in strikeouts (145) while nearly cutting his walk rate in half en route to winning the Bob Feller award for the best minor league pitcher in the Indians organization.
With an impressive season in his rear view, here is what the scouts were saying about Clevinger prior to the 2016 campaign:
John Sickels - SB Nation
There’s a lot to like here: low-to-mid-90s fastball, plus slider, solid curve and change-up, and greatly improved command last summer. He’s got the Jake deGrom thing going with the long hair look and similar height, though deGrom is more athletic and Clevinger’s stuff isn’t quite as electric. It is still plenty strong however, his command has turned into a real asset, and he has a reputation for pitching well under pressure. Clevinger should be ready for a trial in 2016 and could become a number three starter, maybe even more. Grade B+.
Christopher Crawford - Baseball Prospectus
Clevinger's fastball is borderline double-plus and will touch 97 with movement. He’ll show an above-average slider with hard tilt, and he also features a curveball and change that are currently fringe-average. The command took a step forward in 2015, but there’s still a ways to go before it’s good enough to start, and repeating his delivery is an issue. There is plenty of love for his arm both inside and outside the organization.
Eric Stashin - Roto Professor
Clevinger usually operates at 92-95 mph with his fastball but has touched 97. His slider is his best secondary offering and projects to be above average, thrown with power and depth, and he knows how to keep hitters off balance using his curveball and changeup, though neither pitch is better than fringe average at the moment. His feel for his entire arsenal should improve as he distances himself from elbow surgery.
Keith Law - ESPN (subscription required)
Clevinger posted a 2.73 ERA in Double-A in 2015, striking out 22.7 percent of the batters he faced, with a fastball up to 96 and above-average control. His secondary stuff -- three pitches -- is more average, and he has succeeded by setting hitters up and locating well, rather than blowing anyone away with an out pitch.
Matt Bretz - Wahoos on First
There’s a ton to like about Clevinger on the mound. His fastball sits 92-95 and can run it up to 96-97. He supplements that with a plus slider but also throws a curveball that can flash plus as well as a usable changeup. His combination of plus stuff helped him strike out 145 hitters in the regular season last year, which led all Tribe minor leaguers in 2015.
While player comparisons can be misleading and unfair at times, he reminds me a bit of Corey Kluber at this stage. Like Clevinger, Kluber was acquired as a lowly prospect without a lot of hype. Kluber had some control issues but also great stuff that led many to think he could end up in the pen as a lockdown setup guy. However, as we all know, Kluber has been ever so slightly better than that. I’m not saying Clevinger will become the next Kluber, but I definitely think we’ll be seeing him in Cleveland this year. He’s got front-line potential in the rotation and should hopefully settle into the backend at some point in the next year or two.
Needless to say, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about Clevinger's debut with the big league club tonight. Here's hoping it won't just be for a cup of coffee!