Ben Heller made his professional debut this Monday for the New York Yankees. I watched highlights of it with mixed feelings, considering he was an absolutely dominant reliever in the Cleveland Indians system this year before being sent over as part of the four-prospect package for Andrew Miller.
JP Feyereisen, probably the third-ranked Indians relief prospect, was also sent to New York in that trade.
While Miller has been insane so far, it’s always good to know that there’s extra help coming along the way, so with Cleveland losing two of its best bullpen prospects, what are the best options remaining in the system?
I’ve listed the best options across the system in order by how quickly they’ll likely be able to help the Indians.
Shawn Armstrong (Age 26, AAA, RHP) - 1.84 ERA, 13.2 K/9, 1.14 WHIP
An 18th round draft pick in 2011, Shawn Armstrong is likely the closest player in the system to being a full-time contributor for the major league roster. Armstrong has wicked strikeout stuff, with one of the highest strikeout rates in the entire system, but the downside is his walk rate, which is also very high (5.3/9). We saw the best of him and worst of him so far in his brief stints with the Indians this year, mowing down some hitters, but then being yanked after two walks in his most recent appearance. Armstrong was optioned afterward and will be eligible to rejoin the team after Lake County’s season ends on September 5th.
Perci Garner (Age 27, AAA, RHP) - 1.83 ERA, 8.0 K/9, 0.94 WHIP
A former 2nd round draft pick by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010, Perci Garner on Wednesday made his major league debut this past Wednesday against the Minnesota Twins. Garner is primarily a sinker ball pitcher who pitches to contact but he has good movement on his fastball and can hit the mid to upper 90s so he can also miss bats. While his debut wasn’t amazing (left with the bases loaded after two outs), he definitely has a live arm and could be a factor for the bullpen in 2017.
Joseph Colon (Age 26, AAA, RHP) - 0.82 ERA, 8.6 K/9, 0.91 WHIP
A 12th round pick in 2009, Joseph Colon also made his major league debut this season for the Indians earlier in July. Colon missed the first two months of the season after a positive drug test, which resulted in a 50-game suspension. Since being activated on May 31st, he’s been spectacular. Colon has only given up four runs (two earned) over 20 games and 22 innings in total. Colon is a converted starter, making it as far as Akron with 24 starts in 2014, but the Indians felt he could contribute to the club best as a reliever. He’s primarily a sinkerball pitcher and wasn’t particularly effective in his first stint with the Indians but he should provide some decent depth down the stretch since he can hit the mid to upper 90s.
Jeff Johnson (Age 26, AAA, RHP) - 2.61 ERA, 9.4 K/9, 1.22 WHIP
Johnson was also drafted in 2011, although he made it eight rounds before Shawn Armstrong as a 10th round selection. Johnson was the closer for Akron in 2015, converting 27 out of 28 save opportunities and carrying an incredible 1.05 ERA for the full season in Double-A. He wasn’t quite as dominant in Triple-A Columbus this season, but he settled in down the stretch with a nice streak of 15 straight scoreless relief appearances. Johnson throws in the low 90s so he’s not going to blow hitters away, and his walk rate is a bit high (4.0/9) so that’s a bit concerning. The good news is he’s still striking out hitters at the same rate as he was in Akron last season. Johnson missed the 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery but he has been fully healthy since returning. He’s not currently on the 40-man roster.
Louis Head (Age 26, AA, RHP) - 2.71 ERA, 8.3 K/9, 1.12 WHIP
An 18th round draft pick in 2012, Louis Head rocketed through the Indians farm system before stalling out a bit in Akron. He was promoted to Akron in 2014 and is still pitching there now, but he made some big strides with his command this season, dropping his total walks from 33 in 60 innings in 2015 to 18 in 66.1 innings in 2016. Head hits the mid-90s with his fastball, but his biggest issue right now is the number of hits he gives up. While the walks are down, he’s given up 56 hits in those 66 innings, which is a bit too much for a back end reliever.
Cameron Hill (Age 22, AA, LHP) - 2.39 ERA, 8.4 K/9, 1.12 WHIP
Finally, a southpaw! Hill was a 2014 draft pick in the 17th round and he’s been lights out at every level thus far. He torched Mahoning Valley and Lake County hitters in his first two seasons and was given a bit of a rocket boost in 2016, even making a one-stop appearance for Triple-A Columbus. Hill’s fastball sits in the low 90s but can touch 95 if he’s pumped up. He’s been used primarily as a long reliever, appearing for up to three innings at a time if needed and he’s been excellent again in 2016 despite giving up a few more runs than usual. His control is great, only walking two batters per nine innings. He could be ready to help the Indians in late 2017 or in 2018 at the least.
David Speer (Age 24, AA, LHP) - 1.78 ERA, 9.0 K/9, 0.94 WHIP
A 27th round draft pick out of the Ivy League in 2014, David Speer isn’t blowing anyone away with his fastball, but he makes up for it with great command and a repertoire of four solid pitches. Speer isn’t a starter, but he gets comparisons to Tom Glavine thanks in part to his excellent command and his ability to get hitters out despite not having overpowering stuff. He dominated hitters at Lynchburg this season and earned a promoted to Double-A Akron on September call-up day. If he can keep perplexing opposing hitters and keeping his walk rate down, he could make an appearance on the Indians by 2018.
Billy Strode (Age 24, A+, LHP) - 1.40 ERA, 8.2 K/9, 0.74 WHIP
A 10th round draft pick in 2015 out of Florida State, Billy Strode has been flat out dominant this year. Just like David Speer, he doesn’t have overpowering stuff with a fastball that sits mid- to upper-80s and tops out at about 90 mph, but Strode has downright insane command. He only walked eight batters in 51.1 innings this season, a ridiculous 1.4 BB/9 rate. He also went 21 straight appearances at one point without giving up a run, which earned him a mid-season promotion to High-A Lynchburg. Strode numbers in Lynchburg haven’t been quite as good as they were in Lake County, but he’s definitely a left-handed relief option to keep an eye on in the coming years.
Leandro Linares (Age 22, A+, RHP) - 1.28 ERA, 11.1 K/9, 0.83 WHIP
A 2013 free agent signing out of Cuba, Leandro Linares struggled in 2014 and 2015, with 7.60 and 6.5 ERAs respectively, but everyone still raved about his stuff, which sits in the mid-90s. Linares figured it out in 2016 and has been one of the most dominant relievers in the Tribe system, refusing to give up a run with Mahoning Valley, then beating up on A-Ball hitters so badly for Lake County that he earned a September call-up to High-A Lynchburg. Linares could be one of the top relief prospects in the entire system if he continues to improve.
Argenis Angulo (Age 22, A, RHP) - 1.02 ERA, 10.2 K/9, 0.82 WHIP
After battling injuries and missing a good portion of 2015, Argenis Angulo bounced back in a big way in 2016. The Venezuelan was a 19th round draft pick in 2014 out of Ranger College and he’s been lights out in 2016. Angulo made spot appearances for Columbus and Akron and was not overwhelmed, refusing to give up a run. His fastball sits in the low 90s and while he still has some work to do with his walk rate (3.7 BB/9), he does a great job of avoiding base bits, having only given up 18 hits this entire season over 43 innings pitched across four levels.
Ben Krauth (Age 22, A, LHP) - 0.56 ERA, 12.09 K/9, 0.69 WHIP
A 16th round pick out of Kansas in this past year’s 2016 June amateur draft, Ben Krauth began his career with an incredible 28.2 consecutive scoreless innings streak, primarily used in the piggy-back role for long relief. Krauth is another soft-tossing lefty, but his command is insanely good. I could see him being converted back to a starter considering he’s making four-inning relief appearances and was a strong starting pitcher in the Big 12 for college. He earned a promotion to Lake County during September call-ups.
Honorable mentions: Josh Martin, Grant Sides, Nick Maronde, Trevor Frank, Matt Whitehouse, Yoiber Marquina, Kenny Mathews