The Cleveland Indians have come under intense scrutiny for trading away three All-Star players in the past two seasons. While the majority of the criticism is valid, as the talent the Indians received back in those trades looks weak so far, the Tribe can be praised for luring away right handed starter Mitch Talbot from Tampa Bay for catcher Kelly Shoppach in December 2009.
At the time of the deal, it didn’t seem like much. So far, Talbot has proven to be a diamond in the rough. Nobody was really sure what to expect from him, but he has been a solid addition to the starting rotation and a bright future ahead of him.
Shoppach impressed with his power numbers during the 2008 season, one of four seasons he spent with the Indians. Throughout his Indian career, however, he also proved that he was not an everyday catcher; his hitting and defense really slid in 2009. He never hit above .261 and struck out too much. Even in 2008, when he hit 21 home runs, he stuck out 133 times in just 112 games.
Shoppach’s defense decreased as his playing time increased. He went from above average at throwing out runners in 2006 and 2007 (37%) to well below average in 2008 and 2009 (22%).
After a terrible 2009 season in which Shoppach batted .214, I was completely surprised that we got a player above single or double A for him. I figured a bag of baseballs, a few cases of hot dogs, and some cash would be sufficient for the oft-wiffing catcher. Instead, we received a Major League ready starter who was just 26 years old. Yes, Talbot was unproven, but at least we didn’t have to wait for yet another prospect; he could come in and start pitching right away.
Mitch had a solid spring training which has carried into the season thus far. He is tied for 3rd in the AL with seven wins (7-4) with a nice 3.54 era in 11 starts. Perhaps more importantly, he has kept the team in most of his starts and is averaging 6 and 2/3 innings per outing.
Talbot is not a dominant pitcher. He relies more on consistency and an exceptional slider that breaks hard and late. In addition, The Utah native throws an average fastball, a decent change up, and a good cutter that dives in at left handed hitters.
In just his second start of the season, Mitch threw a complete game as the Tribe beat Mark Buehrle and the White Sox 6-2. He allowed 6 hits and only 1 earned run, which came off a Paul Konerko home run in the second inning. After that, he was in complete control. He did not walk a batter and frequently pitched ahead in the count. 68 of his 97 pitches went for strikes. The cutter and slider were working well, leading to 17 ground ball outs.
Many first year pitchers struggle with their command. Luckily for Talbot, he's displayed composure and mound presence throughout his inaugural season. He's been especially good at working his way out of trouble with little or no damage.
Of course, it is too early to predict the type of pitcher Talbot can become in the future, but he shows a lot of promise. For what it's worth, he is on pace to win 18 games.
It will be interesting to see how Mitch Talbot’s career progresses. So far, the fans cannot complain. After all, we only gave up a 30 year old catcher for a 26 year old starting pitcher winning games at the major league level-that is a STEAL.
It is ironic that after trading two Cy Young pitchers in Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia and an All Star catcher in Victor Martinez, the trade of Kelly Shoppach may have yielded the best talent for the Cleveland Indians. We may be saying the same thing about the Casey Blake trade for Carlos Santana soon.