Indians' Farm System Boasts Best Starting Depth in the Majors

Jim PeteContributor IMay 8, 2011

Drew Pomeranz
Drew PomeranzRob Tringali/Getty Images

The Cleveland Indians' farm system has seen an infusion of talent over the past three seasons. Cleveland Indians management used several high profile trades, as well as a more aggressive drafting policy to begin to reload a system that wasn't producing major league players.  The major focus of this strategy was the starting pitching.

The Indians began to attain big arms. The big names on the radar, Alex White and Drew Pomeranz, have clearly made the headlines because of their dominating performances. 

White has been an ace in the making since his 2010 debut, going 11-10 with a 2.37 ERA in 174 1/3 IP. He's given up only 142 hits and 46 earned runs and 51 walks, while striking out 145. White was promoted last week to the big league Indians.

Pomeranz hasn't had a decision to go along with a 1.54 ERA so far in 2011. In five games, he's given up 13 hits, four earned runs and seven walks, while striking out 34 in only 23 1/3 innings pitched. As good as White was, Pomeranz seems to be more advanced. A safe estimate would have the bit lefty starting in Cleveland in May of next season. However, if Pomeranz truly is more advanced, it's possible that he comes out of spring training in 2012 in the rotation. 

With Pomeranz and White stealing all the headlines, it's easy to forget the other substantial starters who reside at every level from triple A all the way down to extended spring training.

What the Tribe has done in a short amount of time with regards to starting pitching is fairly impressive. Each team within the organization has a deep cross-section of starters with a variety of strengths, including both power and finesse pitchers, and even with a converted knuckle-baller thrown in for fun.

Over the past 12 days, this depth has really been showcased from Lake County to Columbus. Below are a list of what I would consider quality starts relative to the first month of the season. It's relatively common for most organizations to slowly build innings for their starters in April (especially in the low minors) to gradually improve arm strength and keep young starters from shoulder and arm fatigue. 

Keeping that in mind, I decided to take a closer look at the potential future Tribe starters over the past two weeks. Having been writing day-to-day here at IPI, I began to notice a growing trend of "quality starts" and other long appearances from several farm hands that have both grabbed headlines and lived in a bit of obscurity. What I found was more than a little impressive.

Keep in mind that I'm just trying to take a look at the depth of pitching within the organization proportional to their plus outings since April 25. This is by no means my initial foray into SABR-geekdom.

Here are the stat lines of those aforementioned "quality starts:"

  1. April 25-Alex White, Columbus: 5 2/3, 5 H, 1 R/ER, 2 BB, 8 K
  2. April 25-Drew Pomeranz, Kinston: 3 IP, 3 H, 1 R/ER, 0 BB, 5 K
  3. April 25-Kyle Blair, Lake County: 5 IP, 5 H, 1 R/ER, 4 K
  4. April 25-David Huff, Columbus: 7 IP, 9 H, 5 R/4 ER
  5. April 26 Eric Berger, Akron: 4 IP, 4 H, 0 R/ER, 2 BB, 5 K
  6. April 26 Nick Hagadone, Akron: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R/ER, 4 K
  7. April 27 Scott Barnes, Columbus: 6 2/3, 2 H, 0 R/ER, 5 BB, 7 K
  8. April 27 Giovanni Sota, Kinston: 6 IP, 3 H, 0 R/ER, 1 BB, 6 K
  9. April 28 Zach McAllister, Columbus: 7 IP, 6 H, 0 R/ER, 6 K
  10. April 28 T.J. McFarland, Akron: 5 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 5 K
  11. April 28 Matt Packer, Akron: 7 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 K
  12. April 28 T.J. House, Kinston: 5 IP, 5 H, 4 R/ER, 1 BB, 6 K
  13. April 28 Michael Goodnight, Lake County: 6 IP, 3 H, 3 R/ER, 2 BB, 5 K
  14. April 29 Kelvin De La Cruz, Akron: 4 IP, 2 H, 1 R/ER, 6 BB, 5 K
  15. April 29 Brett Brach, Kinston: 5 1/3, 5 H, 0 R/ER, 1 BB, 4 K
  16. April 29 Michael Rayl, Lake County: 3 2/3, 3 H, 1 R/ER, 3 BB, K
  17. April 30 Joe Martinez, Columbus: 5 IP, 5 H, 0 R/ER, 1 BB, 5 K
  18. April 30 Toru Murata, Kinston: 4 IP, 1 H, 0 R/ER  7 K
  19. April 30 Kyle Blair, Lake County: 5 IP, 2 H, 1 R/ER, 2 K
  20. May 1 David Huff, Columbus: 7 IP, 4 H, 3 R/ER, 1 BB, 2 K
  21. May 1 Austin Adams, Akron: 7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 8 K
  22. May 1 Drew Pomeranz, Kinston: 5 1/3, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K
  23. May 1 Cole Cook, Lake County: 5 IP, 6 H, 2 R/ER, 1 BB, 4 K
  24. May 2 Clayton Cook, Kinston: 6 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 3 K
  25. May 2 Steven Wright, Lake County: 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 K
  26. May 3 Zach McAllister, Columbus: 8 IP, 7 H, 2 R/ER, 1 BB, 5 K
  27. May 3-Michael Goodnight, Lake County: 6 IP, 1 H, 1 R/ER, 2 BB, 10 K
  28. May 5-T.J. McFarland, Akron: 4 2/3, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 K
  29. May 4-T.J. House, Kinston: 6 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 4 K
  30. May 4-Michael Rayl, Lake County: 7 IP, 1 H, 0 R/ER, 11 K
  31. May 5-Matt Packer, Akron: 6 1/3 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K,
  32. May 5-Brett Brach, Kinston: 6 1/3 IP, 2 H, 1 R/ER, 3 BB, 5 K
  33. May 5-Kyle Blair, Lake County: 5 1/3 IP, 3 H, 4 R/ER, 4 BB, 7 K

This brief study is far from perfect and far from scientific. I decided to count all starts or appearances since April 25 by potential future starters who went five innings or over and had given up four earned runs or less. With that said, I did throw in an occasional splashy appearance by a pitcher who went three or four innings with a low earned run total relative to their innings pitched. For example, Drew Pomeranz pitched three strong innings during his third April start, but had to leave due to injury. Nick Hagadone also has a three-inning appearance, and while he's currently a reliever, I do think it's conceivable that he could find his way into a starting rotation if his secondary pitches continue to improve.

I was initially concerned that my brief study was going to be too picky, choosing only starts that would suit my needs. What I found was that of the 41 potential games taken into account from April 25 through May 5, there were the 33 "quality" appearances you see above, all by a potential future starters.

In the 33 appearances, there was a total of 182 1/3 innings pitched, which averages out to nearly 5 2/3 innings per appearance. While that doesn't stand out, again, keep in mind that many of the starts were curbed by pitch count, and not struggles. That's not a bad number considering there isn't a single complete game documented here.

The cross section of the organization is fairly even, with nine appearances from Lake County, nine from Kinston, eight from Akron and seven from Columbus. There are 22 different pitchers on the list, with 10 pitchers making at least two appearances. Surprisingly enough, leading the way with three appearances is Lake County starter and fourth-round pick Kyle Blair.

With the drafting of Pomeranz, it was easy to forget about Blair. While he certainly doesn't have the best numbers of the starters on the list, he's quietly been putting together a solid first season.

Overall, Tribe starters gave up 125 total hits, 40 earned runs and 60 walks, to go along with an impressive 167 K's. That's averaging six hits, three walks and slightly more than eight K's per nine innings, with a 1.97 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP.

Are all of these pitchers ultimately going to start for the Indians? Not likely. Even in a season with an abundance of injuries, not all of these guys will find their way into the Tribe's rotation. Still, the quality and depth of starters is key to any organization's success.

In 2011, Cleveland started with a rotation of Fausto Carmona, Carlos Carrasco, Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin and Mitch Talbot. Carrasco and Talbot have already found themselves on the DL, but were immediately replaced by Jeanmar Gomez and White. A case could be made that the rotation got better. At the very least, it's retained it's pre-injury level.

It's also interesting to look at the make-up of that initial staff. Masterson, Carrasco and Talbot were all acquired during their arms run since Sabathia was traded in 2008. Carmona and Tomlin were part of a bit of a cookie cutter run prior to the Sabathia deal, in which the Indians seemed to focus on safe starters who could locate and keep the ball on the ground. Jeanmar Gomez is another who fits in this mold.

This isn't to say that Indians didn't acquire good starters during the cookie-cutter years, but many scouts believed that because of the lack of power-arms, there weren't any potential aces in the hole for years to come. Instead, Cleveland was loading up on No. 3 starters without any stoppers.

Alex White and Drew Pomeranz headline those potential stoppers, but not on this list may be the best arm of the bunch.  Jason Knapp is currently at extended spring training.  Knapp, acquired in the Cliff Lee deal with Philadelphia, boasts another one of those power arms.  If developed correctly, he could give the Indians another one of those stoppers.  White, Pomeranz and Knapp in the same rotation? 

My how things have changed. Now, the Indians are clearly loaded with a host of potential aces who are maturing quickly, to go along with an abundance of those location guys who have been seasoning in the Indians system for four or five seasons. What's happening now?

Let's call it a perfect storm of pitching. The next two years could become one of the best windows for starters in the history of the organization. Let's just hope that Alex White's early emergence is a sign of things to come. 

Jim Pete currently writes for Bringing Back Boudreau, a blog focusing on the quest for the Cleveland Indians to win their first major league championship since 1948, and Indians Prospect Insider, the preeminent Indians minor league blog.


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