With the first five already in the books, EHC’s prospect guru, Al Ciammaichella, comes in with his next five, as we head up the charts toward #1. Today’s five is dominated by a position that has seemingly long been dormant in the #Indians minor league developmental program: starting pitching. While the pitchers mentioned aren’t locks to eventually make their way to the Major League rotation or bullpen, there’s enough upside here to be optimistic that if one or two pan out, a foundation could be laid for a better success rate with regards to starters going forward.
Al was the primary photographer for all the pictures in this article.
Which pitchers haven’t cracked the top five yet? Check it out, after the jump.
- Shawn Morimando, LHP
Height/Weight: 5’11”, 195 lb.
Acquired: 19th round pick in the 2011 MLB draft
2014 Stats: 10-9 with a 3.31 ERA, 108 K and 52 BB in 152 1/3 IP between high-A Carolina and AA Akron
Scouting Report: Morimando pitched all of 2013 with high-A Carolina, going 8-13 with a 3.73 ERA, 102 K and 76 BB. Command was an issue for Morimando, as he was unable to pitch deep into games owing to the walks and associated high pitch counts. Morimando went down to instructs following the 2013 season with one goal; improve his command so he could limit those walks. The Indians staff worked with him to identify an issue in which Morimando would fall off to the side of the mound in his follow-through, effecting his ability to command his fastball to both sides of the plate and making his delivery less repeatable than it otherwise could be. Morimando worked to fix that flaw, and it was reflected in his 2014 performance. Back in Carolina to start the year, Morimando went 8-3 in 18 starts with an even 3.00 ERA. More importantly, he cut his walk rate dramatically, issuing just 35 free passes in 96 innings of work. Promoted to AA Akron for good in July, Morimando went 2-6 with a 3.83 ERA in 10 Eastern League starts, walking 17 and racking up 38 K in 56 1/3 IP. Morimando’s K/BB rate jumped from 1.34 in 2013 to 2.08 in 2014 despite his overall K rate falling, as he learned to pitch more effectively in the zone and limit the damage caused by all the walks.
Morimando throws a fastball, slider, curveball and changeup. The fastball sits between 89-92 MPH and can touch 94. It has nice arm-side run and sink from his ¾ delivery, and he uses it early in the count to both sides of the plate. The slider is his best secondary offering, as it sits in the mid-80’s and looks like the fastball coming out of his hand. It has sharp, late life across the zone, and it’s Morimando’s out pitch, particularly against southpaws. His curveball is still a little loose, but projects as at least an average pitch. His changeup has nice fade down and out of the zone, but he can get into trouble if it stays up. It’s a deep arsenal that should allow Morimando to turn over a lineup several times and pitch deep into games, as he can vary his sequencing to give hitters different looks each time up.
Morimando is a good athlete with a feel for pitching. He did a much better job in 2014 trusting his stuff and getting ahead of hitters early in the count. Being able to trust his fastball location and spot it to both sides of the plate was a big step for him. He’s going to pitch the entire 2015 season as a 22-year old, and is ahead of the developmental curve having already pitched over 50 innings in AA. He’ll likely be back in Akron to begin the 2015 season, and depending on how things shake out in front of him, could be in line for a AAA look before the year is up. He doesn’t have front of the rotation potential, but could be a valuable innings-eating lefty even as a #4.
Glass half-full: A solid back of the rotation starter
Glass half-empty: A swingman out of the bullpen
- Sean Brady, LHP
Height/Weight: 6’0”, 175 lb.
Acquired: 5th round pick in the 2013 MLB draft
2014 Stats: 2-5 with a 3.18 ERA, 46 K and 29 BB in 73 2/3 IP between short-season Mahoning Valley and low-A Lake County
Scouting Report: Selected in the 5th round out of a Florida high school, Brady turned down a scholarship to the University of Florida and signed with the Indians in 2013 for a over-slot $800,000 bonus. The almost-Gator made an impressive but brief pro debut in 2013, striking out just under a batter per inning in the complex leagues and posting a 1.97 ERA in 30 IP. Brady was held in extended spring training last year and assigned to the short-season Mahoning Valley Scrappers in June. He made 14 starts for the Scrappers, going 2-4 with a 2.97 ERA in 71 IP. His strikeout rate fell off last year, as Brady punched out just 44 hitters in the NYPL, good for a 5.6 K/9 rate. Brady was bumped up to low-A Lake County for his final start of the season on September 1, and got lit up by the Dayton Dragons. He took the loss, allowing 6 runs (4 ER) in just 2 2/3’s IP. It was a solid season for the 20-year old southpaw, and he’ll be looking to build on that success here in 2015.
Brady throws a fastball, curveball and changeup. The fastball sits in the low-90’s, touching as high as 94. It has nice arm-side run, as Brady works from a ¾ arm slot. He does a nice job spotting the pitch to both sides of the plate, and works well in the strike zone to induce weak contact. He compliments the fastball with a changeup and curve, both pitches that project to be at least average at the next level. The curveball already flashes plus, with nice, tight break. It can get a little loose at times, and it’s one thing Brady is working on as he moves up the minor league ladder. Brady’s changeup has nice fade, and should give him a legitimate third offering and remain in the starting rotation for the long haul.
Brady is a good athlete and has clean, repeatable mechanics on the mound. His command is one of his greatest strengths right now, and being able to spot his pitches helps him get by without an overpowering fastball. One issue for Brady moving forward is his platoon splits; righties had a .724 OPS against him in 2014, as opposed to just a .615 OPS against left-handed hitters. I’d like to see Brady add a cutter to his arsenal, as it would give him another weapon to attack righties. Brady should open the season in the rotation for the Lake County Captains, and it’ll be interesting to see if he’s been able to add some strength to his frame this offseason. If he can pick up a tick or two on his fastball, he could be 10-15 spots higher on this list come next year.
Glass half-full: A back of the rotation starter
Glass half-empty: A versatile swing lefty out of the bullpen
- Willi Castro, INF
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 165 lb.
Acquired: International free agent signed in 2014
2014 Stats: .239/.258/.348 with 2 HR and 11 RBI in 43 games with the Rookie League Arizona Indians
Scouting Report: Castro signed with the Indians in 2013 out of the Dominican Republic. The Indians gave the then-16 year old an $825,000 bonus, making him their 2nd highest-paid international signing in that class. Castro is extremely raw right now, as you’d expect for a player who would normally be complaining about having to take Calculus his senior year of high school. But Castro was born outside the US and Puerto Rico, so instead of worrying about prom, he’s worrying about 95 MPH fastballs in spring training.
Castro has a nice collection of tools, including a short, compact swing from both sides of the plate. He has surprising present pop for his size and age, and that should continue to mature as he adds strength to his 6’1” frame. The Indians challenged him with an assignment to the Arizona League last year, a league that typically features mostly recent college and high school draftees. Castro held his own, recording 10 XBH and stealing 9 bases in 13 attempts. His approach is predictably raw, as he walked just 6 times against 33 strikeouts. Castro is going to be challenged with the advanced offspeed stuff that he’s starting to see, and is going to have to improve on his fastball-hungry approach. The sooner he can recognize and track spin, the sooner he’ll be able to move up the organizational ladder to a full-season league.
Castro is a very good athlete with a slick glove. He projects well to SS right now, but could eventually grow off the position depending on how much bulk he adds. He has excellent present range and an average arm, and if he does eventually have to move off of SS he should have no problem at 2B or 3B. He’s a good instinctual fielder with clean actions in the infield. Castro appeared in 29 games at 2B and 15 at SS last year in the complex leagues, committing a total of 9 errors.
Castro should open 2015 back in extended spring training, but there’s a chance the Indians move him to Mahoning Valley when the New York-Penn League starts up in June. It’d be an aggressive assignment, but he does turn 18 in April. Castro has more room between his current and future tools than anyone else on this list, and it’ll be interesting to see where he is physically in 2015.
Glass half-full: He’s 17. Give it a couple of years
Glass half-empty: Seriously, he’s 17. Ask me again in 2017.
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 210 lb.
Acquired: 18th round pick in the 2011 MLB draft
2014 Stats: 6-2 with a 2.41 ERA, 15 saves, 72 K and 22 BB in 56 innings of work between AA Akron and AAA Columbus
Scouting Report: Armstrong has been one of the highest-ceiling bullpen arms in the Indians organization for the past few years. In 2013, he took a step backwards in terms of command, walking 31 batters in 48 1/3 IP. He cut down on the walks in 2014, but maintained a sky-high 11.6 K/9 strikeout rate. For his career, Armstrong has racked up an impressive 219 strikeouts in just 143 innings of work. The 11 K/9 strikeout rate has the 24-year old on the cusp of a major league bullpen slot, as he ascended to AAA Columbus last year to bring his developmental curve near a finish.
Armstrong is pretty simple as pitchers go; he throws a fastball, a cut fastball, and a breaking ball. He doesn’t nibble, but attacks hitters early in the count and dares them to try and put the ball in play. His fastball sits consistently in the mid-90s, and can touch as high as 98. The pitch has a lot of life, and plays up due to the deception in his delivery. He compliments the fastball with a wipeout slider with impressive tilt, a particularly devastating weapon against righties. The cutter is still a work in progress, but it’s a nice third pitch that Armstrong can use to attack hitters. It’s a textbook back-end bullpen arsenal, one that is simple but extremely effective when Armstrong is working in the strike zone.
Part of Armstrong’s command issues lie in his delivery, a violent and deceptive motion that can be difficult to repeat on a consistent basis. It’s a bit of a catch-22, because Armstrong’s delivery both holds back his command and helps make him more deceptive to hitters. He can afford to walk more than most because he’s so effective at missing bats and allows so few hits, but walks have a way of turning into runs at the big league level. Armstrong is also a little more susceptible to lefties than righties, allowing southpaws to hit .259 against him in 2014 as opposed to just a .179 average for same-siders. If he can continue to shore up his command and find a way to get lefties out with more consistency, Armstrong could be a weapon in the back end of a major league bullpen.
Glass half-full: A closer or dominant set-up man
Glass half-empty: An effective late-inning arm against right-handed batters
- Luis Lugo, LHP
Height/Weight: 6’5”, 200 lb.
Acquired: International free agent signed in 2010
2014 Stats: 10-9 with a 4.92 ERA, 146 K and 40 BB in 126 1/3 IP for low-A Lake County
Scouting Report: Slowly but surely, the Indians are removing the training wheels from Luis Lugo. Originally signed as a 16-year old in 2010 out of Venezuela, the big lefty’s previous career high in IP 2as 64 2/3’s back in 2013. Lugo nearly doubled that last year, and turned in an impressive season in the low-A Midwest League. He struck out 10.4 batters per 9 IP with a 3.65 K/BB ratio with the Captains, and most importantly he remained healthy and in the rotation for the entire season. It looked as though Lugo was tiring in July of last year, as he went 0-3 with a 9.12 ERA in 6 starts. But he bounced back in August to close the season with the best month of his career, going 5-0 in 6 starts with a 2.14 ERA and 29/5 K/BB in 33 2/3’s innings.
Lugo throws a fastball, curveball and changeup. The fastball sits in the 89-93 MPH range, and should continue to improve as Lugo adds strength to his 6’5” frame. He’s made strides in fastball command over the past few years, lowering his walk rate and showcasing an ability to spot the pitch within the strike zone. Lugo’s curveball is a potential plus pitch, a hammer that is a real swing and miss offering. His changeup offers a weapon to use against righties, and has shown a lot of improvement from 2013 to now. Lugo actually had reverse-splits on the mound last year, holding righties to a .237/.300/.367 line (in 379 AB) while lefties managed to hit .315/.361/.593 off of him (108 AB). If he can develop a cutter or a slider to use against southpaws, Lugo could go from a good pitching prospect to an elite one.
Lugo will pitch the 2015 season as a 21-year old, and should pitch under normal restrictions for a prospect. He should open in the high-A Lynchburg rotation, and is on-track for a major league look as soon as 2017. With his size and command, Lugo has as high of a ceiling as any starting pitching prospect in the organization despite being far from the major leagues. I’m a lot more comfortable projecting a future in the rotation this year than I was last season, as Lugo was able to replicate his short-season success in the Midwest League, keeping his walk rate down and his strikeout rate up despite the jump in competition. If he can repeat that trick in the Carolina League this year, we’re going to be talking about him as a top-10 guy in the org next offseason.
Glass half-full: A #2/3 starter
Glass half-empty: A backend starter or relief arm