Rising Indians Pitching Prospects

Sitting on balcony in Crete overlooking the Mediterranean Sea timing a game story and analysis is a difficult task.1 Therefore, let’s switch gears and create the companion to Wednesday’s discussion of rising position player prospects and last week’s Indians Trade Value column. The purpose being to create a more comprehensive evaluation of the Indians organization as well as detailing player’s whose relevance will grow during the Major League Baseball trade deadline on July 31st at 4 P.M. Eastern Standard Time.

First, a prequel to this conversation, despite Triston McKenzie being the clear gem of the Indians system in term of pitching prospects, he is not included in this column in order to discuss names which are under-discussed and because McKenzie will be getting his own full length feature in the future. However, before getting into the names that follow McKenzie, he is in a class of his own in the Indians system with a large gap between him and the next pitcher in the system.

Aaron Civale- RHP-Lynchburg Hillcats (A+)

Civale is a 6-foot-2 inch tall right-handed pitcher weighing at around 215 pounds.  Civale is essentially the average age for a pitcher in A+ but his results have becoming increasingly impressive. Civale works the fastball from 90-93 topping out at 94 miles per hour. The fastball is a heavy fastball used to induce ground balls in bunches. Further, Civale has a hard slider in the upper 80s which, like the fastball, induces groundballs but also has some swing and miss characteristics.

Civale is on this list because of two skills. A remarkable strikeout to walk rate which has included Josh Tomlin like walk rates and improved swing and miss at both levels in 2017 against higher levels of competition. He also has nice contact profile, inducing roughly 50% ground balls this year which serves to limit extra base hits. Civale could be a really nice reliever option or an end of the rotation starter. Below you can see Civale’s peppering of ground balls.

Matt Esparza- RHP- Akron Rubberducks (AA)

Esparza is another pitchability prospect. The Indians have had a lot of success drafting and developing pitchability types while adding a bit of velocity. Esparza came to full time pitching late in his progression before being drafted. Esparza when drafted ran around 88-91 MPH on his fastball and now sits 89-92 with ability to run it up to 94. Esparza has had phenomenal production at every level which has continued in Akron.

Esparza’s batted profile is perhaps the most interesting part of him. He induces a decent ground ball rate but more interesting is his pop up rate. Infield fly balls are a huge asset to pitchers in their ability to induce automatic outs. Indeed, pitchers with high pop up rates (IFFB%) often outperform their FIP expectations. IFFB% usually sits around 8-11%. This year’s leader big league leader sits at just over 16%. Esparza has rocked rates around 30% in the minor leagues. Obviously, Esparza could never run that at the big league level, but being a Top 10 to 15 pitcher infield fly ball rate is a good component for a big league pitcher. A look at his contact profile overall:

Esparza, like Civale, profiles as back end guy unless the secondary offerings improve drastically.

Thomas Pannone-LHP-Akron Rubberducks (AA)

I wrote a report on Pannone earlier in 2017 which states:

Fastball: On a cold evening in Akron at 48 degrees Pannone sat 90-91 running it up to 92-93 multiple times with two-strike counts. Held the velocity from the stretch. After 60 pitches was sitting mostly 89-91 running it up just a few times. The command to arm side was strong, not as good to glove side. When Pannone dialed up the velocity he sailed it a few times arm side but it was not a striking issue. Finally, the offerings had some nice arm-side run with a bit of weight which is a key to Pannone’s ground ball inducing arsenal. Pannone has experienced an uptick in strikeouts which he credits to fastball velocity gains based on an adjustment he says is “my feel for my delivery, I am getting into my legs a lot”.

Changeup: Offering 82-84. Decent offering that Pannone used to induce a couple of ground balls, lightly used offering early in the game.

Curveball: Nice 11-5 movement can command the offering in the strike zone as well as burying it with more depth in the dirt in advantageous counts. Pannone has good feel for his curveball altering the depth and velocity in order depending on the situation. Pannone grabbed three strikeouts on buried curveballs  one in the dirt two others down, these had sharper  depth. Pannone also used a loopier curveball to grab a strikes against left-handed and right-handed hitters.

Julian Merryweather-RHP-Columbus Clippers (AAA)

Merryweather was a favorite in the Akron press box and certainly an interesting prospect with a heavy fastball running 92-97 with a lot of ground ball inducing value. He flashes a pretty solid arsenal which has taken him time to adapt. At 25 years old, Merryweather’s prospect clock is ticking. He can induce swing and miss with fastball, breaking ball and changeup. Merryweather might be the only one on this list with No. 3 starter upside despite his slow development as a college arm. He is the most interesting arm in the Columbus rotation at this point with a solid chance of seeing the big leagues in the second half of 2017.

  1. Editor’s Note: it is a perfectly reasonable and human response to be 100 percent jealous of Hattery right now. []