As one purchases potatoes in a volume befitting decadent consumption and contemplates how to best marinate and baste a turkey, it is time to turn on the hot stove. Of course, at the moment for the Indians the stove is not that of an industrial restaurant oven or even that oven at home with the broken timer; no, this is one of those Coleman camping ovens that occasionally cooked your hot dog and beans to that of a satisfying lukewarm.
Yet, a striking part of baseball is that often when the stove is coldest comes a player with more potential to impact the next season than the hottest of names. Indeed, sometimes when the stove is broken you prepare a compelling ceviche.
It is fair to say no public list had Chih-Wei Hu as a primary trade target; or even an under the radar one. It appears on the surface that the Hu trade is the product of a Tampa Bay roster crunch.
In return, the Indians sent Gionti Turner a toolsy infielder who if he ever reaches the big leagues is a great distance away. Trades involving rookie league prospects and 40 man depth rarely garner headlines but perhaps the Indians have found something they can unlock.
Hu has been groomed to this date as a starter with a five-pitch arsenal; in all likelihood, his future is just beyond the right-field fence. The Indians have found in the right-handed pitcher an ideal bullpen project. Among the five pitches are a fastball, changeup (palmball), slider, cutter, and curveball. Of course, like with many pitchers, Hu’s arsenal is most likely to be trimmed to his three best offerings.
First, a modern key to bullpen work is velocity which is on a climb ever northward; while Hu has been in the lower 90’s out of the rotation, he has seen a higher ceiling in terms of the top end which could be unlocked in the bullpen. A velocity ready from the great prospect writer Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs:
25-year-old Taiwanese righty Chih-Wei Hu was a 2016 Futures Game participant and his stuff that day was as nasty as any pitcher at the event, as he sat 94-97 with a plus-plus, mid-80s changeup that seemed to disappear entirely as it approached the plate.
Indeed, it is easy to envision Hu ticking back up to that point since he sat at 93 MPH and ran the fastball up to 96 MPH during his time as a multi-inning reliever in Tampa the past two seasons. Hu is fascinating because while his floor is relatively high as your 6th starter or swing arm, a piece the Indians absolutely needed, he has the potential for fastball velocity uptick and a plus-plus secondary.
Hu’s changeup/palmball/screwball no matter the term is a plus-plus pitch which is particularly valuable as it helps him dominate right-handed batters and keep him competitive against LHP. With a team that is processing the loss of Cody Allen and Andrew Miller, the bullpen is a vacant space beyond Brad Hand, perhaps Hu will be a key piece in rectifying that problem.
Development is not a linear process and the Indians were able to buy a relatively young; once well-esteemed pitching prospect with a plus pitch, the potential for top end velocity in a limited role, and solid command. What happens from here is nearly impossible to project but this is a tiny deal with the makings of sweeping impact.