As of right now the only relievers guaranteed spots in the Tribe’s bullpen are Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, and Joe Smith. This means roughly four spots are open for the remaining relievers competing to make the big league squad out of Spring Training. Let’s take a look at the candidates:
Matt Albers- After being acquired from Arizona as part of the Shin-Soo Choo trade, Matt Albers is pretty close to being guaranteed a spot in the bullpen. First of all, he is out of options so the Tribe will be somewhat biased in his favor when making decisions. However, more importantly he was an extremely reliable arm out of the bullpen for the Red Sox and Diamondbacks last season. The Indians were looking to improve their middle relief, and if Albers can replicate his stats from last season, the Indians would be more than thrilled. In 63 appearances last year, he had an ERA of 2.39 and a BAA of .215.
Cody Allen- Cody Allen came out of nowhere last year as he ended up turning in a respectable rookie season out of the pen. He really doesn’t have much left to prove in the minors, and I think he is pretty close to being a lock to make the team as well. In parts of two seasons in the minors, Allen had a combined ERA of 1.74, and struck out 128 in just 98 IP. His BAA was .175 and WHIP was 0.85. He was off to a great start after being promoted to the big leagues last season until he hit a bump in the road in September with an ERA of 7.56 for the month. However, growing pains are bound to happen with most young pitchers, and I expect Allen to learn from his rookie year and be a big part of the Tribe’s bullpen in 2013.
Scott Barnes- Who knows how many lefties Terry Francona is planning on taking this season, but he has three legitimate options this Spring Training. Scott Barnes is one of those options. Barnes has an unorthodox delivery and can be extremely tough on lefties. Last year in his brief time in the Majors, Barnes held lefties to an AVG of .200. There’s no denying that the stuff is there for him to be a successful reliever. Before being promoted last year, Barnes held AAA hitters to a .196 AVG and had 67 K’s in 52 IP. It will be interesting to see how Barnes, Rich Hill, and Nick Hagadone stack up against each other throughout the spring.
Matt Capps- The Indians made a sneaky little addition when they added Matt Capps on a minor league deal. I think it was an underrated move that could pay big dividends if Capps is healthy. Capps was having another solid season as Minnesota’s closer last season before his season was cut short due to injury. He converted 14 out of 15 saves last season and had a 1.09 WHIP. He is just 3 years removed from an all-star season in which he saved 42 games as well. With the back-end of the bullpen obviously pretty set in stone with Perez, Pestano, and Smith, Capps does not have to be an all-star closer again. All he needs to do is solidify the Tribe’s middle relief. If he’s healthy there’s no question he will do just that.
Nick Hagadone- Out of the 3 left-handed relievers competing for big league spots this spring, there’s no doubt that Nick Hagadone has the most upside. His average fastball had a velocity of 94.3 MPH last season, so he can definitely bring the heat. He was off to a good start with the Tribe after being called up to the big leagues last season, with ERAs of 2.08 in April and 2.25 in May. However, Hagadone imploded as summer came around with an ERA of 14.73 in June. So he had one bad month…ok, a really bad month. However, he still has the stuff to be a back-end bullpen guy in the near future. I also think he has the best odds of making the team out of the 3 lefties in consideration right now.
Frank Herrmann- So far it’s kind of been a toss-up if we wanted to predict which of these candidates will take the last few bullpen spots. However, unless Frank Herrmann does something miraculous in Spring Training, I think it’s safe to say he will not be starting the season with the big league club. There’s too many other quality arms competing for the same spots, and we honestly have seen what Herrmann has to offer over the past couple seasons. Unless he shows a tremendous amount of growth, he seems to be just a mediocre middle-reliever as of right now. He will likely just be a guy giving us some bullpen depth at Triple-A if needed.
Rich Hill- Does Terry Francona want a left-handed specialist in his bullpen? That’s the million dollar question that will pretty much determine Rich Hill’s fate. Hill is in competition with Barnes and Hagadone for the left handed reliever spot(s) in the bullpen. Hagadone would not really be considered a “specialist” because he should be able to pitch to lefties and righties because of his stuff. Since Scott Barnes is more along the lines of a specialist, I think only one of the two between Hill and Barnes has a realistic shot of making the team. If Francona does want a lefty specialist on his club, Hill makes a strong case. In his career, lefties have a BAA of .206 versus Hill. If healthy, his track record certainly backs his cause.
Bryan Shaw- Bryan Shaw is the other reliever we acquired from the Diamondbacks in the Shin-Soo Choo trade. There’s really nothing mind-blowing about Shaw and his stuff. However, over the past couple seasons in Arizona, he’s simply found a way to get the job done and has been very consistent as well. His WHIPs over the past couple seasons have been mediocre (2012-1.42, 2011-1.34) as has his career .273 BAA. However, he posted ERAs of 3.49 and 2.54 over that time frame as well. Groundball pitchers are somewhat scarce as relievers, but Shaw definitely qualifies as one. He is just another one of many solid candidates to fill out the rest of the bullpen.
It’s pretty much impossible to predict who will take the remaining 4 spots in the bullpen as the bullpen is such an unpredictable area of baseball to begin with. Just for fun, I’m going to say the last 4 spots in the bullpen will go to Albers, Allen, Capps, and Hagadone. However, this is obviously still open for much discussion.