Outlandish, right? But it got your attention.
There seems to be a lot of mixed feelings as to who is the top overall pitching prospect in the Indians’ system at this point. If you ask most, they’ll point to right-hander Trevor Bauer, and that’s a fair point.
When he was acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, Bauer immediately became the talk of the Indians’ system. The former first round pick was described as a can’t-miss talent. Finally, for the first time in years, the Indians had their ace that they could build around.
Or so we thought…
Yet, there’s the beauty of it. The Indians did have their ace. It just so happened that his name was not Trevor Bauer.
Right-hander Danny Salazar was the story of the year last year as he posted a 2.71 ERA in 93 innings and 21 games between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus. He eventually made a spot start for the Indians in July before joining the team for good in August.
The results were astonishing.
Salazar made 10 starts for the Indians and posted a 3.12 ERA. He also struck out 11.3 batters per nine innings.
Trevor Bauer who?
Bauer was incredibly inconsistent for the majority of the year as he posted a 4.15 ERA in 22 starts with Columbus. To make matters worse, his BB/9 was not even passable at 5.4, and his K/9 was a career low 7.9.
He was even worse in four Major League starts. He struggled with control in almost every outing and got torched to the tune of a 5.29 ERA. Also, while it was just four starts and 17 innings, take a look at this number: 8.5. Yep, that was his BB/9.
Some believe that Bauer could be in line for a nice rebound season in 2014. He reportedly has worked extensively on his delivery, and it’s been said that his command is coming around.
Not buying it.
Most experts have Bauer penciled in as the top starting pitching prospect in the Indians’ system, but you know what they say. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
Let this be known. Cody Anderson is the real top starting pitching prospect in the Indians’ system, and he will have sustainable success at the Major League before the much more heralded Bauer.
Now, to be clear, Anderson is not Salazar, and that’s not the message that is being implied.
Salazar is a flamethrower who can reach back and hit triple digits. He’s a strikeout wizard, and he seems destined to be the Indians’ ace for years to come if he stays healthy.
Anderson is not that guy. But he doesn’t have to be either.
Anderson has a plus fastball that hovers around 95 miles per hour.
He is also able to generate some pretty decent swing-and-miss.
However, one of the most telling things in regard to Anderson is how his 2013 rise through the minors mirrored the one endured by Salazar in 2012.
Both players were outstanding at the High-A level, and they were both promoted to Double-A to end the season. In 2012, Salazar made six starts with the Aeros to close out the year, while Anderson made three in 2013.
However, the similarities go beyond that.
Take a look at the table below:
It’s hard to not see that there are some marked similarities.
For starters, both players had ERAs below the 3.00 mark for the season. Even more telling is the fact that their FIPs are so similar. Everyone knew that Salazar was no slouch when he was mowing down hitters in Carolina, but the same can be said for Anderson in 2013. His FIP of 2.89 proves that.
It’s not hard to see that there are clear parallels between the two players and the seasons that they enjoyed in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Even their BABIP and LOB% are nearly identical.
But here’s the clincher. We all know that Salazar is known for his ability to generate high strikeout totals, yet he only recorded 8.89 strikeouts per nine innings in 2012 with the Mudcats.
That is still a very good total, but it’s certainly not the K/9 rate of 11.3 that he recorded with the Indians in 2013.
Anderson’s K/9 rate in 2013 with the Mudcats was 8.2 and very similar to the one Salazar posted only a year earlier. This is not to suggest that Anderson will immediately become the strikeout machine that Salazar is, but this is some pretty good food for thought.
What if the rate does start to rise? Remember that Anderson has only been a pitcher for the past four years, so he’s still learning. As his game continues to develop, it’s inevitable that he will continue to learn how to attack hitters better.
It also appears as if the national pundits seem to hold Salazar and Anderson in the same regard as far as prospect rankings go.
Prior to the 2013 season, Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus both ranked Salazar as the No. 6 prospect in the Indians’ system. This year, Anderson found himself ranked No. 5 by Baseball America and No. 4 by Baseball Prospectus.
Of course, as you might expect, Bauer was ranked above Salazar on both 2013 lists, and Bauer outranked Anderson on Baseball America’s 2014 list. He probably would have also outranked him on Baseball Prospectus’ list, but that publication no longer considers him a prospect.
The truth is that Anderson, who was originally selected in the 14th round of the 2011 Draft, should outrank Bauer. Outside of Salazar, he just may be the best homegrown arm that the Indians have developed in years.
That’s high praise, especially for a guy who has thrown only 12 2/3 innings at the Double-A level, but it’s also worthy praise. In what has really been just two seasons, Anderson has cemented himself as a legitimate starting pitching prospect.
As the numbers above indicate, he’s had a similar rise to the one enjoyed by Salazar, so here’s the next question. Can Anderson take the next step and arrive in Cleveland sometime in 2014?
Believe it or not, it’s not inconceivable.
We’ve already mentioned how Anderson does not have the raw ability that Salazar possesses, but he does have some other things going for him.
For starters, Anderson likely will have no inning limitations placed on him. Since undergoing Tommy John surgery, Salazar’s innings have been heavily monitored, but that won’t be the case with Anderson.
Upon drafting Anderson, the Indians were a tad concerned because he really only pitched about 50 innings between college and the pros in 2011, but his innings threshold continues to increase each season.
He threw 136 innings in 2013, so he should be able to throw around 175 in the coming season.
Be prepared, Anderson is a guy who could move very quickly through the system this season if he enjoys early success. Injuries are always going to crop up, so the Indians would clearly love to have a guy like Anderson as an insurance policy.
It’s hard to say exactly what Anderson’s ceiling is, but it is higher than many predict. Most believe that Anderson could become a solid No. 3 starter, but the truth is that he has the stuff and durability to be as high as a No. 2.
He’ll likely never have the upside of Salazar, but there’s no reason to believe he can’t be a competent second starter… and that time could come much sooner than you think.
The Indians always have to dip into their system for minor league pitching help, and they really do not have many options. Josh Tomlin and Carlos Carrasco are both out of options and have to make the Opening Day roster this season. Also, there is no way of knowing if Shaun Marcum will accept a minor league assignment if he fails to make the team.
So, that basically leaves you with two people: Bauer and Anderson.
Conventional wisdom might suggest that the Indians would call up Bauer if they have to pull from the minors, but it’s not as simple as that. Bauer is going to have to show significant improvement if he is going to get another opportunity.
Bauer has a career BB/9 rate of 4.7. For the Majors, it’s 7.8.
Everyone seems to be enamored with the tantalizing skills that Bauer possesses. That may be true, but natural ability is only good if you know how to harness it. The fact is that he’s never shown good command at any point of his career, so it’s unreasonable to conclude that it will suddenly appear.
Anderson, on the other hand, is a different story. Command has never been an issue as he has a career BB/9 rate of 2.7. If the two trends noted above continue, then there’s a good chance that Anderson could find himself in Cleveland over Bauer.
No, Cody Anderson is not Danny Salazar, but he very well could enjoy a Salazar-like rise in 2014.
He will likely never be as dominant or talented as the flamethrowing Dominican, but the beauty of it is that he doesn’t have to be. What the Indians really need is a promising young starter with front-of-the-rotation upside and Anderson can be that guy.
After the 2014 season, the Indians could find themselves in need of No. 2 starter, so why not Anderson?
It’s been a long time since have had one young, controllable front-of-the-rotation starter. If everything goes their way, they could have two by the end of 2014.
Steve can be reached via email at email@example.com.