From Photobucket, by Tony Lastoria

Cleveland Indians 2012 Top Prospects No. 12: Austin Adams

As the offseason nears its end, we’re profiling the top prospects in the Indians organization. Today, we continue our countdown with No. 12: Austin Adams.

Austin Adams is probably the most intriguing prospect in the Indians’ farm system. He’s a 25-year-old starting pitcher who’s only 5’11,” yet he can hit 100 mph on the radar gun.

The righty’s velocity raises a flurry of questions. How can someone his size throw that hard? Why is a 25-year-old starter who throws triple-digit heat still in the minor leagues? And why hasn’t he been hyped up more?

One problem is that he probably won’t be a starter in the big leagues. Right now Cleveland is trying to get him to accumulate innings by pitching about four to five innings an outing before they convert him to a reliever. Because he is short and throws so hard. there are questions about how he will hold up as a full-time starter. Having him be a reliever could get a lot more use out of his plus-plus fastball.

But Adams’ biggest issue is inexperience. He’s 25, but he played mainly shortstop in college he is still considered raw in terms of the nuances of pitching. With so much pitching depth in the organization (especially in the bullpen), the team is taking its time with Adams so he can become a smarter pitcher and a great reliever the future.

The mental part of the game is the reason why he’s still in Double-A. Adams started 26 games for the Aeros in 2011 and posted a 3.77 ERA, but his peripherals weren’t all that encouraging: His BB/9 rate of 4.2 is way too high for him to be a regular starter, and his K/9 rate of 8.7 is less than you’d expect from a guy whose fastball routinely sits in the high-90’s and can hit triple digits.

Once he becomes a full-time reliever, those peripherals should improve. He doesn’t give up a lot of home runs (0.4 HR/9 last year) which would make him perfect as a potential closer for Triple-A in 2012 or 2013 before he makes the jump to the big leagues.

Adams continues to rely on his devastating fastball (though his command is still a work in progress) and a good curveball. The Indians want him to develop his changeup some more and they are also trying to add a slider to his arsenal.

Adams has started to get more attention from scouts—that happens when you continually hit 100 mph on the gun. He will start to appear the parent club’s radar in 2013. If the Tribe can find a spot for him in the bullpen, he could team with the likes of Nick Hagadone, Chen Lee, Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez to be part of a very scary shutdown unit.

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