The Cleveland Indians’ farm system has become synonymous with the bullpen over the past couple of years due to the Tribe’s bounty of quality relief arms. In that myriad of late-inning specialists, Chen Lee has been one of the few to truly seperate himself from the pack.
At 5’11″ Lee, 25, is undersized for a pitcher, but he is still able to generate good velocity on his pitches: he regularly throws his fastball in the mid-90s. Lee compliments his heater with a slider and split-changeup, which adds up to a ton of strikeouts for the Taiwanese right-hander.
One interesting aspect of Lee’s minor league career is the fact that each year his stats continue to get better. Take his ERA. Lee started his career in 2009 at High-A Kinston, where he pitched to a solid 3.35 ERA. The following year Lee was promoted to Double-A Akron, where he lowered it to 3.22. Lee then split 2011 almost evenly between Double-A and Triple-A and at each level lowered his ERA again—it was 2.50 while at Akron, and it went down to 2.27 while he pitched at Columbus.
His K/9 rate has followed a similar pattern. At Kinston in 2009 he had an impressive 10.5 K/9, and he kept it at 10.2 the next year at Akron. In 2011 his strikeout rate jumped to 12.7 K/9, and he was able to maintain it at 12.2 K/9 once he was promoted to Columbus.
An explanation for this could be that Lee is just starting to enter his prime at 25 years old. So is it possible that Lee could be even better than his statistics indicate? I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s possible Lee could be a real gem from the international market for the Tribe.
Trying to find a weak point for Lee could be a fool’s errand. The biggest question mark is his size, but since he’s a reliever it is not as big of an issue as it would be if he were starting. Besides, plenty of pitchers at his size have found success.
Lee seems to be destined for a role in the back end of a bullpen. However, Lee has no closer experience at any level. Despite the fact he has dominated at every stop of his minor league career, he was never given the ninth inning job. But that’s just simply me nitpicking an otherwise close to flawless prospect.
Expect Lee to come up at some point this year if another member of the Tribe bullpen succumbs to injury.