Pitcher Carlos Carrasco is set to return this spring after spending the entire 2012 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Indians are looking forward to him rejoining the rotation, and with good reason. Starting pitching was one of the team’s biggest downfalls this year, and they need another quality arm that they can depend on.
Of course, the Indians’ front office also has selfish reasons to be excited about Carrasco’s return: he is their last hope for salvaging the Cliff Lee deal with the Phillies in 2009. Out of the four prospects the Tribe received in that deal, only Lou Marson has seen consistent major league playing time, and that’s been as the team’s backup catcher. Jason Donald has spent most of his time in Triple-A or on the bench, and the Tribe released pitching prospect Jason Knapp this past season. Knapp, who underwent multiple surgeries to correct shoulder problems and never fully recovered, was considered the key component of the trade but made it only as far as Class-A Lake County.
If Carrasco can turn into a reliable starter, some of the animosity Cleveland fans feel towards the deal might begin to fade. Unless he pitches terribly in spring training, the Indians will almost certainly give him an opportunity on the opening day roster. Luckily, he’s actually a deserving candidate for the job.
The 25-year-old pitched 21 games in the majors in 2011, posting a 4.62 ERA and a 6.14 K/9 rate. His walk rate was just over 7 percent, and he had a 1.36 WHIP. While some of those numbers might not seem great, he was also pitching through an injury during the latter part of the year.
The reports from Carrasco’s rehabilitation have been positive. They say his velocity and control have both been good, and by the time spring training begins, he’ll be ready to pitch.
During his rehab outings with Double-A Akron this September, Carrasco threw his fastball in the mid-90’s and touched as high as 97 mph, a slight increase for him from what he did before. While that is definitely good news, he had very limited minor-league experience and it’s impossible to gauge his ability based on just those outings. He threw a scoreless inning in both his first and second game, but in his third outing gave up four runs on four hits, including a home run, in just two innings.
All three of his rehab outings were extremely short, lasting only one or two innings instead of the six or seven he would need to pitch as a starter. One of the biggest issues facing Carrasco next year will be the amount of innings he’s able to pitch. Many pitchers who return from Tommy John surgery have an innings limit for the season, and a replacement might have to fill his spot in the rotation at the end of the year. Another possibility is pitching shorter outings, but that would put extra pressure on the bullpen.
Although a pitcher returning from a year of rehab can be risky, there is almost no chance that the Indians would trade Carrasco this winter. He won’t be a free agent until 2017, and he has a lot of potential with his fastball. After missing all of last year and posting less-than-impressive numbers in 2011, he wouldn’t be worth very much this off-season anyway.
Instead, the Indians will hope that he brings some stability to the middle of the rotation. Although he’s certainly not the solution to all of their problems, Carrasco is a good start towards improving the starting pitching next season.