The Indians currently have baseball’s 6th-best bullpen (in terms of run prevention), as the unit has a collective 3.10 ERA in 2014.
However, they also have baseball’s 5th-most overworked bullpen, as Indians relievers have combined to pitch a whopping 290 2/3 innings this season.
The Tribe’s relievers continue to pitch well, but an overworked bullpen isn’t a good thing, especially considering the already unpredictaable nature of most relievers. The Indians have suffered through too many short outings from their starters (no offense to Justin Masterson), and it could become problematic in the future.
The Indians have done the best they can to manage the issue (like carrying extra relievers at times this season), but those relievers — Nick Hagadone, Mark Lowe, and others — haven’t exactly picked up the slack.
The Indians could use another good reliever to rest overworked arms like Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, and Scott Atchison. But, as luck would have it, the Indians already have a perfect fit pitching (and dominating) at Triple-A Columbus.
Enter Austin Adams.
The Indians’ 19th-ranked prospect by MLB.com, Adams was a 5th-round pick of the Indians in the 2009 draft. Interestingly enough, he was also drafted in 2008 by the Brewers as a shortstop. But his decision to pitch professionally has worked, and he currently has a sparkling 2.29 ERA (3.16 FIP) in 39 1/3 innings for Columbus across 30 appearances, all out of the bullpen.
Over that time, he’s added 35 strikeouts and only 8 walks, good for a filthy 4.38 K/BB ratio. He’s also holding opponents to a measly .225 batting average, and carries a miniscule 1.02 WHIP.
Basically, he’s been a nightmare for opposing hitters.
Adams was originally developed as a starter (and did quite well in that role), but he needed surgery to fix the labrum and rotator cuff in his pitching shoulder back in 2012. Although the Indians moved him to the bullpen as a result, he’s returned with a vengeance, and Indians Vice President of Player Development Ross Atkins took notice in a recent interview with the Plain Dealer:
It’s very difficult to come back at all of your arm speed and velocity after significant shoulder surgery, but if you stick to protocol of rehab and nutrition, you can do it, and Austin did it. He essentially came back stronger than he was pre-injury and that’s uncommon.
Atkins has been impressed with the comeback by Adams, and knows he has what it takes to pitch in Cleveland.
Austin is an extremely athletic and powerful pitcher that has worked really hard to get his fastball consistently down in the zone more frequently. What’s going to separate him from good to great is fastball command, and we’re confident he’ll get there.
The 27-year old Adams has fixed any issues with his command, and he’s lowered his BB/9 ratio from 4.7 in 2013 to 1.8 this season. That’s come at the expense of some strikeouts (12.4 K/9 last season, 8.0 K/9 this season), but the Indians can certainly live with that if he’s giving up fewer walks. He might not be striking out as many hitters as he was in the past, but he’s still doing so at a well-above average rate.
Ever since moving from the rotation before last season, Adams has been lights out. His numbers this season are more than deserving of a promotion, but he’s been especially lethal as of late.
Wow. That’s really all I can say. Wow. Wow. Wow.
You know something? That’s pretty good.
With numbers like that, he apparently has some sort of a grudge against International League hitters, but I don’t know what it is. Maybe an opponent stole his girl or something, and this is his revenge. But looking at his Twitter account tells me that’s probably not the case.
I don’t know. Maybe he’s just really upset about Travis Banwart leaving the Clippers to pitch in South Korea. (Join the club, bro.)
But any way you look at it, Adams has been ridiculous lately. He’s mowing down hitters at a pace only Chuck Norris could match.
He still has yet to make his debut in the major leagues, but that’s something that needs to change quickly. He’s been great in the minors, and is more than deserving of an opportunity in the big leagues.
Plus, he’s already on the Tribe’s 40-man roster, so the Indians wouldn’t have to designate someone for assignment to make room for him.
Even after Adams was sent down to Columbus during spring training, he left an impression on the Indians’ coaching staff, which certainly helps his case.
Pitching coach Mickey Callaway:
I had him as a coach and he’s a competitor and a good athlete. I knew he’d bounce back. It’s tough to bounce back from what he had, but if anybody could do it, he could do it. It’s always tough when you first come back. It’s usually not that first season back. It’s the second year that it really clicks, so we’re looking for good things this year.
Manager Terry Francona:
There is a lot to like…Guys like that can come quick. As long as they’re able to slow the game down — it goes faster each level — if they have good stuff, you’ll see them really fly.
With the struggles of the Indians’ rotation to pitch deep into starts, the team could be on the lookout for another arm to rest their current relievers and keep them fresh moving forward. Adams is more than deserving of a promotion, and calling him up significantly lessens the need for GM Chris Antonetti to make a trade for a reliever.
Adams is used to having to prove himself, and he’s certainly done so in 2014.
He isn’t your average reliever, and he has the ability to eventually become an important part of the Tribe’s bullpen.
He deserves a promotion soon, that much is clear.
Hopefully the Indians agree.