The Cleveland Indians have used 15 different relief pitchers this season, and Terry Francona and management have utilized the farm and various 40-man spots in a seemingly never-ending carousel of arms. The Indians have seen the debuts of Austin Adams, Kyle Crockett, and T.J. House come out of the bullpen in 2014, but there will likely be others who get a taste of the majors this season, and one name worthy of that promotion could be current Akron right-hander Shawn Armstrong.
Armstrong was an 18th round pick in the 2011 MLB Draft out of East Carolina University. He only made one appearance in 2011 before taking on full-season ball in 2012. Armstrong jumped three levels in his first professional season, flying through the Midwest League and Carolina League before arriving in Double-A Akron, finishing off the season with 17 appearances for the then Aeros. He returned to Akron in 2013 and wasn’t quite as successful, finishing with a 4.14 ERA and 1.51 WHIP over 33 appearances (three of those in the Arizona League), missing time due to a left wrist injury at the beginning of the season.
After the 2013 season, Armstrong went to the Arizona Fall League, making 10 appearances and finishing his time against some impressive prospects with a 1.59 ERA for the Surprise Saguaros…and that has set the table for the 2014 season.
Armstrong has been very impressive for the Rubberducks, boasting a 2.17 ERA and 1.15 WHIP over 37.1 innings and 32 appearances. The 6’2″, 23-year-old has struck out 11.1 batters per nine this season, while averaging 10.9 K:9 over his 144 career innings. Based on reports, this could be the norm from Armstrong:
Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus mentioned Armstrong as “Factor on the Farm” in his preseason prospect write-up on the Indians, saying:
Live-armed righty with late-innings stuff but below-average command, Armstrong has a chance to not only reach the majors in 2014 but stick around at that level. When he can stay in his delivery, the former 18th-round pick can work in the mid-90s and touch higher, showing a hard cutter and low-80s breaking ball.
That sounds like quite a sexy arsenal for a late-innings reliever. While Armstrong may not jump up to Cleveland and immediately take on a high-leverage role, he appears to have the stuff and results to warrant a look in the reliever shuttle system that the Indians have in place this season. With the starting pitchers failing to go deep into games and the Tribe bullpen taking on so many innings, a fresh, potentially dominant arm like Armstrong’s would be a nice addition to an already strong relief corp. Armstrong is not on the 40-man roster, which could lead to some changes to make his promotion happen, but if he is one of the 25 most valuable men that you can have on your roster in a given moment, he is worth that change, and the potential is there for Armstrong to be one of those men.