Like every other team in Major League Baseball, the Cleveland Indians employ numerous players throughout their organization, from the big-league club in Cleveland to their rookie league team in Arizona and beyond. And like every other Major League franchise, the Indians add and subtract from this player pool on a regular basis. This irregular series will serve to post notice when a former Indians player has done something noteworthy with a quick look back at the player’s time in Cleveland.
Player: LHP Drew Pomeranz
Current Team: Sacramento River Cats (AAA affiliate of the Oakland Athletics)
Year(s) in Indians Organization: Drafted by the Indians in the 1st round (5th overall) of the 2010 June Amateur Draft. Played in the Tribe’s farm system for a year before being shipped to Colorado in a package for Ubaldo Jimenez at the trade deadline in 2011.
Why He Isn’t Still In Cleveland: The Indians had high hopes of being contenders in 2011, a year in which they began the season 30-15. At the July 31st trade deadline, they were still clear contenders, and the organization was willing to part with Pomeranz, 2010 first-round pick Alex White, and two other prospects in order to bring back Jimenez, who had started 2010 by going 15-1 and looked to be a contender for the NL Cy Young Award before fading during the second half. Jimenez was supposed to help vault the Indians to contention in the second half of the season, but instead he was a huge bust until the second half of 2013, when he actually did help get the Indians to the playoffs.
Before he was traded at the deadline in 2011, Pomeranz was absolutely destroying Class A Advanced hitters. He had a 1.87 ERA and was striking out more than 11 batters per 9 innings while allowing a microscopic 0.23 HR/9. His value was high enough to be one of the headliners in a trade just a year after beginning his professional career.
What He Did: Much like his trade-package partner Alex White, Pomeranz turned out to be a bust for the Rockies. He was rushed through their farm system, getting a September call-up later that year, but began 2012 at the AA level. Walks proved to be a big issue for him in the upper levels of the minors (3.86 BB/9 at AAA in 2012), and those numbers only got worse in his first extended stay in the majors (4.28 BB/9 in 96.2 IP later that year ). During his first long-term stint with Colorado, he was given a very long leash and ended up disappointing with a 4.93 ERA over the second half of the season. His FIP didn’t show him as being much better, rating him at 4.81. And of course his inflated 1.3 HR/9 didn’t help, although that number was probably a bit skewed by pitching at Coors Field.
Pomeranz started 2013 in the minors, and although he didn’t do much to improve his walk rate across the 85.2 innings he pitched at AAA, he was given another shot in the majors later that year in which he posted an unsightly 6.23 ERA in 4 starts and 4 relief appearances, costing his team 0.2 wins below replacement.
After the 2013 season, he was traded to the A’s for Brett Anderson, and the A’s organization was able to bring out the best in him (as they seem to do). After beginning the year in the bullpen, he was eventually given an opportunity as a starter due to injuries in the rotation. Pomeranz took advantage of the opportunity, posting a 2.91 ERA over 55.2 innings. His FIP tells us that he was probably a bit lucky and/or helped out by Oakland’s good defense, as his 4.28 stat in that area is less than optimistic. Furthermore, his trademark control issues continued to plague him, as he still ended up walking 3.72 batters per nine innings while striking out 7.76 per nine. And he did in fact get lit up during his most recent outing in the majors, giving up 7 runs in just 3.2 innings, taking the loss even though his team provided him with plenty of run support. He lost again later that day in a fight with a chair, punching it in frustration and breaking his hand. After he came back from the DL, the A’s had already traded for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel and no longer needed Pomeranz in the rotation. They optioned him to AAA, where he’s been ever since.
What Does the Future Hold?
It’s no secret that the Indians’ rotation this year has been one of the worst in baseball. They were fantastic down the stretch last year (and a large reason for the Indians’ playoff berth), but it’s not been quite the same this year. The Indians had 6 pitchers make great contributions throughout last year, but of those six, Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir left in free agency, Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister plummeted to the point where they frequently couldn’t get out of the 3rd inning, and Danny Salazar struggled before being demoted to the minors, only recently coming back to the MLB level. The emergence of Corey Kluber has been a blessing, but Trevor Bauer has been roughly league average and has yet to break out to his full potential, while T.J. House, Josh Tomlin and Carlos Carrasco have been pretty terrible as starters.
Enter Drew Pomeranz. Since being demoted to the minors, he’s made some really exciting improvements. His strikeout rate is back up to 10.64 K/9, and somehow he’s managed to get his walk rate down to 2.45 BB/9. His 3.68 ERA gives even more reasons for hope, and his 3.90 FIP doesn’t suggest that there will be much regression. All this comes with the disclaimer of being an admittedly small 22-inning sample size, but it’s at least a reason to take a closer look at the kid.
With 5 strong starters in the major leagues (Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel), two solid starters set to return next year (A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker), and a really good depth option in AAA (Tommy Milone), it’s likely that the A’s could afford to trade Pomeranz. With the announcement of the Justin Masterson trade popping up in the middle of me writing this article, it seems like the Indians might be willing to sell off some pieces for more long-term help. Could Scott Atchison or Marc Rzepczynski improve the A’s bullpen? Could Mike Aviles interest them as a depth option? He certainly has better numbers than Alberto Callaspo. Or maybe the Tribe could trade some minor-league players to get Pomeranz. They certainly have a wealth of middle-infield talent, many of whom aren’t too far from the major leagues. It’s certainly worth exploring. Pomeranz isn’t likely to see the light of day in Oakland for a while, but a return to the organization that made him a 5th overall draft pick could give him another shot in the majors, and he’d almost certainly provide an upgrade to the rotation as it currently stands.