The pitching depth in the Indians’ system took a big blow earlier this week when they sent top prospects Alex White and Drew Pomeranz to Colorado in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade. They also gave up Joe Gardner, another solid pitching prospect. With Jason Knapp, the Indians’ other highly-touted young pitcher, missing all of 2011 after shoulder surgery, there’s no question that the system’s crop of arms is far thinner than it was six months ago.
But there’s at least a small bit of good news for Indians fans (aside from the fact that they just acquired one hell of a pitcher): Felix Sterling is progressing nicely.
Sterling is a guy I’ve been keeping tabs on for the past year or so. Anybody who can excel in US ball at age 17 is worth taking a look at, and that’s exactly what Sterling did last year, posting a 57/20 K/BB in 51 1/3 innings in his pro debut in the AZL.
The Indians wisely played it safe with Sterling in 2011, holding him back in extended spring training until short-season play started, and then having him repeat the AZL. He responded by performing even better than he had in 2010, with a 31/8 K/BB in 26 1/3 innings. Given his consistency, the Indians decided to jump Sterling over the NYPL and send him straight to the Low-A Midwest League in mid-July.
In two starts for Low-A Lake County, the big righthander has held his own, allowing three runs on eight hits in 11 1/3 innings with six walks and eight strikeouts.
On a scouting level, there’s a lot to like about Sterling. He’s a big, projectable righthander who already sits in the low 90’s and snaps off an average slider. The big question for him, as it is for many 18-year-old studs, is if he’ll develop a third pitch to keep opposite-side batters at bay. Sterling’s also a flyball-oriented pitcher, so he’ll need to work on keeping the ball down.
There’s no question, all in all, that the young Dominican righthander has a lot of positives. He’s performed well thus far in pro ball, scouts like him, and best of all, he has plenty of time to iron out his deficiencies. It’s far too early to pencil Sterling into future Indians rotations, but there are few if any pitching prospects in Cleveland’s system that are more exciting.
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