Harvesting Opinion is a regular feature on Seedlings to Stars. Each week, a handful of FanSided’s MLB sites send S2S a question relating to their team’s minor league system, and we answer them in this space–each question gets one article devoted to answering it. In this way, we make sure we regularly get to discuss hot-button issues relating to the systems of every team, as we cover the teams in a regular, recurring cycle.
In this edition, we tackle a question sent to us from our Houston Astros site Climbing Tal’s Hill:
Can Paul Clemens make an impact as a late inning reliever in Houston this season, or will the Astros elect to try to develop him into a starter?
It’s always something of a crapshoot as to which pitchers become impact relievers. Clemens has shown some skill through Double-A as a starter, and his profile could well translate to a relief role. He has a good arm and enough in the way of secondary stuff to potentially become a good relief pitcher, but at the same time, he hasn’t pitched badly enough in a starting role to necessarily merit a demotion to relief.
The Astros certainly aren’t trying to contend in 2012, so I would think it’s in their best interest to see if Clemens can brave the Pacific Coast League in a starting role. At age 24, the 2012 season will likely be Clemens’ last chance to prove himself in that role. He needs to improve his command to stick as a starter, but he doesn’t have that much improvement to make.
If Clemens makes it through the PCL as a starter this year, then he should get a look in the Houston rotation in 2013; if he doesn’t, then he should be a candidate for the Astros’ relief corps in 2013. I’d expect him as a September callup or 2013 candidate, and his performance between now and then will dictate what role he’s initially tried in.
In each of his first 3 professional seasons (2008-2010) the Atlanta Braves pitched Clemens in both roles. Focusing in on the last of those seasons, he appeared in a total of 35 games during 2010. 27 of those outings were as a reliever, while his 8 starts came at the end of the year.
- 2010 as a RP: 52.0 IP, 3.46 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 4.3 BB/9 and 7.1 SO/9
- 2010 as a SP: 42.2 IP, 2.95 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9 and 8.4 SO/9
Looking at the splits, it becomes pretty clear why he spent all of 2011 in a starting rotation – first with the Braves and then with the Astros after he was acquired in the July 31st trade that shipped Michael Bourn off to Atlanta. It seems pretty clear that he has a greater level of comfort as a starter, and it makes sense that this is the case given his scouting profile.
Clemens is, and has long been, considered to be immensely talented with a “live” arm. Beyond that, he has the desired size, build and athleticism to succeed in a rotation. His main problem, which dates back to his amateur career, has always been consistency. As a starter he seems better able to settle into a groove and hit his stride over longer stretches. Further if things get out of whack he has time to adjust and then implement those tweaks during the course of a game. This is not a luxury afforded to a relief role and guys like Clemens can really struggle to find and maintain their consistency from appearance to appearance when things aren’t going well.
I agree with Nathaniel that Clemens should spend 2012 pitching in the Oklahoma RedHawks (AAA) rotation with a September call-up in the mix when the PCL season has concluded. Given where the Astros are in their developmental cycle that there is no need to push Clemens and they can afford to be patient with him. Further, given the superior results he’s turned in as a starter, dropping him into a major league bullpen would seem to be ill advised and short sighted at this stage of his career.
It seems Nathaniel and I are on the same page with respect to Clemens as it relates to 2012, but we differ when looking at 2013 and beyond. Given that 2011 was the first year that he was able to focus solely on being a starter I think he needs – and deserves – more than just 2012 to prove he can stick in a rotation. So, whether he sinks or swims in the PCL next season the Astros need to keep him in his current role and afford him the time to fully develop. Because he’s pitched in both roles for much of his professional career, he’s behind the curve a bit in terms of experience compared to his peers and that needs to be factored in here as well.
There is no question that the potential payoff is significantly greater if he can become a viable middle-of-the-rotation arm in the major leagues so whether his ETA is 2013 or 2014 the rotation is where he belongs until all hope is lost. Since he doesn’t turn 24 until mid-February I would content that he should be granted at least 2 seasons of substandard results before the organization considers moving him into a relief role.
For more on the Astros, check out Climbing Tal’s Hill