Reaching the major leagues marks the achievement of a significant milestone in any player’s career. Whether it is a high profile prospect or an aging, grizzled veteran of the minor leagues, there is something about a debut that strikes a chord with me.
It was for this reason I started the Breaking Through series. During the season I tackled the MLB debuts in a weekly column. That is until the calendar turned to September, the volume got out of hand and I had to change my plans. Now I am trying to run through the last month of the season day by day as my schedule allows.
Today I’m covering the Major League debuts of September 1st. You can find previous entries of the series by clicking here.
RHP – Corey Kluber (25) – Cleveland Indians
2011 Preseason Ranking: #26 on BA’s Indians Top-30
2011 Minor League Performance: 5.56 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 4.2 BB/9 and 8.5 SO/9 in 150.2 IP (27 GS) for the Columbus Clippers
Debut Performance: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO
Kluber made it through his first 2 major league appearances (2.1 IP) unscathed despite 2 hits and 3 walks allowed but those things caught up with him in his 3rd and final appearance for Cleveland when he allowed 4 H and 4 ER in 2.0 IP. On the bright side he didn’t walk a batter in that game. On top of the overall lack of results he was far from efficient needing 89 pitches to get through his first 4.1 innings with the Tribe.
None of this should come as a surprise since it’s hard understand why the Indians gave him a look in the first place. He has an average fastball, average slider and average changeup* and while that 3 pitch mix may be enough to strike out a fair number of batters (9.1 SO/9 in 639.1 IP) in the minors, it’s not enough to get the job done a major league bullpen.
*His Pitch Type Values on FanGraphs also has data showing that he throws a curveball which he used 12.4% of the time time. If this 4th pitch was classified correctly, and isn’t just a random mutation of his slider, it gives him another essentially average offering.
LHP – Nick Hagadone (25) – Cleveland Indians
2011 Preseason Ranking: #10 on BA’s Indians Top-30
2011 Minor League Performance: 1.59 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 2.8 BB/9 and 9.5 SO/9 in 22.2 IP (12 G) for the Akron Aeros (AA) and a 3.35 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 2.8 BB/9 and 9.9 SO/9 in 48.1 IP (34) for the Columbus Clippers (AAA)
Debut Performance: 1.2 IP, 2 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO
In the spirit of fairness in conversation, I have never been a real big fan of Nick Hagadone as a prospect. Of course that was before he dropped his walk rate under 3 per nine innings for the first time in his minor league career in 2011. A feat he achieved while pitching in the top levels of the minor leagues. He not only earned his chance to pitch in the majors (unlike Kluber above), he forced me to reassess my opinion of him.
Obviously being further removed from Tommy John surgery – which cost him most of the 2008 season – played a part in his improved control but his move to the bullpen full time was the biggest key in his turnaround. Looking forward, pitching out of the pen should also help him avoid the injury bug which has plagued him throughout his career, ease concerns about his durability and allow him put a little more oomph into his fastball.
As you can see from the above, his debut did not go well but things got better after his initial outing. In fact he allowed just 2 more hits and 2 earned runs in the next 9.1 innings pitched. Hagadone finished with a 4.09 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 4.9 BB/9 and 9.0 SO/9 in 11.0 IP with the Tribe making his 2011 season a definitive success. While I still don’t think he has the pieces to be a closer or reliable setup option, he can certainly be an asset as a middle reliever.
Nathaniel broke him down in depth using Pitch F/X data and came to a similar conclusion just a few months ago.
RHP – Luis Marte (25) – Detroit Tigers
2011 Preseason Ranking: Not Ranked
2011 Minor League Performance: 1.70 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 3.1 BB/9 and 11.5 SO/9 in 53.0 IP (23 G/1 GS) for the Erie SeaWolves and a 5.40 ERA, 2.10 WHIP, 10.8 BB/9 and 5.4 SO/9 in 3.1 IP (2 G) for the Toledo Mud Hens
Debut Performance: 0.2 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB
Marte is the odd duck in this group of 4. Unlike the others, he was not in his organization’s Top-30. Considering he struggled with Erie as both a starter and reliever with Erie in 2008, 2009 and 2010 it’s safe to say that his 2011 performance came out of nowhere. Such is the nature of relievers. Marte threw 3.2 innings for the Tigers and had a nice and tidy 2.45 ERA with a 2.5 BB/9 and 7.4 SO/9. Of course there is a “but” in his debut season and that is the fact that he gave up 6 hits in his limited work (14.7 H/9).
His BABIP was an astronomical 0.462 in his brief MLB audition and you’d expect that to come back down to earth if he spent more time with the Tigers. Then again sometimes a high BABIP means your stuff just isn’t good enough to miss major league bats and hitters make solid contact more often than not. Marte features a fastball, slider, changeup mix that lacks overall velocity and effectiveness. Using PTLWs both the fastball (90.3 mph average) and slider (81.5 mph) were below average pitches for him while the changeup (82.2 mph average) was slightly above average.
It’s difficult to imagine, given his track record and his arsenal, that he will be able to duplicate what he did with Erie in 2011. We have to keep in mind that his Double-A success came after he had already thrown over 210 innings at the level with lackluster results over the previous 3 seasons. At his age and with his experience he should have been dominating the competition, so while it may have earned him a brief look in Detroit he should not factor into the team’s short or long term plans. I anticipate he will spent the bulk of 2012 – if not all of it – pitching for Toledo and my expectation is that things will not go as well for him.
DH/C – Jesus Montero (22) – New York Yankees
2011 Preseason Ranking: #1 on BA’s Yankees Top-30
2011 Minor League Performance: 0.288/.348/.467, 19 2B, 18 HR, 36 BB and 98 SO in 463 PA (109 G) for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (AAA)
Debut Performance: 0-4, 1 SO, 1 HBP, 1 R
Montero went hitless in his debut, but in his time with the Yankees, that was the exception and not the rule. All told he hit 0.328/.406/.590 with 4 2B and 4 HR in 18 games with New York. In doing so he proved that he was more than ready to face major league pitching. We all knew Montero could and likely would hit, what we didn’t know was whether or not he could be anything more than a DH. Unfortunately that issue remains unresolved since the Yankees only had him behind the plate in 3 of his 17 starts (he appeared as a pinch hitter in 1 game) – then again maybe their usage of him answers that question implicitly
Despite his hard work to shore up the defensive aspect of his game, the odds that he stays behind the plate are almost non-existent and his ability to play 1B – a popular hypothetical destination – is a complete unknown. I personally remain dubious with regard to his ability to play in the field regularly. This fact does limit his value to the Yankees and other teams on the trade market, but make no mistake that he remains a very marketable commodity based on the bat alone. Prospects in their early 20s who project to hit over 0.300 with decent on-base skills and legit 30-HR power don’t grow on trees. If he improves his discipline and approach at the plate – which is likely as he gains experience and ages – he could become an absolute offensive force.