Prospects that can help in 2014: The pitchers

C.C. Lee is one of the Indians pitching prospects who could make a difference in the big leagues at some point this season.

David Richard

By now, fans are well aware that the Cleveland Indians will continue to steadily use their farm system as a pipeline for young talent to help the big league club. As current players on the Indians roster near free agency, the Indians will need alternatives to turn to other than free agency and trades.

Because of this, over the course of the 2014 season, Indians fans will likely be exposed to several new, young prospects. Some will be familiar as they may have been up and contributed at some point over the last season or two, and some will be seen for the first time. The hope is that with the Indians expecting to contend once again they will not need to turn to their farm system out of desperation, but as a complementary piece to help round out and fill some gaps on the roster.

Last season saw the arrival of Yan Gomes, who received an opportunity early in the season because Lou Marson was injured, and he jumped at the chance, quickly establishing himself as the Indians starting catcher for the next several years. The year prior, Cody Allen was called up and quickly established himself as a dominant late inning bullpen arm, and the year before that, Jason Kipnis came up and has solidified himself as one of the best second basemen in all of baseball.

Injuries and performance issues always crop up during a season for just about every team. When these issues surface this season — and they will — the Indians will turn to a healthy stable of prospects that they have stashed away at Triple-A Columbus and Double-A Akron.

It should be noted that the prospects listed below are not necessarily the best prospects in the system and instead have a chance to get to the major leagues this season and compete. These are major league-ready prospects (or close to it) with the highest likelihood of being called up, ranked from No. 1 (most likely) to No. 5 (least likely):

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(Note: The Indians will have a lot of players assigned to Triple-A Columbus who have considerable major league experience and will be options for them this season, but they are not prospects and hence not listed).

1. Chen-Chang Lee (right-handed reliever): Also known as C.C. Lee, he is a right-handed reliever who has a good shot to make the Opening Day bullpen, and even if he doesn’t, he will be one of the first options called upon from Columbus to fill a need in the bullpen this season. His sidearm slot and fastball-slider combination are very good, and he can have a rather large impact on the pen this season. He could grow into a late-inning role along the lines of what Vinnie Pestano did in 2011 where he started in mid-relief and finished the year as the primary setup man.

2. Trevor Bauer (right-handed starter): Bauer has looked great so far in camp showing the velocity and stuff that made him such a high profile draft pick three years ago. He has little chance to impact the team at the outset of the season unless an injury or two occur in the rotation, but if his delivery changes and stuff are really coming around, then he could impact the rotation at some point later in the season. Few teams ever get through a season using only five starters, let alone six, so he should go to Columbus to continue to iron out the delivery and show consistency with his stuff then be somewhat of an ace in the hole who could impact later in the year for the Indians.

3. Kyle Crockett (left-handed reliever): The Indians went out and acquired two left-handed bullpen options this offseason, picking up Josh Outman to be the second lefty in the pen and Colt Hynes to be a depth option. They also have Nick Hagadone and Scott Barnes as options and even have Giovanni Soto returning from a back injury last season. Even still, Crockett is a fast-rising pen prospect taken out of the 2013 draft with a nasty slider and unbelievable pitch ability. He could fly up to Cleveland within a year of being drafted — just like Cody Allen. If the other lefty pen options struggle or get hurt, he could be an option by the All-Star break.

4. Preston Guilmet (right-handed reliever): After the top three, there is a pretty big drop off in terms of impact, but Guilmet could surprise this season and at least should be a nice depth arm who is very versatile and rides up and down the I-71 corridor between Cleveland and Columbus several times. His stuff is average across the board, but he has always been an exceptional performer at every minor league stop and creates a lot of deception with his unique over-the-top arm slot. He is consistent in the strike zone, which is really most of the battle anyway.

5. Bryan Price (right-handed reliever): Price has the goods to impact the bullpen. The question is whether he will get an opportunity to do so this season. The Indians have so many right-handed pen options at the major league level already with John Axford, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and Vinnie Pestano, and then when you add in Lee, Guilmet, Blake Wood as well as almost a half dozen others in the mix, his time to shine may not come until late in the season or next year. One thing is certain – he throws strikes and has some good stuff with a low-to-mid 90s fastball and a slider-splitter combo that really took a big step forward last season. He just needs an opportunity.

AROUND THE HORN

Sleepers: One starting pitching option out there that is being overlooked is lefty T.J. House. He really finished last season strong in Triple-A and had the Indians needed a starter in September the Indians were prepared to give him strong consideration at a crack at the rotation during their playoff run. After a significant step back a few years ago as a prospect, he has found himself again and is considered legitimate major league depth. If the Indians have some injury issues or just need a spot starter and Josh Tomlin is already in Cleveland, then he might get the call.

In the bullpen, keep an eye on right-hander Enosil Tejeda. He’s not a high-profile prospect, but he’s like Guilmet in that he gets results because of some good deception in his delivery though he actually has a good plus curveball that is very effective. He could be a late-season option if he keeps developing and performing as well as the right opportunity presents itself.

Also, right-handed reliever Austin Adams is one not to sleep on with his mid-to-upper 90s fastball and good, power breaking ball — though his chances are still limited because he has some strike-throwing issues.

Coming up later in the week: the top hitting prospects that can help the Indians in 2014.