Prospect Impact takes a look at the Indians' prospects who are on the verge of making the jump to the major league level in the upcoming season and breaks down their game, where they are in their development and when fans can potentially expect to see them in Cleveland.
Cleveland faithful may already be familiar with Perci Garner as he already made his debut with the Indians last season, but his limited body of work at the major league level has not yet shown what he is truly capable of.
Garner's story goes beyond the dominant numbers he put up in the minor leagues this year en route to his big league call-up. He's a local product out of Dover now living his dream of pitching for the team he grew up rooting for. He's proving to be a late bloomer at age 28 as a relief pitcher after spending most of his professional career in the Phillies organization and putting up fair-to-middling numbers as a starter which led to his release a year ago shortly followed by him signing with the Tribe.
This "local boy makes good" storyline along with is electric arm are what make Garner an intriguing addition to this roster moving forward as he hopefully becomes a staple in an already-potent Tribe bullpen.
Major League Ready
Nine-plus major league innings and a 4.82 ERA in that span may not look like much worth writing home about, but digging a little deeper into the numbers, there's little doubt that Perci Garner is ready for a job in a big league bullpen if given the chance. For example, while the right-hander did give up six runs (five earned) on 12 hits and five walks, he did strike out 12 in 9.1 innings and his FIP was only 2.82. Translation: his stuff can work at this level if and when it is properly executed.
Like a lot of converted starters, Garner saw a spike in his velocity as his mindset changed in terms of looking at a full game to just a couple innings. With a fastball topping out in the mid-to-upper 90s, a sinker and two nasty breaking pitches, there's little mystery why the right-hander posted a 1.83 ERA in 41 combined appearances between Double-A and Triple-A this season prior to being summoned to Cleveland. His ability to strike out batters (70 in 78.2 innings) along with a knack for inducing groundballs (3.44 groundout-to-air-out rate) are what potentially could make him another useful weapon for Terry Francona in the bullpen.
Another intriguing facet of the 28-year-old's game is his ability to pitch multiple innings on a regular basis. With 78.2 innings of work over 41 appearances, Garner was averaging nearly two innings per outing as he logged more than one inning in 30 of those games and more than two innings in 15. So while his mentality may have changed from that of a starter to a reliever, his durability is still in tact and can certainly fit in with Francona's new bullpen management philosophy, particularly in the postseason as we saw with the usage of Andrew Miller.
A Work In Progress
Command is probably the biggest stumbling block for Garner right now as did walk five batters in those 9.1 major league innings and found himself working into a lot of deep counts with batters. Of course, that could be attributed to nerves and trying to find a groove at the big league level as perhaps he was trying to be "too fine" or "too perfect" with his pitches. As soon as he trusts his stuff again as he did in the minors, the results should improve exponentially. Also, it is a small sample size making it hard to draw any firm conclusions anyway.
That idea of being able to trust his stuff and abilities is nothing new for Garner, however, as he, himself, has pointed to it as a big reason why he has found success after the transition to both a new organization and a new role as a reliever as his focus became less of giving hitters too much credit when they have success against him and more figuring out what to do differently to try and avoid letting it happen again. That mentality shift helped him in his bullpen renaissance and it should help him establish himself at the major league level.
Estimated Time of Arrival
Well this is a bit easier to project since Garner has already made his Indians debut. The question now is will he be given a bullpen spot out of spring training? With the departure of veteran right-hander Jeff Manship, that would seem to be the most logical opening on the roster for him to fill, but you can't rule out the odd non-roster invite(s) that the Tribe will almost certainly bring to camp with them. Plus, they could also look to add a second left-hander to cover matchup duties.
The best case, and at this point a very likely scenario due to his age, is Garner makes the roster and starts the season in Cleveland. From there, it all depends on where and when he gets opportunities to pitch, which obviously hinges on how much Francona trusts him. Most likely, the Dover native will be relegated to long-relief and mop-up duty early on, but if he flourishes, it shouldn't take long for him to work his way into the mix with Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw and the other guys at the back of the bullpen.
Should everything come together for Garner and the rest of relievers, the 2017 Indians could have arguably the best bullpen in baseball, which come October could be even more dominant than this year.