I will continue to post a few editions of Minor Happenings over the next week to close out things for 2016 and to clear out my notebook in preparation for the start of 2017 and the top prospect countdown which is right around the corner.
Onto the Happenings…
Kaminsky is as steady as steady goes
After being picked up in a July 2015 trade from the Cardinals for Brandon Moss, left-handed pitcher Rob Kaminsky had a very nice first full season with the Indians pitching at Double-A Akron all year. As a 21-year old the entire season, he handled things well and more than held his own in the Eastern League where most players are a year or two older.
From a numbers standpoint, it was a very successful year for Kaminsky as in 25 starts he went 11-7 with a 3.28 ERA (137.0 IP, 122 H, 7 HR, 48 BB, 92 K). He held opposing hitters to a .241 average, had a solid 3.2 BB/9 and 6.0 K/9 and the low ERA was backup up by a very solid 3.91 FIP which shows it wasn’t overly misleading. His numbers against right-handers and left-handers were nearly identical, though the one huge difference was a surprising difference in strikeouts against righties (6.5 K/9) compared to lefties (5.2 K/9).
Kaminsky’s season was really a tale of two halves. After a slow start to the season in which he was 4-5 with a 4.14 ERA in 15 first half starts (74.0 IP, 71 H, 30 BB, 46 K), he really turned it on after the All Star break going 7-2 with 2.29 ERA in 10 starts (63.0 IP, 51 H, 18 BB, 46 K). Part of his first half struggles were the result of a back issue that bothered him for a few starts before putting him on the shelf in May for three weeks and then it took him a few starts to get going again. But once he settled in and was no longer bothered by the back and he started gaining a footing, his confidence soared and his performance did as well.
From a developmental standpoint, it was a successful year as well. The Indians love the way Kaminsky goes right after hitters, the maturity and way he handles himself at his age and how he overcame some early season struggles with performance and health to really finish the season strong. His stuff didn’t take a big leap forward as he still throws a good low 90s fastball with a very good curveball and decent changeup which is coming along. For him, it is less about the stuff as aside from improving the consistency of his changeup the fastball and curveball are what they are and are good Major League offerings. Where he needs more development is with his in game approach with his pitch sequencing and developing a better feel for what hitters are trying to do against him. He is also working to refine his mechanics in order to take some of the stress off his back and make his stuff a little crisper. He can get rotational and work across his body at times which results in him finishing to the left or right of the mound, so the Indians have really worked on his direction to the plate to get it more consistent so he finishes at the hitters and through the zone.
Kaminsky checked off the boxes for all three things you want to see from a pitching prospect at Double-A: development, durability and performance. By achieving all three it really puts him in a good spot going forward, though with the amount of depth the Indians have, they will probably not be too aggressive with him this coming season. He is expected to return to Double-A Akron to start the year to finish off his development at that level and also wait for an opportunity to crack what should be a very prospect heavy and young rotation at Triple-A Columbus. He is sort of in the same situation that Shawn Morimando was in going into the 2016 season where he had to repeat at Akron to start the year even though he had pitched a year and a half there already and looked ready for the next level, but had to wait until July for that opportunity because of what was ahead of him.
In any case, Kaminsky is set up well as a near Major League option for the Indians who they will continue to develop as a starter, but has the durability, versatility and dominant breaking ball to potentially be an option in the bullpen as well. Next season will be all about finishing off his development by continuing to work on pitch selection and how he uses them, refining his mechanics and maintaining his health so he can potentially be an option for the Indians if needed late in the season and going into 2018.
Second baseman Tyler Krieger had a very nice first pro season splitting time between Low-A Lake County (69 games) and High-A Lynchburg (59 games) where he hit a combined .299 with 5 HR, 58 RBI and .794 OPS in 128 games. He missed his pro debut in 2015 after sitting out the season after the draft because of a labrum injury that bothered him while at college, so the Indians chose to be very cautious and just shut him down and rehab him in order to have him come back 100% in 2016. He more than made up for lost time this year with a quick advancement through both Single-A levels and looks to be right on track to where he would have been had he been healthy and played in 2015. The Indians really love how he does all the little things right. His work off the field is top notch as he is a hard worker and does a really good job of preparing himself well both mentally and physically for the season and then each day for games. On the field he runs the bases well, is an advanced and smart hitter and shows some good hitting skills. He was a shortstop in college but the Indians moved him to second base this year because it is where they believe he can make the most impact as a prospect and stick as a full time player. It doesn’t mean he can’t play shortstop or that they are abandoning him as an option there, it is just that the focus right now is to make him an everyday Major League player and the position he has the best chance at that is at second base. The Indians know that he could always still go back and play some shortstop and handle it if he ends up in more of a utility role down the road. He looks to be on track to open the 2017 season at Double-A Akron, though he may open with a return to High-A Lynchburg for a month or two before then going to Akron in May or June.
Right-handed pitcher Luis Jimenez had an interesting year pitching outside of the complex leagues in the Dominican and Arizona for the first time in his career. He made 14 appearances (7 starts) with Short-A Mahoning Valley and went 1-5 with a 5.24 ERA and in 55.0 IP he allowed 48 hits, 4 homers, 31 walks and had 38 strikeouts. Those numbers make it easy for the casual fan to cast him aside and overlook him as a prospect, but he’s an arm the Indians like a lot. He showed a lot of improvement as the year wore on as he owned a 9.13 ERA over his first eight appearances (23.2 IP, 29 H, 3 HR, 18 BB, 18 K) through July 29th, but over his last six appearances covering all of August and September he had a 2.30 ERA (31.1 IP, 19 H, 1 HR, 13 BB, 20 K). A lot of that improvement came from improved command of his fastball that saw him drop from a 6.8 BB/9 to a more reasonable 3.7 BB/9. Consistency has been his biggest issue to this point in his career as he often has too many big misses with his pitches which make it tough for him to be effective. The Indians are working with him to improve the command and location of his fastball in order to avoid missing so big on location and to have his misses end up in the same area. He has the arm strength with a good fastball that reaches the mid-90s, his slider shows signs of being a good offering and he has the body and strength to be even more with his stuff and to be durable. The Indians believe that if they can get him more consistent with his release point and his mechanics that the fastball command will continue to improve like it did over the course of this past season and that he may be due for a significant spike in his performance and stuff this coming year.
Left-handed pitcher Thomas Pannone had an excellent season where he combined to go 8-5 with a 2.57 ERA in 25 appearances at Low-A Lake County (17 games) and High-A Lynchburg (8 games). In 133.0 innings he allowed 104 hits, 8 homers, 41 walks and had 122 strikeouts, and he had some nice peripheral stats as he held opposing hitters to a low .215 batting average for the season and put forth a nice 2.8 BB/9 and 8.3 K/9 rate. Shortly after moving up to Lynchburg in July he threw a sensational outing where he threw seven shutout innings and allowed just one hit, but in the next start he had a blister issue crop up which impacted that start, shelved him for almost three weeks and it took him a few starts to get back into the swing of things. The Indians believe that some good came out of the blister issues as the time away from the mound at the end of July and the first half of August allowed him time to work on the side and get his mechanics back in line and take a step forward with his command. He’s really made some strides with his fastball command and the way he controls his secondary stuff and has turned into more of a complete pitcher the last two seasons. He’s not someone who is going to blow hitters away as he mostly sits at 88-90 MPH and at times gets it up another MPH or two, but he has shown improved velocity where he maintains it around 90 MPH and gets it above it more often, and more importantly, maintained his velocity and stamina through the end of a long season this year. He’s developing into an interesting finesse lefty who has a good mix of pitches and the athleticism to make adjustments so he can continue to improve. While the stuff may not be great, he shows the ability to get a lot of quick outs and get hitters to swing at his pitches early in the count and generate weak contact. That is a unique trait and shows he has some deception and does a nice job of sequencing and locating his pitches. He should return to High-A Lynchburg to open the 2017 season and depending how things go he could be an option for a promotion to Double-A Akron the last month or so of the season.