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2017 IBI Preview Capsule: Joe Colon

Following shoulder ailments, former starting pitching prospect Joe Colon has seen a resurgence in the bullpen and figures to be a part of the Indians relief corps at some point in 2017. The IBI's Jake Dungan looks at where and when his best opportunity will come.

The IBI Preview Capsules are back for 2017 as Jake Dungan takes an in-depth look at all the players who could impact the Tribe in the upcoming season from the established stars to the prospects on the verge of being called up to the majors to the non-roster invites to spring training.

Joe Colon, RHP

Throws: Right -- Bats: Right -- Entering his age-27 season -- Contract: Pre-arbitration (Eligible for arbitration in 2020)

2016 In Review: Unfortunately, 2016 did not get off to a promising start for Joe Colon as he was hit with a 50-game suspension after failing a second test for a drug of abuse. After returning to the mound in late May, however, the right-hander locked into a groove and never looked back posting a lights-out 0.59 ERA in 13 games for Columbus while posting an impressive strikeout and groundball rate. That dominance did not go unnoticed by the Tribe as they called him up in July for his major league debut where he continued his solid run posting a 2.45 ERA in three appearances before going on the disabled list with a sore shoulder. After recovering, Colon was sent back to Triple-A where he kept up his impressive pitching compiling a 1.35 ERA in a seven-game span through August. Once rosters expanded in September, the 26-year-old was summoned once again, but unfortunately, this run through the majors didn't go as swimmingly as his ERA jumped to 9.95 in eight games. However, six of the seven runs he gave up came in just two unfortunate appearances. Otherwise, Colon, seemingly, impressed enough to make himself a factor for the 2017 bullpen.

Versus Right-handers: For whatever reason, Colon has had more issues with right-handed hitters in recent years as despite dominant splits overall between the minors and majors combined last year, batters from the right side were still hitting 30 points higher at .190. When isolating his major league stats from last year, right-handers were batting a whopping .348, nearly 150 points higher than their southpaw counterparts, with a 1.160 OPS. His walk rate was also even with his strikeouts at five apiece against righties. That, of course, will need to change if he's going to be an effective big league reliever moving forward.

Versus Left-handers: Since moving to the bullpen in 2015, the one constant in his statistics regardless of where or what level of competition he's pitching against has been left-handed hitters are no match for him. Following that full-time switch to relief pitching two years ago, southpaws batted just .238 between Akron and Columbus. Last year, lefties batted just .160 with a combined .527 OPS in Columbus and Cleveland. Even his major league splits alone have him holding left-handers to a mere .200 clip. This will be an interesting trend to keep an eye on to see if it continues.

Pitch Mix: The move to the bullpen has helped Colon maximize the value of his pitches, particularly his fastball, which has seen a velocity spike and now sits in the mid-90s. The right-hander also features different variations of his heater, including a two-seamer and cutter, which have been helpful tools for him as a starter in the past as far as getting ground balls. The rest of his pitch mix includes a slider, changeup and the occasional curveball. His elevated strikeout rate in the bullpen is what can also make him an effective relief pitcher, but he'll also need to find a way to cut back on the walks as well as the big innings which have plagued him from time to time since coming up to the majors.  

Fantasy Impact: Like most minor leaguers with limited big league experience under their belts, Colon's chances to impact the Indians depend on when opportunity knocks and what roster spot(s) are open. It could come when camp breaks this spring or not until months into the season. Right now, Fangraphs doesn't see much more MLB playing time than the Puerto Rican hurler got in 2016, although that kind of thing is hard to project with no immediate, firm roster plans in place yet. In 10 appearances, both Steamer and Depth Charts see Colon posting a 4.23 ERA and a neutral WAR. However, they also see his strikeout rate still healthy at nine in 10 innings and his walk rate down a bit to four in that span. Again, though, the best way to find out what value he can provide is for him to get another extended big league stint.

Summary: Joe Colon has intriguing talent and it will be interesting to see how the Indians view him and how he will fit into their plans. He's seen an effective transition from being a starter to a reliever that doesn't get talked about much. Regardless, he has enough upside to get him a big league job in the bullpen if that opportunity should come, but he also has a few things he can still work on that could keep him down in Columbus for a little while to start the year. Plus, he has a fair bit of competition to deal with considering the likes of Perci Garner, Shawn Armstrong, Josh Martin and other young relief pitching prospects who will be vying for Tribe bullpen spots this spring. Still, Colon should be near the top of that list considering his previous big league experience last year.

Check out our other 2017 Preview Capsules here:

Jake Dungan is the Managing Editor for IBI and a podcast host on the Smoke Signals Network. Email him at jdungan@indiansbaseballinsider.com or follow him on Twitter @JakeDBaseball.


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