Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

2017 IBI Preview Capsule: Shawn Armstrong

The Indians have a crowded field of candidates for the bullpen heading into 2017. Shawn Armstrong is one of many trying to prove his worth and earn one of those spots. The IBI's Jake Dungan looks at his candidacy in the latest preview capsule.

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.

Shawn Armstrong, RHP

Throws: Right -- Bats: Right -- Entering his age-26 season -- Contract: Pre-arbitration (Eligible for arbitration in 2020)

2016 In Review: In limited big league appearances over the last two years, Shawn Armstrong has made the most of his opportunity compiling a 2.41 ERA over 18 combined appearances with seven walks and 18 strikeouts in 18.2 innings. Last season, the right-hander made 10 appearances, mostly late in the season, and had a 2.54 ERA. His strikeout-to-walk ratio did fall off a bit, however, from 5.50 in 2015 to just 1.40 last year after issuing five free passes versus just seven punchouts. In the minors, Armstrong continued to impress going 3-1 with a 1.76 ERA in 49 appearances walking 29 and fanning 77 in 51 innings leading to his second big league call-up in as many years. While minor league save totals should be taken with a grain of salt, the 26-year-old has had a fair bit of success in that department racking up 44 in six seasons in the Tribe farm system. While the Indians are set for the time being at the back of their bullpen, it's never too soon to start thinking about the future.

Versus Right-handers: Early on in his career, Armstrong had been more successful against right-handed hitters. Over the last couple season, however, right-handers have had better luck against the North Carolina native, although the numbers are still dominant slashing .220/.303/.283 in 2015 and .194/.318/.222 last season in the minors. The difference between right and left-handed splits in those two seasons is not too drastic, though, even in the majors, particularly last year where there was only a three point difference in opposing batting averages and eight points separating the OBP splits. On the other hand, four of the five walks he had in the majors last year came against right-handers, but then again that is a pretty small sample size to draw any definite conclusions.

Versus Left-handers: As said before, Armstrong used to have more issues with southpaw hitters when he was first coming up with the Indians, but that trend has shifted since 2015 with left-handers batting below the Mendoza Line in both seasons in the minors and in the majors in 2015 with OPS marks below .600 in each instance. Still, the gaps between those numbers against right and left-handed hitters is not vast as Armstrong has been relatively effective regardless of who's at the plate or which batter's box they're standing in.

Pitch Mix: Armstrong has a bit of a unique pitch arsenal in that he throws a fastball and cutter almost exclusively. There are reports of him having a slider, too, but it's tough to differentiate between that and his cutter. For what it's worth, even PITCHf/x can't tell the two apart as no sliders were registered from the right-hander in the big leagues last season, if they are indeed two different pitches. He will also mix in an occasional curveball, but his fastball and cutter are his go-to offerings. The movement on those pitches has certainly proven to be effective in the minor leagues with double-digit strikeout-per-nine-inning rates in the last four consecutive seasons as the former 18th round pick has not averaged less than one punchout per inning in any season of his career. The only thing standing in his way is the walk rate of 4.6 per nine innings that has accompanied it.

Fantasy Impact: In such a crowded bullpen, Armstrong's impact is going to be heavily dependent on opportunity. Up to this point, the right-hander has served as mostly as a utility arm pitching either in a blowout, when the game is out of hand or when the rest of the bullpen is taxed, thus the sporadic major league appearances. And barring injury to any of the established relievers at the back of the bullpen, opportunities will likely continue to be few and far between not only for Armstrong, but other guys in Triple-A waiting to get a chance. Steamer and Depth Charts have him making 15 appearances and continuing to impress with a 3.50 ERA, seven walks and 17 strikeouts in 15 innings. If he continues to pitch well and with a generally high turnover rate in a major league bullpen, Armstrong may get that chance he's looking for.

Summary: Terry Francona worked some magic in the postseason last year with his bullpen management, particularly with the use of Andrew Miller, but he also unknowingly put his team in a tough spot by putting a premium price on relief pitching in the eyes of the free agent market. Next offseason, Tribe setup man Bryan Shaw will be a free agent and closer Cody Allen and super-lefty Andrew Miller will follow him the year after. If this offseason's market trend continues, the chances of retaining all, or even just one of them, will be highly unlikely. That's why the Indians need to start building their future bullpen immediately and, right now, Shawn Armstrong would seem to be a big part of that. Armstrong is not your typical fireballing closer that you see across the major leagues nowadays, but his high strikeout totals would seemingly making him an ideal back-end candidate if he translates them to the majors. So Indians fans enjoy this phenomenal bullpen while it lasts, but keep guys like Armstrong in mind when looking ahead to the not-so-distant future.

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.


Indians Baseball Insider Top Stories