Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports

2017 IBI Preview Capsule: Ryan Merritt

Ryan Merritt went from being a relatively unknown prospect to a postseason folk hero in the span of only a few major league appearances. He's already etched his name in Cleveland sports lore, but what can the left-hander bring to the Tribe moving forward?

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.

Ryan Merritt, LHP

Throws: Left -- Bats: Left -- Entering his age-25 season -- Contract: Pre-arbitration (Free agent in 2023)

2016 In Review: Ryan Merritt's 2016 campaign was defined by one start in October. After being summoned as an injury replacement on the Indians' ALCS roster, the rookie left-hander was given the nod by Tribe skipper Terry Francona to start in the pivotal Game 5 of the series against a stacked Toronto Blue Jays lineup with only one other big league start under his belt. Cleveland was up in the series three games to one and needed just one more victory to secure their first league pennant in nearly two decades. Well, despite all odds as well as some boot-shaking taunting, Merritt proceeded to go out and toss 4.1 shutout innings allowing just two baserunners via hits and fanning three before turning it over to the bullpen to finish the job. This was the apex of an overall impressive season for the Texas native, who pitched four dominant appearances with the Tribe during the regular season on top of an 11-8 record with a 3.70 ERA in 24 starts for Triple-A Columbus. Tribe fans have already showered the 24-year-old with adulation (and wedding presents), but he is still only at the beginning of his career.

Versus Right-handers: While it is a small sample size, Merritt was surprisingly effective against right-handed hitters in the majors last year as they slashed just .138/.138/.310 against him over 30 plate appearances. That goes against the grain of his splits from the minors last year, and over the last few seasons in general, as right-handers batted .281 with a .712 OPS. Early on in his professional career, Merritt did have better numbers against righties dating back to 2012 and 2013 when he was still in the A-ball ranks, but he has since established a trend after moving to the upper levels of the farm system that are likely to continue due to his limited time in Cleveland and his being a southpaw.

Versus Left-handers: Left-handed hitters only logged seven at-bats against Merritt in the big leagues last season, so there's not much that can be gleaned from that. In the minors, on the other hand, the former 16th round pick registered a reasonably effective .251/.290/.398 slash line against lefties and has had solid splits against them since his breakout season of 2014 where he was named the organization's top pitcher. Being a pitch-to-contact type of guy, he's probably never going to have truly dominant splits against anyone for any sustainable period of time, but if he can continue to hold his fellow southpaws in check better than right-handed hitters, he would at the very least be able to find a spot in the bullpen for potential matchup duties.

Pitch Mix: Merritt uses three pitches primarily, a fastball, changeup and slider, but can also mix in a few other offerings such as a two-seamer, a cutter and a curveball. The biggest part of his game, however, is pinpoint control and command of the strike zone. In some respects, he closely resembles a left-handed version of teammate Josh Tomlin. Aside from both of them being sons of the Lone Star State, the two Tribe hurlers have several statistical similarities as well with their hits-per-nine-innings (9.3) and walks-per-nine-innings (1.4) being identical and their WHIP, strikeouts-per-nine-innings and strikeout-to-walk ratio varying by only single-digit points. What sets Merritt apart, however, is the fact that he doesn't give up nearly as many home runs sitting at a rate of 0.7 per nine innings, which is less than half that of the veteran right-hander.

Fantasy Impact: Suffice it to say, while pitching the Indians to a pennant clinching win was quite a high note and certainly hard to top, this isn't the last Cleveland will see of Merritt. Fangraphs expects 33 games worth from the left-hander, to be exact, as Steamer and Depth Charts project him going 3-3 with a 4.07 ERA and pitching to the tune of an 0.3 WAR. While there are no expected vacancies in the rotation heading into spring training, barring injury, the left-hander is still pegged to make three starts in 2017, which is not out of the question given the ailments and respites the regular starters will have from time to time during the campaign. In the bullpen, Merritt is one of a wide range of candidates to earn an opening day job, but his previous experience and Terry Francona's familiarity with him could give him a leg up on the competition. If given a relief position, the 24-year-old will most likely serve in a long-relief and quasi-situational matchup capacity.

Summary: In just two big league starts, Ryan Merritt has already fulfilled a cliché childhood fantasy for many young, wannabe baseball stars by helping his team win the pennant. The only thing that could possibly top that would be being on the mound in a deciding World Series, so he will join the rest of his title-hungry teammates on that mission in 2017. Whether you want to call him a control pitcher, a pitch-to-contact guy or even a left-handed Josh Tomlin, Merritt has proven he can pitch at this level and is unintimidated by even the biggest stage. The only thing that would keep him off the big-league roster, outside of an injury, is a simple lack of openings. On a team that should open the season as the favorites to win the league championship again in 2017, vacant roster spots should be few and far between anyway. If the Texas southpaw does earn another big league stint, however, you can bet he will compete and battle as hard as he can out there as long as he has the ball in his hand.

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