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2017 IBI Preview Capsule: Mike Clevinger

Mike Clevinger went from being a little-known minor league pitcher acquired from the Angels for former Tribe setup man Vinnie Pestano to one of the Indians' top pitching prospects. After mixed results in his first taste of the big leagues last season, how can Clevinger help Cleveland in 2017?

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.

Mike Clevinger, RHP

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

2016 In Review: In the minor leagues, Mike Clevinger was dominant last season boasting an impressive 11-1 record with a 3.00 ERA in 17 starts throughout the year for Columbus. In his first big-league call-up in May, however, the right-hander showed exactly why there is a major difference between facing Triple-A lineups and MLB lineups. In three starts, Clevinger was knocked for a loop going 0-1 with an 8.79 ERA giving up 14 runs in just 14.1 innings with the Tribe. Over his next 14 games, including seven starts, in Cleveland spread out from July through early October, the 26-year-old fared better going 3-2 with a 3.96 ERA. He really found his stride as a reliever late in the season appearing in seven games and posting an ERA of 3.00 while walking five and striking out 14 in 12 innings of work. The biggest issue for Clevinger, mostly as a starter, in the majors was with command and struggling to put away hitters, but perhaps his time in the bullpen has helped boost his confidence at the big league level.

Versus Right-handers: Clevinger's splits have evolved right along with his pitching as the former fourth-round pick of the Angels has retooled his mechanics and delivery since coming to the Indians in the trade that sent former Tribe fan favorite Vinnie Pestano to Anaheim in 2014. In 2015, his first full season with the Tribe organization as well as his breakout season with the RubberDucks, Clevinger had slightly better luck against right-handers with a .214 opposing average and .586 OPS, although his splits were fairly close to even. Last season, however, the Florida native had far more trouble putting right-handers away than lefties both in Columbus and in Cleveland as they batted a combined .276 with an .834 OPS, although the walk and strikeout rates between left and right-handed hitters were about the same.

Versus Left-handers: While they drew nearly as many walks as their right-handed counterparts, southpaws could not put the bat on the ball consistently against Clevinger in 2016. Cumulatively between Triple-A and Cleveland, the 26-year-old held left-handers to a mere .182 clup with a .515 OPS. Perhaps it's the funkiness of his windup and timing that manages to throw lefties off more from their vantage point, whereas right-handers can more easily pick up on it from their side of the plate. Regardless, it's surely something that Clevinger and the coaches are aware of in their ongoing adjustment process with his mechanics.

Pitch Mix: Clevinger is primarily a four-pitch guy featuring a fastball, slider, curveball and changeup, but he can also throw different variations of his heater with an occasional two-seamer or cutter. Based on how PITCHf/x rated his arsenal in his first big league season last year, his changeup is his best pitch at 3.4 runs above average while all his other offerings other than his two-seamer checking in with negative marks. Of course, this is only over a 17-game span where he has had to make the big adjustment from minor league to major league ball, so take these metrics with a grain of salt. If he can throw all his pitches for strikes with confidence at this level, we might see some different valuations.

Fantasy Impact: If Terry Francona and the Indians are planning to have a long-relief arm in their bullpen, then Clevinger would appear to be the most likely choice after what he showed in that role last season. Plus, it gives them an emergency starter option on their 25-man roster that they can stretch out and move to the rotation with reasonable confidence if needed. That is precisely how Fangraphs anticipates the right-hander will be used in 2017 as they project 38 appearances with eight of them being starts via their Steamer and Depth Charts projection models. Both are expecting a 4-4 record with a 4.10 ERA, an improvement from his 2016 numbers, as well as a slight spike in WAR from 0.3 to 0.7 or 0.8. Like any pitcher in his role, you hope to not have to use Clevinger in a game, but he's there if you do and any added experience facing big league hitting can certainly help with his confidence and whatever other adjustments he needs to make.

Summary: Just about anyone in the organization on the player development side of things will probably tell you no one has worked harder than Mike Clevinger over the last few seasons since arriving via trade to reinvent himself as a pitcher and deconstruct his mechanics to find what works and doesn't work. The Indians obviously saw something in him when they traded for him and he has put his faith in the coaches to allow them to rework his pitching. Now he's got a very strong chance to stick in Cleveland at least for the 2017 campaign in some capacity. Now it just becomes another process of figuring things out again at a new level of competition and if his work ethic over the last couple years is any indicator, that time will come.

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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