30. Shawn Armstrong – Right-handed Pitcher
Born: 09/11/1990 - Height: 6’2” - Weight: 225 - Bats: Right - Throws: Right
Facts & Info: Armstrong was selected in the 18th round of the 2011 Draft out of East Carolina University and signed with the Indians for $335,000. He was originally drafted out of high school by the Houston Astros in the 33rd round of the 2008 Draft. Last season, he ranked 9th in the International League in appearances (47) and 11th in games finished (22).
Stuff: Armstrong is a very physical reliever who has some nice size and has a lot of strength in his lower and upper half which creates a lot of power to his pitches. He features a plus fastball that in recent years has sat at 92-94 MPH and reached 98-99 MPH, but in the last few seasons he has been more around 90-93 MPH and hasn’t been over 95 MPH much at all. His fastball command is barely average, but even with the lack of consistent command and velocity of it he shows an ability to get a lot of swing and miss with it because of some deception he creates and some good movement he gets with it. His best pitch is a plus cutter that comes in at 86-88 MPH and is a pitch he picked up as a pro in his first season with the Indians and has really come along since. It shows some very good late bite and is a pitch he has a ton of confidence to throw at any time and in any count. He also shows a feel for a curveball which is a below average offering and lacks consistency in the zone, but has the potential to be average thanks to the good 12-6 action and depth it has when he is on with it and can be a good weapon to backdoor lefties with when he has two strikes on them. He also has a developing changeup but is a pitch he rarely uses.
Delivery & Intangibles: Armstrong has a long, loose delivery with some good arm action and deception, and shows the ability to repeat it. In 2013 the Indians dumped his windup in order to simplify his delivery and now he pitches exclusively out of the stretch. He has the mindset with strong mental toughness, moxie and a no fear attitude which allow him to handle high leverage situations well. He is the ultimate competitor who brings a very intense, high motor approach to the mound where he just aggressively goes after hitters in nonstop attack mode. He had some problems with controlling his emotions early in his career, but has come a long way in that area and now shows some good maturity and no longer lets the game speed up on him and just does a good job of controlling what he can control. He had some health issues in college, but since turning pro he has proven to be quite durable and has only had one injury issue, which was a self-inflicted one where he dislocated the fourth metacarpal in his right hand in 2013 and missed half the season as a result. He has really done a nice job of solidifying his routines, has a strong makeup and is coachable.
Focus: The one glaring weakness for Armstrong continues to be his strike throwing ability as he put up a rather high 5.3 BB/9 at Triple-A Columbus last season. Improving his fastball command is the big separator for him and will not only be what finally earns him an opportunity in the big leagues, but will give him a chance to have consistent success. The Indians are working to improve his balance over the rubber, repeat his arm slot and release point more consistently and getting him more in sync with his upper and lower half and believe when he is able to do those three things the command will begin to improve. The other big issue is his velocity has been wildly inconsistent over the last few seasons and hasn’t been in the mid-to-upper 90s as consistently as it was earlier in his career. They are hopeful that when he is able to make those delivery adjustments that they will not only create a spike in his command, but also in allowing his velocity to show more consistently as well.
Future: Armstrong put forth another dominant season at the Triple-A level last season holding opposing hitters to a .160 batting average and racked up a 13.2 K/9, and was a nice piggyback to his strong 2015 season in Columbus. He has also put up some impressive numbers out of the bullpen in the minors, perhaps none more impressive than the way he just finds a way to limit damage as demonstrated by him allowing just 7 home runs in 223 career relief appearances covering 263.1 innings. With numbers like those and a fastball-cutter combination that could be lethal in the big leagues, some wonder why he has yet to get an extended opportunity at the Major League level. The answer to that has been the high walk rate and how he has only averaged right around 92 MPH on his fastball the last two years. He really didn’t make any strides last season, and in fact, some would say he took a step back and has even plateaued as a prospect. If the command comes and the velocity spikes back up a little bit, he has the potential to really impact the backend of the Indians bullpen this season and really solidify himself as an option for the next several years. There is little doubt he is a Major League arm, now he just needs to put it all together and show it. He has a great chance to open the season in the Cleveland bullpen and make the opening day roster, though if he doesn’t then he should open the season at Triple-A Columbus and be one of the first options called upon as a need arises this season.
Ranking History: #15 (2016), #17 (2015), #43 (2014), #20 (2013), #56 (2012)