This article will be focused on two relievers who could have breakout seasons out of the bullpen for the 2021 Cleveland Indians. This is a companion piece to my previous article about starting pitchers on the 2021 Cleveland Indians roster who could have breakout seasons.
While the Indians organization has become renowned for developing starting pitchers during the 2010s, they have not had as much success developing relief pitchers. This does not mean Cleveland has been completely inept, as the rate of success at developing bullpen arms is a lot lower than it is for starters for most organizations. Relief pitchers are extremely volatile due to their role and how exposed they are to the chaos of baseball. A small period of poor statistical performance during an actually solid year can ruin a relief pitcher’s surface-level stats during an individual season.
Many baseball fans have an archaic view of relief pitchers, as the save statistic is very overvalued and many people view relievers as little more than field goal kickers due to their role. The idea that the closer is the only relief pitcher that consistently plays in high leverage situations is a huge misinterpretation of baseball and how relief pitchers work. As relievers have become more important in organizations’ quests to compete for a World Series, many people have openly proclaimed their dislike for the trend. The closely related idea that starters are the only pitchers that matter is equally absurd.
As the role of relievers evolved throughout the 2010s, many people griped at the developments instead of seeing how it added another respectable facet to the game in real-time. As pitching development has skyrocketed during the 2010s due to the emphasis placed on spin rate, pitch design, biomechanics, etc. by various organizations we’ve seen starters and relievers improve exponentially. We should be appreciating this important and spontaneous growth in the game instead of bitching because of the attachment to tradition in baseball that has become leech-like. Remember when people thought bloodletting and using leeches to get rid of “bad blood” in the 1800s made sense? That is how people sound begging to see starting pitchers throw 150 pitches a game.
2021 Cleveland Indians Bullpen Breakout Candidates
Emmanuel Clase(pronounced CLAH-say) is a 22-year-old relief pitcher from Rio San Juan, a city in the Dominican Republic. He was originally by the San Diego Padres during the 2015 July 2 signing period for international amateur free agents. He was traded by the Padres to the Texas Rangers as the PTBNL in a prior deal where the Rangers sent catcher Brett Nicholas to San Diego. He wasn’t a top prospect during the beginning stages of his career, but when Clase’s fastball velocity had a huge jump after he joined the Rangers organization he got a lot of hype.
After an extremely scalding cup of coffee with the Rangers during the 2019 season where he absolutely torched big-league hitters to a 2.31 ERA at 21 years old, Clase was traded with Delino DeShields Jr. to the Cleveland Indians for Corey Kluber. The Cleveland Indians organization was ecstatic to acquire Clase, as they viewed him as a top 100 prospect due to the combination of youth, controllability, and his electric arm.
Emmanuel Clase throws right-handed from a traditional 3/4ths arm slot and has three pitches in his arsenal: a four-seam fastball, cutter, and slider. Clase can throw extremely hard, sitting between 99-103 miles per hour with his cutter and four-seam fastball. Despite throwing so hard, Clase has very clean/repeatable mechanics and good control. He can throw strikes and command his pitches to where he wants to throw them.
Clase also throws his slider hard, with it sitting around 89 miles per hour and reaching 91 on the radar gun. Clase’s slider was a bit inconsistent during his first taste of the majors, sometimes lacking a two-plane break. The Indians player development group is great at teaching pitchers how to throw or improve their slider, so I look forward to seeing what the pitch looks like during the 2021 season. All of his pitches have extremely high spin rates, which makes it difficult for hitters to discern what he is throwing.
Clase’s velocity leads many to think that he racks up strikeouts, but he is more of a ground-ball pitcher that can get swings and misses when necessary. He garners high whiff rates with his pitches but is exceptional at inducing weak contact when hitters actually do put the ball in play. Opponents put up extremely low launch angles and poor exit velocities, the data showing that hitters cannot square up what Clase is throwing due to the combination of velocity, movement, and location.
Clase has good surface-level stats, and advanced metrics show that his methods for being effective are sustainable. The key for Clase is to improve his slider’s movement profile to include a more vertical and horizontal break. Clase throws his cutter (70%) much more frequently than his four-seam fastball (three percent) and throws his slider 27% of the time.
The reason the Indians targeted Emmanuel Clase is that he is literally one of a kind. When compared to other pitchers based on velocity, spin rate, and movement no one has a similar profile to Clase. He is basically a unicorn that can throw a 102 mph cut fastball with a gnarly slider that is faster than some other’s pitchers fastballs.
Emmanuel Clase’s ceiling is a top tier closer that you would feel confident in against any three batters in situations with the highest leverage imaginable. Staying healthy and throwing strikes is key for Clase to be effective, and he is more than capable of dominating. Clase’s youth is the most intriguing facet of his profile, as he is only 22 years old and the Indians have control of him until he is 2027, making him an extremely valuable long-term asset. Look for Clase to be in a late-inning, high leverage role in the back of the 2021 Cleveland Indians bullpen during the upcoming season.
Kyle Nelson is a twenty-four-year-old left-handed reliever from San Francisco, California. He was drafted in the 15th round of the 2017 MLB Draft by the Cleveland Indians and played collegiate baseball at UC-Santa Barbara. He is close friends with Indians ace Shane Bieber, and they are roommates during the offseason.
Nelson has only pitched two innings in the big leagues, but he should have a prominent role in the Indians bullpen due to the departure of veteran lefties Brad Hand and Oliver Perez. Nelson throws in the low 90s with his fastball, and it is an effective pitch even though it has middling velocity because of its high spin rate. Nelson’s get-em-out pitch is his slider, which is effective against lefties and righties. Nelson’s slider gets plus grades from many different reputed sources due to its unique movement. Nelson can throw for strikes and attack hitters.
Nelson jumped through multiple levels in his first two seasons of professional baseball, striking out opponents at a well above average rate and limiting walks. Another facet that makes me think Kyle Nelson is a breakout candidate is he is effective against right-handed hitters, which is important for left-handed relievers to obtain success due to three batter minimum rule that has wiped out LOOGYs.
Kyle Nelson’s ceiling is that of a middle leverage reliever that can handle high leverage situations in a pinch. Due to the extinction of left-handed and right-handed specialists, left-handed relievers that can effectively compete against right-handed hitters are extremely valuable. Nelson may not be on the radar of many due to his inconspicuous debut and lack of name recognition amongst casual fans, but he can be a major cog in the 2021 Cleveland Indians bullpen due to its lack of established lefties.
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