On Tuesday, the Cleveland Indians announced on Twitter that Mike Clevinger was getting called-up from Triple-A Columbus, and would be starting tonight against the Reds. The disappointing Cody Anderson was sent down in a concurrent move (though, that was tied to Lonnie Chisenhall's return from the bereavement list), so Clevinger will be taking his turn in the rotation. Here is what Jason Hunt had to say about the 25-year-old righty in our Indians top-ten prospects post:
Clevinger was acquired by the Indians for reliever Vinnie Pestano, and would likely not have been available had he not needed Tommy John surgery in the 2013 season. He struggled in his return to High-A in 2014 with the Angels before the trade, but has since emerged as a potential back-end starting pitcher with a little bit of upside. He was excellent at AA this year (145 K, 40 BB, 127 H in 158 innings), and could be a candidate for the rotation by the end of the season.
Clevinger was quite good at Double-A last season, pitching to a 2.73 ERA/3.02 FIP in 158.0 IP, after struggling with injuries and inconsistency in 2013 and 2014. His strong work has continued this year, as he has produced the following line in seven starts - 35.2 IP, 28 H, 17 BB, 36 K, 3.03 ERA, 3.30 FIP. The spike in his walk rate is a bit disconcerting (it nearly doubled relative to 2015, and was an issue in the past), but his stuff and mechanics appear to be intact.
It is worth noting that Clevinger is something of a divisive prospect. The BP prospect team wrote that his fastball is "borderline double-plus and will touch 97 with movement," and graded his slider as above-average. On the other hand, Dan Farnsworth (formerly of FanGraphs) believes that Clevinger "doesn’t have the velocity or movement on his fastball to just pound the zone," and will likely end up as a finesse pitcher. There's a great deal of room in the middle, to be sure, and praise for his secondary stuff seems fairly consistent - but there is a great deal of discrepancy as to what sort of fastball he is working off of. That may well be the difference between a back of the rotation starter, and a mid-rotation workhorse.
My primary concern with Clevinger is his mechanics - his release point in particular. Watching his starts are a good way for the average viewer to see what a scout is talking about when they say that a pitcher has inconsistent mechanics, or that his release point "drifts." That factor may cause his stuff to diminish without actually losing velocity or movement, as he may tip his offerings against more advanced hitters. That remains to be seen, of course, but I worry about that more than I do about his overall profile.
What, then, do the Indians (and potential fantasy owners) have in Clevinger? He seems to have a fairly high floor, as a back of the rotation type, and improved command could go a very long way if his stuff plays up and he tightens his mechanics. In the short term, it would not shock me if he is auditioning for a spot in the team's rotation for the remainder of the season. Anderson has been downright awful, and the team is hoping to contend this year - if Clevinger impresses, I think he's here to stay.