Thanks for reading Justin’side’ Baseball,’ a new column including thoughts on Cleveland baseball mostly, but will occasionally venture into other parts of baseball. Normally this column is behind a paywall, but because I haven’t written it in a while and it is the end of the year, I’m making it open for all to read.

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  • Akron started the playoffs, officially on Tuesday night, but they played playoff baseball the final week of the season against Somerset. The lineup was no-hit Sunday through seven innings in a game they had to win to get in. They faced Yankees pitching prospect Luis Medina, who didn’t have much control early but blew most Akron hitters way with a hard fastball with good movement. Every hitter had a tough time catching up to it or putting good contact on it. Bryan Lavastida managed to work a walk and then eventually broke the no-hitter in the seventh inning to open the gate for Akron to come back.
  • Jose Fermin was the one to tie the game with a monster three-run homer. Fermin obviously isn’t known for his power, but he got Akron off to a good start vs. Somerset in that series with four hits including two doubles and a homer in a blowout win Tuesday and his homer got the momentum back on Akron’s side. I’ve always been high on Fermin’s ability to hit, but the consistent power probably isn’t ever coming. But he’s proven this year he can play second, short and third and he can hit enough to be a big leaguer in some capacity. He still hasn’t picked in the Rule 5 draft to this point, and he might not this year with how many teams may have 40 man issues themselves, but at some point, Fermin is going to get a big-league role whether that’s here or somewhere else.
  • Shane Bieber looked close to his normal self in his Akron rehab start. In his first start with Columbus, he looked like he was just trying to get a feel for everything again facing hitters. In Akron he was 91-93 and hit 93 consistently and fastball command was close to looking like his normal level. He threw his cutter, slider, curveball and changeup. He got swings and misses with his slider out of the zone and some chases to the fastball up. He threw his entire arsenal, mising a spot with his cutter and hanging a slider for a home too. He even threw a curveball for a strike and popped out a few changeups. He was solid, but not crisp with everything. In a normal situation, Bieber would probably need one more rehab start, only getting up to 57 pitches. But with the minor league season winding down and the big league club able to carry an extra arm in September, they can afford to let him get to a few more pitches in the majors and get him some additional work in the majors as well. He’s probably not going to look like the Bieber of old quite yet, and his spin rate on his slider and curve were down in his start in Akron, too, so temper expectations a bit in his return. Don’t think he’s broken or not healthy or rushed back. It’s just that he missed a lot of time and he probably should be getting one more minor league rehab start, but they’d rather just get him the work at the major league level, but he wasn’t completely able to compete in this start.
  • “That was the plan,” he said. “Ultimately I didn’t feel as sharp as I wanted to… . There’s room to progress and grow. The next step is to sharpen things and in the next start be able to compete better. I haven’t been able to do that longer than expected. It’s going to take time to get back into the swing of things.”
  • “There’s a number of reasons I’ve been working towards this,” Cleveland’s ace said. I’ve always liked to keep things simple. This is my job. I love to do it. If I can’t because I’m on the IL, I’ll work twice as hard to come off and be better. If it’s one, two,, or 12 (starts), it doesn’t matter to me. I’m just going to keep simple as possible work towards it and help the (Indians).”

Obersverations from Akron

  • Following Bieber was Logan T. Allen and this might have been the best I’ve ever seen him. He’s had a great season and I’ve seen him a number of times. He gave up four hits and an unearned run in five innings with seven strikeotus, four of them swinging. He was up to 93 with his fastball and dotting it all over. His slider this season has become a legitimate out pitch for him, which may now match his changeup that was considered his best pitch coming into the season. Sometimes it is hard to discern between his changeup and slider at times, because they have similar velocities and his changeup is more of a split-change than a true changeup, so it has more vertical drop than traditional fade and armside run. But that also may make it harder for hitters. I don’t have the data on it, but I’d be interested to see the spin directions on his three (or four – he does have a curveball he uses sparingly) pitches and see their profiles in terms of spin mirroring and similar spin directions. There’s some Bieber to Allen’s game in his command and his ability to tunnel and sequence. He might not have Bieber’s upside, but we also didn’t know if Bieber had this upside either. So don’t be shocked when Allen ends up being a better arm than it seems. 
  • So far in the playoffs, Akron has gotten tremendous pitching performances from Peyton Battenfield and Xzavion Curry.
  • Battenfield has ditched his cutter than was nearly his second most used pitch when he was with Montegomery before Cleveland traded for him. He’s thrown his slider more now because the slider is doing what he wants it to do, while the cutter wasn’t getting him the results he wanted. 
  • “I’ve thrown a cutter all season. It worked in High-A. In Double-A, it got hit hard. So for four outings now I’ve thrown the slider. I’ve changed the grip and the way throw it. I’m getting more swing and miss and weak contact,” Battenfield said.
  • He’s also shown a changeup he’s throwing more often now. 
  • “Even with Tampa Bay I’ve been told I should throw my changeup more. It’s one of those pitches you have to have confidence in to throw the pitch. If you don’t, there are some hitter, if you throw it over the middle, it’s a BP fastball and they tee off. Once you throw it in the right spot and see it moving it’s easier to throw more… The first time I had thrown (the slider) I was 50/50 fastball-offspeed. When you can throw all your secondaries for strikes, it’s a big confidence booster. I realize I can not have my best fastball and be OK. I know at the next level I need to throw all my secondaries for strikes. It was a realization I can do it. I don’t need to rely on my fastball to get people out.”
  • His fastball command has been good and runs 91-93, topping out at 94. Battenfield is a big kid and I wouldn’t be surprised if Cleveland helps him unlock some additional velocity to get to 92-93 and top out around 95-96. His fastball has excellent shape and movement because of his over-the-top delivery, getting backspin and rise. He combines that with average command of it, though it was distinctly above-average command in his start vs. Bowie this week. He’s an arm I’d bet on seeing in the big leagues. Between his size and having at least three average pitches, if his command is consistent enough, he can start. His walk rats suggest he throws enough strikes to start long-term. At worse, he can be a dynamic bullpen arm, and Cleveland may opt to move him to the pen because of the amount of starter depth they have to begin with. His fastball would be even more explosive then and would work well off his slider. He’s been with three organizations now (Houston, Tampa Bay and Cleveland) that are all progressive pitching organizations, so he’s used to looking at data and advanced pitching concepts. He understands it, is smart and has a good understanding of how to pitch, not just throw. Either way, he’s a big-league arm for me – a mid-rotation type of back end potential reliever. 
  • In watching a few Joey Cantillo outings, it’s clear he’s stll trying to find his command. He is up to 93 with his fastball out of the bullpen in shorter outings. We’ll see if that holds. Normally he was 88-91, and his fastball plays at that velocity, again, due to backspin from his arm slot and movement, but also command like Triston McKenzie, because he’s long and lanky and gets good extension. He’s added a slider to his arsenal and he’s still trying to find the right shape and power to his curveball that has average to above average potential. He still has his changeup that’s above average that uses his vulcan grip on. I would think Cleveland will protect him this winter as his upside would be too much to lose. It’s been a tough time for Cantillo to recover from his injury, so he’s really just trying to work back and compete in games and not worry about his health or any individual pitch.
  • “I’m throwing a cutter which is only a few weeks old – a tight slider,” Cantillo said a few weeks ago. “I’m just doing everything I’ve been trying to do my whole career – get into my body more, use my legs, which has been an ongoing thing. That will always be something to focus on. Being here, especially the time being the end of the season and everything I’ve gone through the last year with the injury, all the working on stuff, I can just put all that aside and just pitch and focus on pitch execution. Executing sliders, throwing changeups, throwing fastball’s where I want to, dropping in curveballs. That’s probably the most exciting, being a pitcher again. Not necessarily worrying about throwing.”
  • The native of Hawaii is also a new fan of Linkin Park – so he gets a solid 70 in my book in music choice. 
  • More on my conversation with Battenfield and Cantillo coming soon.

Inflating models with promotions

  • This tweet piqued my interest last week with PIttsburgh and a few other teams making late season promotions of prospects.
  • A while back, Keith Law mentioned the Mets looked to possibly do this with Andres Gimenez. He was 19/20 in Double-A and while he held his own, he never did anything special offensively at any level. He’s struck out at average rates, walked at fringe-average rates and just made a lot of contact despite being young. I never really considered this aspect before seeing this and now it makes me look at things. Age for level is extremely important, more so now than ever with the year missed in 2020. Gimenez hit for power in Triple-A for the first time this year, but everyone has hit for more power in Triple-A for the last few years now. And there’s a bigger gap between Triple-A than the majors now more than ever.
  • I don’t know if Cleveland has done this, but the one player I’d maybe watch on this is Gabriel Arias. 21 is still younger than some players drafted this year and it’s especially young for Triple-A in any given year. His numbers at Triple-A were decidedly more interesting than Gimenez in the minors and his walks are in a good place, but it’s something to think about.


  • We still haven’t heard about who will play in the AFL for anyone yet, though it starts October 18.-

The names I’ve considered that might have a chance are this:

  • C Bo Naylor – Catching in the AFL is always weird. He or Lavastida could see time there from the loss of 2020
  • LHP Joey Cantillo – Missed a lot of time this year with an injury and didn’t pitch in 2020. They probably want to see more
  • LHP Adam Scott – See Cantillo, especially since both Cantillo and Scott are Rule 5 eligible this winter
  • RHP Cody Morris – See Cantillo and Scott, and Morris is on the precipice of being a big league arm in 2022
  • INF Jhonkensy Noel – Rule 5 eligible and missed some time in 2021 with an injury. Cleveland might want to see more.
  • INF Jose Tena – Didn’t miss time with an injury but the missed year make Cleveland want to see more before a 40 man decision on him.
  • INF Aaron Bracho – Rule 5 eligible, missed some time with an injury and had a terrible year. 
  • OF Steven Kwan – AFL is considered a finishing school for prospects. Kwan missed some time with an injury too and he’s broke out this year. Cleveland might want to see more from him and he’s close like Morris, to contributing in 2022.
  • 2B/OF Richie Palacios – Palacios is Rule 5 eligible and missed 2019 and 2020 with the shoulder injury and pandemic. He made the jump to Columbus with no major drawback. After his hamstring injury forced him to miss some time and he was resigned to second base up there after playing CF in Akron. 
  • OF George Valera – He could be ready in 2022 and he missed a lot of time in 2019 with injuries and all of 2020, plus some of this year with an injury. They might not want to push his workload too far but why not see more since there’s a 40 man decision coming. An easy one, but maybe get him ready to help in 2022.
  • LHP Matt Turner – Missed most of 2021 with TJ and made one appearance in the ACL. This could help him get some lost innings.

Relievers of the future

  • Now that Anthony Gose is up and getting a look, we’re starting to see more chances for relievers that could fill out the future bullpen.
  • Emmanuel Clase is a known quantity and you’ll probably see James Karinchak back before the end of the year. We’ll see how he looks.
  • Nick Sandlin should claim a spot, but his injury this year and history is certainly worth being concerned about.
  • Francisco Perez is back in the minors, again, but has seen time. He’s worthy of more looks.  He and Gose on the 40 together seems a bit odd, even though it would be great to have both if they can pitch, but I’m not sure both throw enough strikes to survive being together on the roster.

Other names to consider:

  • RHP Nick Mikolajchak – Has had a homer problem late in the year and a velo dip, but still has good upside
  • RHP Nic Enright – Doesn’t throw hard (89-91) but it spins well up in the zone, he commands it well and he has a good, slow over the top curveball and slider as well that makes him a viable reliever.
  • RHP Aaron Pino – Throws 92-93 but has above average command and movement on the pitch. He throws from an over the top arm slot, so the shape is ideal. His slider is maybe average on a good day, but he makes it all work.
  • RHP Jerson Ramirez – I worry about his elbow injury now that could help him go in the Rule 5 draft. If he needs TJ, a team could take him, stash him on the IL and bring him out of the pen slowly. He throws 92-93 and there could be more in the tank and he has two different sliders that are hard to hit. 
  • LHP Tim Herrin – A tall lefty 92-94 and has a slider and a cutter mix that both have big league potential.

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