While Cleveland has regularly been able to develop starting pitching internally with great depth and success, for the most part, bullpen arms are one area where they haven’t produced as much in recent years. Cody Allen was the last big reliever they pushed through the system that made a big impact, and recently James Karinchak, if he can regain his spin somehow. But most of their big arms they’ve traded for – Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller, Emmanuel Clase, etc. They’ve promoted some other depth arms in the past who have filled various roles, but none impact other than Karinchak. They have a few arms in the minors now that could have some impact, maybe even greater, but that remains to be seen.
This is pretty straight forward IBI award with one thing to keep in mind – big league relevance. Many minor league relievers can put up big numbers but have little chance of being an impact big league reliever. There were some relievers in the system this year who put up big numbers, but likely don’t have a big league future. The ones nominated here should all have some potential for having a big league future of varying levels.
IBI 2021 Relief prospect of the year nominees:
RHP Nic Enright
2021 Level: High-A Lake County/Double-A Akron
Stats: 58IP – 3.41 ERA/2.41 FIP/0.91 WHIP – 88K/13BB – 38.4 K%-5.7BB%
Enright was Cleveland’s 20th round pick in 2019 and stands 6’3 but looks a lot taller on the mound. While he doesn’t throw above 92, his fastball plays because of his high arm slot and the backspin that arm slot creates, and he commands it well. His curveball tunnels well off of the fastball that is big and slow and hard to hit. He also has a slider that gets some swings and misses. He’s older and doesn’t throw hard, but he dominated at High-A and was possibly the best reliever on Akron’s roster. He might just be a fringe arm because of his velocity but maybe his pitch mix and traits of his pitches might make him better than his stuff appears on the surface.
RHP Nick Mikolajchak
2021 Level: Double-A Akron
Stats: 39.2 IP – 3.18 ERA/3.62 FIP/1.08 WHIP – 57K/9BB – 35.2 K%-5.6 BB%
The Sam Houston product skipped High-A after the missed 2020 season and got off to a strong start at Double-A. He had some home run issues towards the end of the year and dropped some velocity, but for most of the year, he was 93-95 with a good curveball and slider. He was one of the best relievers in Akron and in the system and has a chance to help the Guardians in 2022 or soon after.
LHP Francisco Perez
2021 Level: Double-A Akron/Triple-A Columbus/MLB
Stats (minor leagues only): 53IP (30G) – 1.87 ERA/2.59 FIP/1.08 WHIP – 82K/29BB – 38.1 K%-13.5 BB%
After being a starter his entire career, Perez missed time with several injuries and came back as a reliever for the first time in 2021 and took off in many ways. His fastball ticked up some, up to 95 at times with some natural arm side sink. His slider, and the addition of his splitter are what helped him make the majors as a reliever this year. His control is still shaky at times, bordering on fringe-average and he will run some deep counts against hitters – something that could get him exposed at the major league level – but for now he has enough stuff to miss bats and could stick on the 40 man roster for now. Either way, it was a pretty nice season for Perez as far as uptick in stuff and bat missing abilities.
RHP Jerson Ramirez
2021 Level: Low-A Lynchburg/High-A Lake County
Stats: 50IP/36G – 2.34 ERA/3.00 ERA/0.94 WHIP – 69K/19BB – 34.2K%-9.4BB%
Ramirez started the year in Low-A Lynchburg as the closer and was on a big run of scoreless outings to start the year, over nine innings. Finally he was promoted Lake County and wasn’t quite as dominant, but was still very good. He missed bats with a fastball that ran 91-94 and two sliders. He uses one slider that’s slower to get swings and misses, and a faster, tighter one that he throws for strikes. Cleveland had him pitching multi-inning outings quite a few times, going 1+ and up to three innings in some games, which is interesting and a good sign for his ability. Unfortunately Ramirez’s season ended a little early with an elbow injury and his status on health is TBD right now, but it was still an impressive season for the right hander. He’s Rule 5 eligible this winter, and if a team can stash him on the IL if his elbow injury is serious, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him drafted. But the word on his medicals might be pretty mum right now.
IBI 2021 Relief prospect of the year – LHP Francisco Perez
Honorable mention: LHP Anthony Gose, RHP Zach Hart, LHP Tim Herrin, RHP Aaron Pinto