No. 4 Starter Watch: Indians

Sorry about missing this one! Sheldon Ocker:

    The clock is running on Mitch Talbot.

    By the time a player is 26, he needs to make a move to establish himself in a big-league career. But Talbot turned 26 in October and despite having won 13 games in consecutive Triple-A seasons, he had little to look forward to.

    Talbot might still be stuck in the Tampa Bay Rays' farm system if not for two fortuitous events: He ran out of options and could not be sent to the minors without clearing waivers, and the Indians were looking for a team to take catcher Kelly Shoppach.

    The Rays got Shoppach, and the Tribe acquired Talbot. Initially, it appeared to be a trade strictly of convenience, with the Rays dealing a pitcher they might lose on waivers, and the Indians getting rid of a catcher due for a large raise because he was eligible for arbitration.

    But it soon became clear that the Indians had obtained a pitcher about whom they thought highly, a pitcher who might land in the rotation. That became a reality last Friday, when manager Manny Acta made it official: Talbot will join starters Jake Westbrook, Fausto Carmona and Justin Masterson with one vacancy yet to be filled.


    If there was a flaw in Talbot's repertoire, it was his slider.

    "I was just developing a slider the past two years," he said. "I already threw a curveball, but my pitching coach said he didn't like it very much. It wasn't very sharp."

    The curveball has been put away in the attic, and the slider apparently has advanced to the point where it is a usable pitch.

    "I would throw a couple of good ones here and there," Talbot said of his early trials with the pitch. "It was getting close last year, then I got hurt. I threw it in fall ball, and now it feels pretty good. From what I hear [pitching coach] Tim Belcher is pretty excited about it."

Talbot's got essentially two-and-a-half seasons in Triple-A, and his numbers have been fairly consistent: 4.23 ERA, 2.7 walks and 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings. He's given up few homers, only 25 in 376 innings. It's a good record, but not a great one. As Sickels writes, "Nothing about him is spectacular, but he throws strikes and uses what he has to good effect. He's an older prospect ... but it wouldn't surprise me to see him pitch surprisingly well, sort of like Randy Wells did with the Cubs last year."

The Wells comparison is a good one. Talbot's one year younger than Wells (who got his shot with the Cubs last spring). In 309 Triple-A innings, Wells has a 4.28 ERA with 3.1 walks and 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings. He wasn't as stingy with the home runs as Talbot, giving up 34.

But before we go jumping to any crazy conclusions, it's worth mentioning that Wells, though a wonderful surprise to just about everyone, probably isn't as good as his 3.05 ERA with the Cubs last season might suggest. While he kept his home run and walk rates down, his strikeout rate also fell. I've looked at three projections, and all have Wells with an ERA in the 4.25-4.50 range this season.

Which seems reasonable for Talbot, except with an American League cherry on top. Which means an ERA somewhat north of 4.50 but south of 5.00 ... and that's perfectly acceptable for a fifth starter pitching for a team that lost 97 games last year.