Cleveland Indians pitching prospect Ryan Merritt was the hero of the 2016 ALCS. Now, he’s back in the minors and here’s an update on his 2017 campaign.
The Cleveland Indians were facing a crisis heading into Game 5 of the 2016 ALCS. The team had literally no experienced starting pitcher available due to injuries.
Up 3-1, needing just one more win to reach the organization’s first World Series since 1997, the team turned to soft-throwing rookie left-hander Ryan Merritt.
Merritt did not disappoint as he tossed 4.1 innings of scoreless, two-hit baseball.
With a potent Toronto Blue Jays lineup ready to dig their way out of a 3-1 hole at home, the Tribe rookie certainly wasn’t shaking in his boots. Heading into this historic start, Merritt had compiled just 11 innings of work at the big-league level.
It was the only appearance for the Texan in the postseason, but he was sure to make his mark.
Baseball America ranks him as the No. 22 prospect in the Cleveland Indians’ farm system. Barring injury, Merritt entered spring training with virtually no chance of making the big-league opening day roster.
Currently, Merritt is at Triple-A Columbus. Here’s a quick rundown on Merritt’s specs from my profile of the lefty last October:
"He holds four pitches in his arsenal: an upper-80s fastball, curveball, slider and changeup- his strongest pitch, according to MLB Pipeline. No one will ever confuse Merritt for Clayton Kershaw. He pitches to contact, as his career average of 6.19 strikeouts per nine innings would suggest. Merritt has displayed excellent command during his professional career, walking only 108 batters in 684 1/3 career Minor League innings.The most accurate MLB comparison for Merritt would be Indians starter Josh Tomlin. Like Tomlin, Merritt’s ability to stay in the strike zone and limit walks is his biggest strength."
According to milb.com, in four starts with the Columbus Clippers this season, Merritt is 2-1 with a 4.64 ERA and 1.78 WHIP. During his last start against the Buffalo Bisons, the 25-year old was knocked around for nine hits, four earned runs, while uncharacteristically walking three batters.
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Command, Merritt’s most valuable asset, has gone awry at the beginning of 2017.
Despite his 2-1 record, Merritt is averaging 3.8 walks-per-nine innings, while his MiLB career average is 1.49. Opponents have mustered 29 hits against the Clippers’ starter in just 21.1 innings, leading to an ugly .333 opponents batting average.
It’s safe to say the 2017 campaign has not been kind to Merritt thus far.
That said, I expect to see Merritt turn things around. His ability to throw strikes didn’t just vanish.
Like Josh Tomlin, Merritt’s struggles become accentuated with his lack of velocity. I don’t expect the 2016 ALCS-hero to ever become a top of the rotation guy. Yet, developing into a dependable, back-end starting pitcher is well within reach for Merritt.
Unless an injury occurs to the Indians’ starting rotation, or Tomlin and Trevor Bauer struggle, Merritt won’t see significant time in the majors. Although, the likelihood of seeing Merritt in a spot-start or two is high, that is of course he’s able to regain his command.