There is no question that the Cleveland Indians have a lot of starting pitching depth at the major league level and throughout their system, but a need for relievers is still present, and many fans are still concerned about the future of the pen. Kieran Lovegrove is a guy that some people may not have heard of. Cam Hill, another reliever at Triple-A, has garnered some attention, but Lovegrove has had a nice season with Akron and shouldn’t be overlooked.
A look at his Pitching Arsenal
Lovegrove features a fastball that sits at around 95-96 mph. He can run it up to 98 to blow it by hitters. His fastball command is something that could use work, however. He has a change-up that is in need of a lot more work before it is major league ready. The changeup is around 89-90 mph and works well against lefties. Lastly, he has a slider that is anywhere from low to mid 80’s in speed. He uses this pitch to get hitters to chase most of the time. The biggest thing he will need to work on before he gets to the bigs is his control of pitches (15.4% walk rate in Double-A), but he has the stuff to get there.
Years as a Starter
Lovegrove was selected by the Indians in the third round of the 2012 MLB Draft when he was just 17. He was drafted right out of high school and didn’t have a very smooth minor league experience. His first season in rookie ball was quick and saw some struggles. As a starter, Lovegrove posted a 6.00 ERA over 21 innings. His FIP wasn’t anything to be excited about either at 4.71. One positive was his strikeouts per nine which were 7.71, however, his rookie season wasn’t much to get excited about at all.
In 2013 he remained with the Indians rookie team and pitched 58.1 innings. He saw an improvement in ERA (5.25), but his FIP was a 5.21. He saw a small increase in strikeouts per nine but also saw his walks per nine increase. It was a disappointing season for Lovegrove, but he was still promoted to the Indians Single-A short-season affiliate following the year.
With Mahoning Valley in 2014, he pitched 30 innings and once again saw an improvement in ERA (3.90). However, his strikeouts per nine were down and his walks per nine had jumped up to almost seven.
In 2015, he had a season full of injuries and setbacks, including a hip surgery. He was 1-8 as a starter and his numbers were nothing worth mentioning. After four seasons, Lovegrove hadn’t shown any signs of being a major leaguer one day. Credit to the Indians though; they continued to be patient with his development.
Transition to the Bullpen
Entering his fifth season in the minors, Lovegrove was promoted to Single-A Lake County, but this time it wasn’t going to be as a starter. He had a new job as a reliever. In relief, he saw a significant jump in strikeouts per nine (8.14) and a slight drop in walks per nine at 4.07. His opponent average was .251 which isn’t anything to get excited about, but being a bullpen pitcher was a new role.
The Indians decided it was time he go up another level for the 2017 season, Lovegrove pitched with Class-A Advanced-Lynchburg. If you look at his ERA, you may think he didn’t transition over well, but relievers ERA can be deceiving. His opponent average was down to .231, his whip was down, his strikeouts per nine increased, and his walks per nine stayed about the same. As a reliever, you can have a few really bad innings and that can destroy your ERA.
Take Cody Allen, for example, this year, he has slightly elevated numbers across the board, but his ERA has jumped from 2.94 a season ago to 4.22 this season. If you don’t look at the rest of the numbers, you may think he is having a really poor season, which is not the case. However, he has had a few really bad outings where he has gotten bombed, causing the jump in ERA.
This year has been a breakthrough year for the 24-year-old right-hander. He started the season at Class-A Advanced and in 17.1 innings he posted a 1.56 ERA. His strikeouts per nine saw a drastic improvement (12.98) and his walks per nine saw a significant decrease (2.08). His opponent average was also impressive at just .188. He was even selected to participate in the MLB Futures game during All-Star weekend.
In the middle of the season, he was called up to Double-A Akron. His ERA is 3.94 in 29.2 innings. One concern is his walks per nine have jumped up to almost seven. His opponent average with Akron is just .219 though, which is a positive.
The Indians exercised a lot of patience with Lovegrove who was just 17 upon joining the organization and it looks like it could pay off. If it does work, it fills a huge need for the Indians. Despite acquiring Adam Cimber and Brad Hand, it is likely the Indians lose Andrew Miller and Cody Allen during free agency this winter. Lovegrove will likely start out at Triple-A Columbus next year so that he is a little more prepared for the majors if the Indians are desperate for relief pitching again.