Prospect Retro: Fausto Carmona
Fausto Carmona was signed by the Cleveland Indians as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2000. He didn't make his North American debut until 2002, going 2-4, 3.30 with a 42/10 K/BB ratio in 76 innings for Burlington in the Appalachian League, allowing 89 hits. He showed very good control, but his strikeout rate was also very low and he was quite hittable. I didn't put him in the '03 book: at this point he was your basic Grade C rookie-level pitching prospect. He wasn't in Baseball America's book either.
Carmona moved up to Lake County in the Sally League in 2003 and had a great year, going 17-4, 2.06 with an 83/14 K/BB in 148 innings, allowing just 117 hits. His walk rate and command were outstanding, but again the strikeout rate was low. He was hitting 93-95 MPH at times for Lake County, but his breaking ball and changeup were below average. He dominated because he could throw a mid-90s fastball for strikes at will, but the lack of Ks warned that refinement would be needed. I wrote that "the low K-rate concerns me, but everything else is positive, he is very young, and his command is extraordinary given his age and experience level." I gave him a Grade B.
The Indians began Carmona in the Carolina League for Kinston in 2004, where he posted a 2.83 ERA and a 57/20 K/BB in 70 innings. Promoted to Double-A Akron, he struggled, going 4-8, 4.97 with a 63/21 K/BB and 114 hits allowed in 87 innings. He was still showing the 90-95 MPH power sinker, and he improved his changeup, but his breaking ball remained a major problem and Double-A hitters exposed this. I gave him a Grade C+, but noted that he was very talented and still very young, and that the first indicator of progress would be a rising strikeout rate.
Carmona split 2005 between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Buffalo. He went 6-5, 4.07 with a 57/20 K/BB but 100 hits allowed in 91 innings for Akron, 7-4, 3.25 with a 49/15 K/BB and 76 hits allowed in 83 innings for Buffalo. I wasn't sure what to make of him, given that the Triple-A numbers were considerably better than the Double-A numbers. Scouts continued to praise his sinker and changeup and continued to worry about his breaking ball, which was reflected in the K/IP. But he continued to throw strikes with the sinker and get grounders. I gave him another C+, but wrote that it was a copout grade and that I didn't have a good feel for what Carmona would do in the majors. I could see him as a big success, and I could see him as a major failure.
Carmona spent most of 2006 with the Indians and did not pitch well at all, going 1-10, 5.42. But this year he completely turned things around with a 19-8, 3.06 season (ERA+ of 145) with a 137/61 K/BB. He gets grounders, he throws strikes, and even the strikeout rate is creeping up as his slider has improved. He's got three good pitches now, and as long as he stays healthy I see no reason why he can't be effective for a long time.