The Cleveland Indians have promoted right-hander Danny Salazar to the major league roster, and he'll make his debut in the Show today with an afternoon start against the Toronto Blue Jays at Progressive Field. Salazar did not receive a large amount of press pre-season outside of Indians circles. As Let's Go Tribe tells us, that is changing, with Salazar garnering recent attention from Baseball America for instance, but he's a good example of how talent can seemingly come out of nowhere. Let's take a look at him as today's Prospect of the Day.
Salazar was originally signed by the Indians out of the Dominican Republic back in 2006. He performed well in the Dominican Summer League in 2007 (1.96 ERA in 64 innings), and remained effective after moving up to the Gulf Coast League for 2008 (2.87 ERA, 43/13 K/BB in 53 innings). 2009 didn't go as well, with a 4.44 ERA in 107 innings for Low-A Lake County, with 114 hits allowed and a sagging 65/40 K/BB ratio.
He returned to Lake County in 2010 but was limited to 32 innings by a sore elbow. This eventually required Tommy John surgery, costing him almost all of 2011 on rehab. The recovery went well, so well that the Indians feared he would be claimed by some other nosy team in the December '11 Rule 5 draft. They protected him on the 40-man roster, which drew some "huh?" attention at the time, but the Tribe knew what they were doing.
Salazar returned to action in 2012 and looked better than he did before his injury, posting a 2.68 ERA with a 53/19 K/BB in 54 innings for High-A Carolina, followed by a 1.85 ERA with a 23/8 K/BB in 34 innings in Double-A with Akron. Scouting reports were more positive, too; more on that in a second. 2013 has been even more successful: a 2.67 ERA with a 51/10 K/BB in 34 innings for Akron, followed by a 3.40 ERA with a 49/13 K/BB in 42 innings for Triple-A Columbus. He's posted an excellent 100/23 K/BB in 76 innings this year.
Born January 11, 1990 in Santo Domingo, DR, Salazar isn't a huge guy at 6-0, 190, but he has plenty of arm strength, clocked as high as 100 MPH and working regularly in the mid-90s. He's always had good velocity, but he came back stronger after surgery. He has a very good changeup, but the real key has been improvement of his breaking ball. This was poor early in his career (reflected in his weak strikeout rates in A-ball), but he's made great strides with it over the last year. It is variously described as a slider or power curve, but it is effective when he's on, and he's usually been on in '13.
Here's a good look at his delivery:
He repeats his mechanics better than he did earlier in his career, which enhances his command. The fact that his strikeout rate held up in Triple-A is also a good sign for the quality of his secondary pitches.
It has been generally assumed that Salazar was destined for the bullpen due to his injury history and the previous problems with the breaking ball. Indeed, the Indians remain cautious with his pitch counts and he's averaged less than five innings per start in Triple-A, despite his otherwise dominating numbers. There's been some talk that Salazar is being showcased for a trade, but is also entirely plausible that Salazar can help the Indians in the second half on his own terms.