In the next couple of months, the Royals’ roster is going to be undergoing some changes. Dayton Moore will be adding and subtracting players via free agency, trades, waivers, and the like. Over the coming weeks, I’ll periodically be looking at what players currently on the 40 man roster with which the front office may choose to cut ties in order to make room for players who could help the Royals in 2014. At the end of each player review, I’ll tell you if I think the Royals should cut the player (trade, DFA, non-tender, etc.) or keep him.
When the Royals claimed Maikel Cleto off of waivers from the Cardinals this past June, the general consensus on the move was “Who?” followed by a shrug of the shoulders. Cleto was signed as an international free agent by the Yankees in 2006, and after bouncing around a couple of teams in relative anonymity via trades, he spent the second half of his 2013 season in Omaha, appearing in 19 games for the Storm Chasers, including 1 start. In those 38 innings, Cleto did what he’s seemingly done for his entire career: strike batters out. He struck out 8.53 batters per 9 innings, which is just a tick above his career number in the minors. As a matter of fact, Cleto has not had a strikeout percentage below 20% at any level since 2010, when he was in the Mariners’ organization.
That ability to miss bats has translated to the major league level as well, albeit in a very, very limited sample size. In 15.2 career innings as a big leaguer, Cleto has 26 strikeouts.
That’s a lot.
Cleto primarily uses his slider as his strikeout pitch, although he also relies on a fastball and sinker, both of which sit in the mid-to-upper 90s. When you combine all of that, you can see why the Royals added him to their roster.
But when you look at the rest of the picture, you can see why the Cardinals didn’t want him on their roster.
Cleto has struggled tremendously with walks, issuing 4.3 of them per 9 innings in his minor league career. In his 3 seasons and 216.1 innings at the AAA level, that number jumped to 5.8 walks per 9 innings. And in 2013, Cleto issued 74 walks in 91.1 innings pitched.
That’s a lot.
With all of those baserunners aboard, it’s not a shock to see that Cleto’s ERA for the season was 5.52.
However, his ERA in Omaha was significantly better, sitting at 3.55. Also, despite pitching in a very hitter friendly league, Cleto was able to keep the ball in the ballpark, only allowing 5 home runs in his 91.1 innings. The final point in Cleto’s favor is his age. He’s only 24 years old, meaning he still has time to harness his impressive stuff and become an effective major league pitcher.
Final decision on Cleto: Keep him. You can never have too many relievers who throw gas. Cleto has the kind of repertoire that could play very well in Kansas City, as long as he is able to command it better than he has in the past. I do have doubts about that happening, but I’m a sucker for young guys who can miss bats. The Royals wouldn’t be in terrible shape if they do release him, but the appeal of Cleto’s upside is enough for him to keep his spot at this time.