Cleveland Indians Player Profile: Who is Kyle Nelson?

Cleveland Indians hat (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Cleveland Indians hat (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Indians recently selected the contract of left-handed pitcher Kyle Nelson from the team’s alternate site, but who is Kyle Nelson?

September always seems to bring some interesting prospect call-ups that are in some cases unexpected, but in the case of the Cleveland Indians this season they made one that left many fans asking “Who?”

The Tribe was in need of a bullpen arm after struggle struck reliever Adam Cimber, who was optioned to the alternate site on September 9. Despite having more familiar options in players like Cam Hill or Logan Allen, the Indians instead purchased the contract Kyle Nelson, a relatively unknown prospect to most fans who wasn’t even on the 40-man roster.

The Indians drafted Nelson in the 15th round of the 2017 Amateur Draft out of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Now 24 years old, Nelson will have a shot in the majors leagues, joining one of the better bullpens in the game this season.

A left-handed reliever, Nelson has made 96 appearances in the minors since joining the Indians’ organization in 2017. Most of his time has been spent at either Single-A or Double-A, but he’s pitched at almost every level up until this point.

His biggest sample size comes from his time with the Lake County Captains in 2018 where he pitched in 25 games. Over those 25 games, Nelson tossed 35.1 innings, striking out 51 batters, accounting for 48% of his outs. He was also able to log six saves on the year while maintaining a 0.76 ERA, allowing just three earned runs on the year, and a 0.85 WHIP, walking just two.

With the Akron Rubberducks in 2019 Nelson continued to thrive on the mound out of the bullpen. Appearing in 23 games, he pitched 26 innings for Akron, striking out 36 batters to keep his strikeout percentage at 46%. His ERA jumped a bit, going up to 3.12, as did his WHIP at 1.00.

Nelson was also given a brief stint with the Columbus Clippers in 2019 and most likely would have spent 2020 there as well had there been minor league baseball this year. Over 11 games with the Clippers, Nelson totaled 12 innings and 16 strikeouts, meaning 44% of his outs were via strikeout. His ERA and WHIP both stabilized to standard bullpen numbers with a 2.25 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP.

So, what does Nelson bring to the Cleveland Indians’ bullpen? The obvious answer is a left-handed pitcher. As it currently stands, Nelson joins just Brad Hand and Oliver Perez as the only three left-handed pitchers not only in the Tribe’s bullpen, but on their entire active roster.

As the closer, Hand is restricted to the last inning of most games, leaving Perez as the only left-handed option for the Cleveland Indians to turn to on the mound. Although Nelson doesn’t have a role cut out yet, he will be able to join Perez as another option when a left-handed pitcher is needed.

One thing that stands out on Nelson’s stat sheet at all levels that could be an intriguing point in the majors is his saves. At every level he has earned at least one save. In college he totaled 12 and in the minors he has 17.

Recently, the Indians have been using Hand three, four days in a row and Nelson could assist in that area as well. Being a left-handed pitcher, he fits into a similar mold as Hand and could be an option on days that Hand needs off.

To the same point, he could also become a setup man, joining Nick Wittgren and James Karinchak in the seventh and eighth innings. Karinchak and Nelson have almost moved up the ranks together, both coming out of the 2017 Draft and being 24 years old. With Karinchak being right-handed and Nelson left, they could form a great one-two punch out of the bullpen in the late innings for years to come.

Given his quick rise through the minors and his ability in the later innings, Nelson will be an intriguing player to follow down the stretch. He brings a versatility to the Indians’ bullpen that has been lacking this year and he could become a key player in certain situations as the Tribe aims to once again be crowned AL Central Champions at the season’s conclusion.

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