3 pitchers who could replace Zach Plesac in the Cleveland Guardians rotation
The case for Zach Plesac to remain on the Cleveland Guardians’ roster at the beginning of the season was flimsy at best. And while it was just one start, it couldn’t have gone worse for the fifth starting pitcher in Cleveland’s rotation. A sometimes erratic history during his four seasons with the big-league club has all but run out its leash with the fans and, in some cases, Terry Francona.
Plesac has fallen from someone who could be a solid trade piece that would net a good return, a middle-of-the-rotation piece that could, at times, dazzle, and frustrate opposing teams into a sub-.500 pitcher with an ERA above four.
He’s coming close to losing his spot in the major-league rotation. Despite having three more years of arbitration left on his rookie deal, Plesac could be out the door soon. He’s no longer a hot-shot pitcher highlighting the Guardians’ stellar ability to pump out pitching talent from nowhere. After falling flat on his face Monday night against the Oakland Athletics, Plesac simply turned in another, glaring example of why he’s basically an okay pitcher at best whose peak isn’t nearly as high as everyone felt it might be four years ago.
The Guardians could always stash him in the bullpen and see if he revives his career, a similar move they’ve pulled with Carlos Carrasco, Eli Morgan and Sam Hentges in recent years. Cleveland could also choose the drastic move of DFA-ing him, effectively ending his time with the organization, or even trade him if there’s still any value out there (though I doubt there is little).
So who could ultimately replace him? It’s likely the Guardians will take their time with who slides into the five spot and try out a few pitchers before landing on someone in the middle of the season. Maybe it just becomes a carousel of whoever the Guardians feel is well-rested and able to plug in for a fine outing.
There are plenty of options in Cleveland, Columbus and even not currently on the 40-man roster. Here’s who I believe are the three most likely candidates to fill in for Plesac once the Guardians pull the trigger on his ultimate - and overdue - demise. These picks are permanent. I like stability.
Fine, call it recency bias. Curry was the saving grace last night that allowed Cleveland to hang around long enough and play their way into a win. After getting drafted out of Georgia Tech, Curry quickly climbed through Cleveland’s system and made his major-league debut last year. Through two starts, he allowed 13 hits, seven runs and had a 5.79 ERA through 9.1 innings pitched. Not exactly a world-beating stat line. He’s still extremely raw as a MLB pitcher and is going to take his lumps if he wins the starting spot, but I do think his minor-league success and rapid ascent show he’s worthy of a chance.
He had a 17-5 record through 44 minor-league games and compiled a 3.28 ERA with 257 strikeouts and a 1.07 WHIP. Curry won a spot on the major-league roster over some really talented up-and-coming pitchers and flashes three solid pitches (fastball, slider, curveball) all rated at least a 50 on FanGraphs. It’s likely that he’ll become a pitch-to-contact starter, but despite the error and miscommunications last night from Cleveland’s infield, it’s fair to place trust into its fielders throughout the season.
This move also ensures that Plesac doesn’t need to be cut or traded. He can essentially swap roles with Curry or become a back-end piece that could come in for an inning of relief. I believe the Guardians have enough depth in their bullpen to let Curry go three or four innings early as a starter before building up enough trust to let him run wild by July.
Cleveland tapped Gaddis out of the gate to take over Triston McKenzie’s spot in the rotation after moving Dr. Sticks to the IL. Though it’s likely that he won’t remain as the No. 2 pitcher in the rotation for much longer, the Guardians are giving Gaddis the chance to show - while maintaining continuity with the other four starters - that he is worthy of a spot in the rotation. He has a leg up on everyone else in the organization on filling in that final spot, so it’s plausible that he’d overtake Plesac’s role.
He is also a strikeout machine, finishing his minor-league career with 338 strikeouts through 57 games. Though he did allow four runs in his first start of the season on Friday, he put together a solid spring training, mostly from the bullpen, to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster. I need to see a little bit more from him in his next outing, namely a few less runs, to feel better about a permanent spot in the rotation, but I think the chance is there.
Gaddis has gradually gotten extended on the mound throughout his time in the organization, but still wouldn’t be truly reliable past about five innings. I like it, but I am more wary about him than Curry as someone who can keep the ball in the infield during a start.
Peyton Battenfield, Logan Allen, or Tanner Bibee
If Cleveland decides to trade Plesac or even waive him, it opens up the possibility to pull up someone from Triple-A and select their contract onto the 40-man roster. This is an outside chance, but an opportunity to further the progression of a couple of guys that have been waiting in the wings for an opening. It’s likely that Battenfield would get the nod if this is the case because he spent last season in Columbus and is probably the most major-league-ready option, but Allen and Bibee have really impressed and can seriously be long-term rotational options.
Battenfield was really close to making his major-league debut last year, but took a step back in Columbus with a 3.63 ERA while allowing 17 home runs last year. The big righty could really struggle in the majors with his fastball, graded at only a 40 by FanGraphs, but he could eat a bunch of innings in that five spot. Allen only logged 14 games last year in Triple-A and struggled mightily through 59.2 innings in which he allowed 43 earned runs and 29 walks while striking out 73 batters. He might need a bit more seasoning at Columbus before the Guardians are confident enough in him to give him a spot on the 40-man, let alone the starting rotation.
Bibee might have the most upside of these three players and is likely to see a major-league call-up at some point this season. In just two seasons, he’s made his way from a fifth-round pick out of California State-Fullerton to a spot on Columbus’s roster and serious consideration for a spot on the 40-man roster. He compiled a microscopic 1.83 ERA last year in 13 starts at Akron, including a complete game and 81 strikeouts. Bibee is realistically someone that the Guardians would like to see spend this year in Triple-A before starting his clock at the major-league level, but if Cleveland really wanted to take a chance, Bibee is the guy.