Breaking Down the Relievers - Part Two

Michael Powers was strong as the K-Mets closer

InsidePitchMagazine.com continues its analysis of positions up and down the roster, this time focusing on the relievers. With an army of pitchers in the bullpen across the organization, we key on a dozen hurlers that have the highest ceiling, are closest to the big leagues, the sleepers, and more. Here is Part Two.

Need to Make Their Move:

Ryan Coultas: One of the biggest surprises in any of the organization's bullpens was Coultas' rapid transition from utility infielder to hard-throwing reliever. A light-hitting shortstop in his previous life, at 6-foot-3, 180-pounds he pumped his 93-94 MPH right over the heart of the plate without fear and backed it up with a sharper-than-expected breaking pitch.

He suffered through inconsistent months last season with St. Lucie, but considering it was his first year on the mound, Coultas showed very good resiliency and stamina, appearing in 47 games and totaling 69 innings. The move to the mound extended his time in the organization and his fastball velocity should continue to keep him in the mix. He will need further improvements with his slider and a somewhat reliable changeup to be considered a long-term option.

Steven Cheney: The 22-year-old right-hander selected in 2006 had a quality season with Brooklyn in 2007, but the jump straight to St. Lucie seemed to be too much. Cheney was sent down to Savannah in late April which turned out to be a favorable move as he flourished in the South Atlantic League. With four pitches in his repertoire, but trimming it to three, Cheney went 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in 28 innings.

It was his excellent control that really stood out as he struck out 38 and walked only three. That was a stark difference after floundering with St. Lucie where he allowed 23 hits in 13 1/3 innings and posted a 6.75 ERA. Cheney should get another crack at St. Lucie this season, but he will find much tougher sledding as many young arms will compete for a limited amount of spots and he can ill-afford another slow start.

Jake Ruckle: The right-hander perhaps best known for his very unorthodox delivery was a trusted swingman for his first three seasons. In 2008, he finally got the opportunity to move into the rotation and served as the fourth man in the Binghamton rotation. Yet the problems started early on as he felt discomfort in his shoulder during Spring Training. After six unglamorous starts, Ruckle was knocked out for the year with a tear in his labrum.

The improvements he demonstrated leading up to the injury should give him the opportunity to work his way back onto the Binghamton staff, but competition has become much tighter at the level. Ruckle, who claimed full range of motion in September, will need to come back 100 percent and ready to contribute on day one to hold off his peers.

German Marte: In his younger days, Marte was able to hit 92-93 MPH on his fastball, but velocity has disappeared in recent years as he now sits in the mid-80s. He would be in a much better position had he retained that heat to go along with a very tough high-70s changeup with excellent command and an average, big league slider. He decelerated fastball has stalled a once promising future and after struggling in Binghamton last season, Marte has the look of a useful system arm but time and opportunities may have passed him by.

Honorable Mention: Phillips Orta

Jury Is Still Out:

Junior Guerra: Even with the recent news of his 50-game suspension, and his ranking in this year's Top 50, Guerra is still a significant project. His high heat is the reason for his move to the mound and high regard but lacking secondary pitches limit him. Once he harnesses his breaking ball, Guerra could move very quickly yet right now there is no telling how his long layoff will affect his game.

Michael Powers: The 31st round pick in the 2008 draft was the reliable fireman in the Kingsport bullpen, holding down the closers role and striking out 20 in 21 innings pitched. Powers does not feature an overpowering fastball or a steep breaking pitch, but has very good command and attacks the strike zone. He will be further tested at higher levels where his performance will offer a better look at his long-term value.

Jeff Kaplan: Kaplan's first season was a story of two halves as he allowed 15 earned runs over his first 25 innings before settling down and limiting the opposition to two earned runs over his final 17 2/3 frames. The difference came after Kaplan was moved exclusively to the bullpen. As a reliever he kept hitters at a .204 pace and induced a higher rate of ground balls as a fresher arm allowed him to stay on top of his sinking fastball. He suffered from a dead arm period during the season and should return fresher in 2009, but his ultimate role has yet to be decided.

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