Then & Now: Trey Haley

Then & Now is a weekly feature at Indians Prospect Insider during the offseason that takes a look at a prospect’s past and present while also offering a possible glimpse into the prospect’s future.

Arms capable of throwing 100 mph certainly do not grow on trees. That’s part of the reason why Trey Haley is such an intriguing Cleveland Indians prospect.

It’s been an up-and-down road throughout the minors for Haley. As a second round choice in the 2008 Draft, expectations were immediately high for Haley, who was selected out of Central Heights High School in Texas.

Since joining the Indians, Haley has been used as both a starter and reliever before settling in as the latter. Today, Haley’s upside remains very high, which has been the case since day one.

The right-hander just completed his fifth season in the Indians system, and there are many in the organization who believe he has the best arm in the entire system. While Haley has certainly had his ups and down since joining the team, everything has really been looking up for the young right-hander as of late.

Then:

To say Haley’s professional baseball career got off to a rocky start may be somewhat of an understatement. After joining the Indians in 2008, Haley made one appearance with the Gulf Coast Indians before making two appearances with Single-A Mahoning Valley. The results were not pretty.

In those two contests, Haley pitched a combined total of just 1 1/3 innings and gave up four hits, eight earned runs and walked six batters. That type of performance is worse than just not pretty — it’s downright repulsive.

Nonetheless, there was a lot of intrigue surrounding Haley’s full-season debut in 2009. That’s what triple digits will do for a player. However, the results were less than desirable. In 19 games and 16 starts at Single-A Lake County, Haley posted a 5.56 ERA. The most concerning part of his performance that year was his walk (7.5 BB/9) and strikeout (6.6 K/9) rates.

Because of his plus-plus fastball, most expected Haley to just mow through hitters and rack up strikeouts. While his strikeout rate was not terrible, it was not in line with expectations, and this point was magnified by the fact that Haley walked almost one more batter per nine innings than he was striking out.

In 2010, Haley spent his second straight season in the Lake County rotation and while there was some improvement in the walk and strikeout area (6.7 BB/9, 7.5 K/9), the numbers were still very disappointing. His ERA of 5.97 that season also actually took a step back from the previous season.

Because of his plus fastball, plus curveball and measurables, many had hoped that Haley might develop into a front-of-the-rotation starter, but his progress to this point suggested that a move to the bullpen may be the better route, at least for the time being.

Thus, that is exactly what the Indians decided to do. The next season, Haley made his debut as a reliever. The results were impressive. In 44 1/3 innings between the AZL Indians, Lake County and High-A Kinston, Haley posted a 3.25 ERA. Better yet, his walk rate (5.1 BB/9) decreased significantly, and his strikeout rate (9.7) increased. Obviously, it was evident that there still was some work to be done in regard to the walks, but the move to the bullpen seemed to be exactly what the doctor ordered.

Since that season, Haley has remained in the bullpen, and the results have been even more impressive.

Now:

Haley’s 2012 season was easily the best of his minor league career. Overall, the right-hander pitched 38 2/3 innings between Arizona, Lake County and Double-A Akron. He struck out 11.4 batters per nine innings, which was a career-high, and he also walked 4.4 batters per nine innings, which was a career-low.

Given the lower rate of free passes allowed, one might believe that Haley finally solved his walk woes, but it’s unfortunately not that simple. Haley ended the 2012 season as a member of Akron’s bullpen, and his walk rate really spiked during that span. In his 15 1/3 innings pitched at Akron, Haley walked 6.5 batters per nine innings. It’s a small sample size, but it is still a large enough sample size to warrant some concern, especially since Haley is now being looked at as a reliever.

The remarkable thing is that despite the enormous walk rate, Haley still posted a 1.76 ERA in those 15 1/3 innings pitched. Essentially, his time at Akron illustrates both the positives and negatives that are still attached to Haley. As evidenced by the low ERA and the fact that he struck out 13.5 batters per nine innings for the Aeros, Haley can be a dominating arm. However, the walks also show how he can be frustrating at times when he is unable to command the zone.

Unfortunately, the walk rate may be a necessary evil. Haley throws 100 mph, possesses a plus-plus fastball and a plus curveball. The Indians could not possibly believe that they could have their cake and eat it too, right?

Future:

Plain and simple, Haley’s future is bright. Very bright.

He will likely spend a majority of the 2013 season at Triple-A Columbus and could be one of the first relievers promoted to Cleveland should a need arise. However, some Tribe fans still hold out that Haley may be destined for another role in Cleveland.

To start or relieve? That remains the question among Tribe fans. Because of his skill set and peripherals, it is easy to see why many are clamoring for Haley to return to the rotation.

But the evidence seems to suggest that Haley is best suited for a bullpen role. While Haley will probably continue to improve on his walk rate, it will likely be an area that he is never able to perfect. In short spurts, his fastball and ability to rack up strikeouts may make the walks at least passable, but it would be hard to believe that Haley could ever have any consistent success if he were walking six batters per nine innings as a starter.

Starter? Reliever? Haley may be destined for success regardless of what role he pitches in. One thing’s for sure: Haley arguably has the best arm in the entire system, and he definitely possesses the best fastball in the system.

It took awhile for the former prized high school pitcher and his 100-mph arm to make it to the upper levels of the minors, but he seems to have finally arrived. The walks may be the only thing between Haley and the Major Leagues, but with a 100-mph fastball, it’s hard to believe even walks can keep him from the big leagues.

Previous Then & Now profiles:

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