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.
It’s hard to find any Cleveland Indians fan that will speak positively about the team’s trade involving C.C. Sabathia in July 2008. That was the trade that was supposed to replenish the farm system and jumpstart the team’s rebuilding process.
More than four years later, it’s clear that the trade did neither of those things. While the main two pieces acquired for Sabathia were Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley, a secondary piece in the trade, along with Zack Jackson, was Rob Bryson.
At the time, a lot was expected of the right-handed Bryson. Bryson was a power arm and seemed to have the ability needed to get batters out at the Major League level.
Fast forward four years later and Bryson seems to have plateaued as a prospect. He has spent time at the Double-A level during each of the previous three seasons, and he has yet to throw one professional pitch at the Triple-A level.
A once promising pitching prospect seems to have been relegated to the status of an organizational solider. Bryson has had his ups-and-downs throughout his minor league career, yet he is coming off a fantastic 2012 campaign. The only problem is it may be too little too late.
Bryson was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 31st round of the 2006 Draft. The Newark, DE native then made his debut the following year in the Pioneer League with the Brewers’ Rookie-level affiliate, Helena. Bryson showed why he could potentially be a promising prospect that summer as he posted a 2.67 ERA in 54 innings as a 19-year-old in the league. He also showed the ability to rack up strikeouts (11.7 K/9), and his control was quite impressive considering his age (2.0 BB/9).
It was during the next season that Bryson was acquired by the Indians. Unfortunately, the transition was not a smooth one for Bryson, and it likely was no fault of his own. Toward the end of the season, Bryson suffered a tear to his right labrum and rotator cuff. Bryson had surgery in the offseason because of the injury, but it ultimately resulted in him pitching just three innings during the 2009 season.
However, thankfully things really started to look up for Bryson during the 2010 season. Healthy once more, Bryson seemed to return to the mound with a renewed confidence. His bulldog mentality ensured that he would not be scared of any hitters, and he really seemed to start to reap the benefits of his work.
In 53 1/3 innings of work between Single-A Lake County, High-A Kinston and Double-A Akron, Bryson posted a 2.53 ERA while striking out 13.5 batters per nine innings. The performance was especially encouraging because it seemed to at least serve as some evidence that the Indians might be able to get more from the Sabathia trade than the team originally expected.
Bryson appeared to be a legit Major League prospect at this point and even a player that fans might possibly see in Cleveland in 2011. But then the injury bug bit. Again.
Bryson broke his right foot while working out before the start of spring training that year, and his season immediately became an uphill battle. He began the season in Lake County before eventually being promoted to Kinston and then Akron. The problem was that he was back in the exact same position that he was in the previous season. The foot injury basically prevented him from making any movement in the system and getting any closer to Cleveland. The numbers were still good (2.29 ERA in 39 1/3 innings), but he seemed to be getting passed over for other options.
It was once believed that Bryson could be a late-inning relief prospect, but it was now debatable as to whether he was even a prospect at all.
Bryson’s recently completed 2012 season was another fine one. In 43 games and 65 1/3 innings of work with Akron, Bryson posted a 2.62 ERA while striking out 10.5 batters per nine innings. The problem is that Bryson posted the numbers at the same place where he had posted similarly strong numbers during the previous two seasons.
Also, there seems to be evidence that the Indians were not overly impressed by Bryson’s performance since they never decided to promote him to Triple-A Columbus or Cleveland.
However, even though he was not promoted, Bryson continued to perform well all year, which also seems to be indicative of his strong work ethic. Bryson continues to impress this winter in the Puerto Rican Winter League. So far, in 15 games and 15 1/3 innings of work, Bryson has only allowed five hits while striking out 19 and walking seven.
Winter statistics should not be bought into too much, but the performance is quite impressive nonetheless. It would be interesting to know if the strong winter has helped his prospect standing at all because it certainly has not hurt it.
It’s hard not to like Bryson. On the surface, he seems to have a lot of the traits that you would want from a high-level relief prospect. Bulldog mentality? Check. Mid-to-high 90s fastball? Check. Wipeout slider? Check.
However, Bryson is unfortunately living proof of how injuries can derail a promising career. He has performed well as a minor leaguer, but injuries have taken their toll and at 25-years-old, age is no longer on Bryson’s side.
With other relief prospects like Shawn Armstrong, Trey Haley and C.C. Lee, it unfortunately seems as if Bryson has been passed in the pecking order. Otherwise, he would have definitely been pitching last season at Columbus.
But while he has yet to pitch at the Triple-A level, that does not mean that Bryson does not have a Major League future. Unfortunately, that future just may not come with the Indians.
Bryson is set to become a minor league free agent following next season, and he will be free to sign with any team. Because of his stuff, he is a sure bet to be scooped up by some team in search of cheap, relief pitching options. Hopefully, Bryson makes the most of his opportunity. I’m sure I won’t be the only Indians fan cheering him on.
Previous Then & Now profiles:
- Dec. 26, 2012: Giovanni Soto
- Dec. 18, 2012: Thomas Neal
- Dec. 11, 2012: Chris McGuiness
- Dec. 8, 2012: Trey Haley
- Nov. 27, 2012: Adam Abraham
- Nov. 20, 2012: Jesus Aguilar
- Nov. 15, 2012: Cord Phelps
- Nov. 6, 2012: Tim Fedroff
- Nov. 2, 2012: T.J. McFarland
- Oct. 27, 2012: Chen-Hsiu Chen
- Oct. 16, 2012: Danny Salazar
- Oct. 10, 2012: Paolo Espino
- Oct. 5, 2012: Jared Goedert
- Sept. 24, 2012: Hector Rondon
- Sept. 17, 2012: Nick Weglarz