Then & Now: Matt Langwell

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.

For the last couple of years, the strength of the Cleveland Indians farm system has been its large amount of relief arms. From Mahoning Valley to Columbus, there is no shortage of promising relief prospects.

Amongst the plethora of talented relief arms is right-hander Matt Langwell, who spent almost the entire 2012 season at Triple-A Columbus.

For five years now, Langwell has been a consistent performer for the Tribe’s various minor league affiliates. While he has yet to make his Major League debut, it seems as if Langwell may now be closer than ever before.

Then:

Langwell was drafted by the Indians out of Rice University in the 11th Round of the 2008 Draft. The Bryan, Texas native then made his debut that season as a starter in the rotation in the Single-A Mahoning Valley rotation.

The results were not pretty.

In 12 games, seven starts and 31 1/3 innings, Langwell was rocked to the tune of a 7.47 ERA. There’s really no exact explanation as to why the Langwell starting experiment failed. Langwell, who throws a fastball, slider and splitter, perhaps just did not have enough pitches to succeed in a starting role. Or, perhaps he was just somewhat overwhelmed by the transition to the professional game.

Nonetheless, Langwell moved to the Single-A Lake County bullpen in 2009, and the rest is history.

In 45 games and 68 1/3 innings of work with the Captains that season, Langwell had a 1.97 ERA and also struck out 8.9 batters per nine innings. Langwell showed the ability to work ahead in the count by pounding the bottom of the strike zone with his hard, sinking fastball. While Langwell may have failed as a starter, he was now showing that he still might be able to make an impact, but in a different role.

His success carried over to 2010 where he posted a 2.41 ERA in 45 games and 56 innings with High-A Kinston. He also was able to increase his strikeout rate (9.3 K/9) and decrease the number of walks issued (2.2 BB/9). The only real question remaining was whether Langwell would be able to carry his success over to the upper levels of the minor leagues.

While his numbers were impressive, at 24-years-old, he was still an older player compared to others at the High-A level. However, if there were any lingering doubts, Langwell quickly silenced them with his 2011 performance.

In 36 games and 50 2/3 innings with Double-A Akron, Langwell posted a 2.66 ERA while striking out 9.6 batters per nine innings. For his efforts, Langwell earned an August promotion to Triple-A Columbus where he posted a 4.00 ERA in 18 innings of work.

Given his performance, Langwell seemed to be a lock to open the 2012 season back with the Clippers and perhaps quickly come onto the radar of the Major League club. Yet, to the surprise of many, Langwell began the 2012 season back in the bullpen at Akron.

Now:

Now, there is no evidence that Langwell was angry about starting the season back at Akron, but his early performance sure seemed to resemble the performance of someone who was pitching angry.

Langwell got off to a torrid start with the Aeros, posting a 0.63 ERA in 10 games and 14 1/3 innings of work. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that Langwell posted the best strikeout rate of his career, punching out 11.3 batters per nine innings.

At this point, it seemed almost inevitable that would rejoin the bullpen in Columbus, and that’s exactly what happened on May 11.

Langwell remained a consistent performer through the remainder of the 2012 season as he recorded a 3.29 ERA in 32 games and 54 2/3 innings of work with the Clippers. He also continued to generate a good amount of swings-and-misses as he averaged 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

In total, Langwell pitched 69 innings between Akron and Columbus in 2012. Another impressive detail is the number of home runs that Langwell allowed during the season: Zero. Yep, the right-hander did not let one ball leave the park in the 2012 season.

Langwell built off his strong regular season by pitching in the Puerto Rican Winter League this winter. In 16 innings, Langwell recorded a 1.13 ERA — the latest accomplishment in what was a stellar year for the Texan.

Future:

Langwell is set to turn 27 on May 6, 2013, so it may be now or never for the right-hander.

Thankfully, there are indications that he will get an opportunity. Langwell is among the Tribe’s non-roster invitees to Major League spring training this season. He may be a long shot to actually make the Major League roster, but the invitation at least indicates that the Indians deem him worthy of a closer look.

The biggest problem for Langwell may be one that he unfortunately cannot control. As stated earlier, the Indians system is filled with promising right-handed relief prospects. The problem is that there are a handful of younger options that the Indians may look to simply because of their age.

The goal for Langwell is to now go out this spring and force the Indians’ hand. Langwell has succeeded at every stop in the minor leagues, so do not be surprised if he surprises this spring.

The team may have a multitude of right-handed relief prospects, but considering his résumé and rise through the system, there may be no prospect more deserving of a Major League opportunity than Langwell. We’ll just have to wait and see if that opportunity comes in 2013.

Previous Then & Now profiles:

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