Then & Now is a weekly feature at Indians Prospect Insider during the offseason that takes a look at a player’s past and present while also offering a possible glimpse into the player’s future.
The Cleveland Indians have always been an active team when it comes to signing minor league free agents and inviting non-roster players to spring training. This year has been no different and as several IBI writers have already noted, there seems to be a different level of quality present in this year’s crop.
One of this year’s minor league signings that seems to represent the new level of quality is left-handed starting pitcher Scott Kazmir.
It’s hard to believe that Kazmir just turned 29 years of age on January 24. It seems like it was forever ago that Kid K was carving up batters as the ace of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays rotation.
It’s been a long road for Kazmir, and it appears as if it may be a long shot for him to resurrect his career with the Indians. However, age is on his side, and from all indications, it does indeed appear as if he’ll have a chance to compete for the fifth starter’s role in the team’s rotation.
Kazmir was drafted 15th overall by the New York Mets in the 2002 Draft. Kazmir and his plus four-seam fastball and plus slider almost immediately became regarded as one of the top prospects in baseball. In fact, for three straight years, Kazmir found himself among Baseball America’s top 12 prospects (No. 11 in 2003, No. 12 in 2004, No. 7 in 2005).
Kazmir also was leaving quite a mark on the baseball diamond. In 2003, as a 19-year-old in the Mets system, Kazmir combined to go 5-6 with a 2.63 ERA in 109 1/3 innings of work between Single-A Capital City and High-A St. Lucie. He also showed the ability to just rack up strikeouts as he punched out 11.9 batters per nine innings that season.
The following season, Kazmir continued to pitch brilliantly before he was traded to the Devil Rays on July 30, 2004 forVictor Zambrano and Bartolome Fortunado. He made a few starts for Tampa’s Double-A affiliate Montgomery before debuting in September as a member of the Devil Rays’ Major League rotation.
Kazmir’s debut in Tampa was not spectacular (5.67 ERA in 33 1/3 innings of work), but for a 20-year-old, there were still plenty of signs. For instance, his strikeout rate remained steady in the Majors as he struck out 11.1 batters per nine innings. There was work to be done, but it appeared as if the Rays had found themselves an ace for years to come.
In 2005, a 21-year-old Kazmir played his first full season in the Majors. Overall, Kazmir went 10-9 with a 3.77 ERA in 32 starts and 186 innings of work. He also recorded 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings while totaling 174 on the season.
Not everything was perfect that first season, however. Because of his age, Kazmir was basically taking part in on-the-job training and it showed when you consider that he led the league in walks with 100, threw seven wild pitches and hit 10 batters.
But the potential was clearly evident. Over the next three seasons, from 2006 to 2008, Kazmir made 85 starts and earned two appearances in the All-Star Game while going 35-25 with a 3.41 ERA. He also made drastic strides in his command during this period as he walked a total of 211 batters (3.8 BB/9) compared to 568 strikeouts (10.1 K/9).
Though for everything he did well, there were signs that fatigue might be getting to Kazmir. He missed time during the 2008 season with an elbow strain, and he also struggled to consistently go deep into games. Knowing this, perhaps Kazmir’s horrendous 2009 season should not have been the surprise that was.
Kazmir began the season on the disabled list with more elbow problems before being activated in mid April. He then proceeded to go 8-7 with a 5.92 ERA in 20 starts with the Rays, and he was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Angels in August.
Kazmir made six starts for the Angels that year, and it appeared as if the change of scenery did him wonders as he went 2-2 with a 1.73 ERA in 36 1/3 innings of work. However, one concern might have been the fact that Kazmir struck out only 6.4 batters per nine during this stretch, which was a career-low.
Nonetheless, most expected Kazmir’s late season success to carry over to the 2010 season, but that unfortunately was not the case. In 28 starts and 150 innings that year, Kazmir went 9-15 with 5.94 ERA.
Things only got worse the following season where he opened the season by allowing five runs in 1 2/3 innings of work. The left-hander was then sent down to Triple-A Salt Lake where the Angels figured he could continue to work on his mechanics, but the results were no better. In five starts and 15 1/3 innings, Kazmir went 0-5 with a 17.02 ERA. The wheels had officially fallen off.
Finally, on June 15, the Angels released Kazmir and ate the remaining $14.5 million left on his contract. Kazmir had suddenly fallen from grace just as quickly as he rose to prominence.
Kazmir spent the 2012 season pitching with the Sugar Lake Skeeters in the independent Atlantic League. In 14 starts and 64 innings with the Skeeters, Kazmir went 3-6 with a 5.34 ERA. They are certainly not the type of numbers a two-time All-Star should be expected to put up in an independent league.
In Kazmir’s defense, he performed a little better this past winter with Gigantes de Carolina of the Puerto Rican Baseball League. In 23 innings, he struck out 27 batters and posted a 4.37 ERA. Perhaps most importantly, however, Kazmir’s fastball velocity was reportedly back in the 94 to 95 mph range.
At the very least, Kazmir’s performance must have at least turn some heads, including the Indians. Otherwise, he likely would not find himself participating as a non-roster invitee in spring training.
In the immediate future, Kazmir will be competing with a number of arms this spring for a shot in the Tribe’s rotation. The signing of Kazmir remains an intriguing one because it is such a low-risk move.
If he performs well, then the Indians have a player with ace credentials join the club. If he falters, the team can simply release him or he can provide depth at Triple-A Columbus.
At this point, it does seem very unlikely that Kazmir will actually earn a spot on the Indians 25-man roster. He needs to prove that he is capable of succeeding for a consistent period of time, and that likely means he will need some seasoning at Columbus.
However, if he does impress at Columbus, he could become an option for the Indians somewhere down the road. Though, that is still likely a long shot at best.
In today’s MLB, very few players rise to prominence as quickly as Kazmir did. Even fewer suffer a fall at such a rapid speed. We’ve seen players rise and fall only to rise once again, but there’s no telling what’s ahead for the player once nicknamed Kid K. Only time will tell if Kazmir’s fall represented the end of his Major League story or if it was only a chapter along the way.
Previous Then & Now profiles:
- Feb. 14, 2013: Matt LaPorta
- Feb. 6, 2013: Matt Langwell
- Jan. 31, 2013: Mike McDade
- Jan. 24, 2013: Scott Barnes
- Jan. 15, 2013: Chen-Chang Lee
- Jan. 10, 2013: Austin Adams
- Jan. 5, 2013: Rob Bryson
- 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