Then & Now: Nick Hagadone

Then & Now is a weekly feature at Indians Baseball 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.

It was a busy offseason for the Cleveland Indians as a number of significant moves were made to address some glaring holes exposed last season.

Lack of right-handed hitters? Mark ReynoldsNick Swisher and Drew Stubbs should balance that out. Lack of power? Again, Reynolds and Swisher should play a key role in alleviating the Tribe’s power outage. What about speed? Stubbs and Michael Bourn have it in bunches.

Yet, despite all the moves that the team made, there still seems to be a big hole in regard to left-handed relievers in the team’s bullpen. That could be where a guy like Nick Hagadone comes into play.

Then:

Hagadone was originally drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 36th round of the 2004 MLB Draft though he did not sign and went on to carve out a solid collegiate career at the University of Washington. Years later, in 2007, the Boston Red Sox drafted Hagadone 55th overall.

The selection seemed more than warranted. Armed with a plus-plus fastball and a plus slider, Hagadone was the type of prospect that teams dream about. The six-foot, five-inch left-hander could routinely approach triple digits with his fastball, which is an intriguing asset, especially from the left side.

Hagadone made his debut that year with Single-A Lowell where he proceeded to post a 1.85 ERA in 10 starts and 24 1/3 innings of work. The sample size was small, but he looked good — very good.

Hagadone seemed poised to become a front-of-the-rotation, power left-hander, but he unfortunately ran into some trouble that next season. On April 16, 2008, Hagadone tore a UCL ligament in his left elbow and he later had Tommy John surgery in June.

Hagadone did not return to action until the next year, but the results were encouraging. While he lost some life on his fastball following the surgery, it was still very much a plus offering, and Hagadone’s success continued. In 10 games started and 25 innings with Single-A Greenville, Hagadone posted a 2.52 ERA.

While question marks surrounded Hagadone’s future role in the Major Leagues, the Indians obviously liked what they saw and believed his immense potential could triumph any risk involved. In July of 2009, Hagadone was traded along with Justin Masterson and Bryan Price to the Indians for Victor Martinez.

Though here’s the problem when a team assumes risk — it’s just that — a risk. While Hagadone looked great so far, there were some obvious red flags.

For instance, the Indians received a 23-year-old Hagadone that had not pitched above the Single-A level. Also, while Hagadone’s stuff was great, he was still more of a thrower than a pitcher. He relied heavily on his fastball and slider to overpower hitters, and he really did not have an adequate third offering.

Things like this seemed to suggest that there might be struggles along the way if the Indians intended to keep Hagadone as a starting pitcher. Sure enough, struggles happened almost immediately.

The Indians had Hagadone begin the 2010 season in High-A Kinston and he performed quite well (2.39 ERA in 10 games started and 37 2/3 innings oh work. However, Hagadone then was promoted to Double-A Akron, and the results were drastically different.

In 19 games, seven starts and 48 innings, Hagadone posted an ERA of 4.50. Walks were also a major issue as Hagadone issued 6.6 free passes per nine innings that season. It appeared as if the Indians needed to rethink the possibility of Hagadone as a starter, which is exactly what happened.

In 2011, the team began to develop Hagadone strictly as a reliever, and the results were impressive. In 46 games and 71 innings between Akron and Triple-A Columbus, Hagadone recorded a 2.79 ERA while striking out 9.8 batters per nine innings. Hagadone was so impressive, in fact, that he got to end the season in Cleveland where he posted a 4.09 ERA in 11 innings.

Now:

Hagadone spent much of the 2012 with the Indians where he posted a 6.39 ERA in 25 1/3 innings of work. Without question, the numbers are ugly. Downright gross actually.

But it wasn’t always that way. In fact, through June 8, Hagadone had a 2.75 ERA in 19 2/3 innings of work. However, in his next seven games, Hagadone allowed 12 earned runs in 5 2/3 innings an posted an ERA of 19.06.

He also seemed to be somewhat of a loose cannon as after his final outing on July 6, he broke his hand in a temper tantrum of sorts. The Indians placed him on the disqualified list the next day.

Future:

In all honesty, it’s unfortunate that Hagadone’s 2012 season ended the way it did. There is no denying his bad stretch from June into July, but what may have happened had he never broke his hand?

There was still plenty of baseball to be played, and it’s reasonable to believe that Hagadone may have been able to recover and at least improve his ERA to an extent. At least it does now seem as if Hagadone is moving in the right direction.

In three appearances this spring, the left-hander has allowed no runs and just two hits while walking one and striking out five. His focus seems to be in the right place, which is why he is one of the favorites to win a bullpen job with the Major League club.

Also, it’s important to remember that players like Hagadone do not just grow on trees. It’s difficult to find a hard-throwing lefty capable of pitching toward the end of games, and Hagadone could be just that.

There’s also one final point to consider. Hagadone’s injury was definitely embarrassing, but think about the statement it makes. This is a player who wants to win and wants to perform. He may have let his emotions get the best of him, but in the long run, his competitiveness is a trait that could serve him and the Indians quite well.

Previous Then & Now profiles:

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