Spring Training Position Previews: Relief Pitchers

(By Megan Filipowski/Indianapolis Indians)

The Indianapolis Indians’ parent Club boasts impressive depth in the bullpen with a combination of veteran pitchers, and several who are on the cusp of reaching the Major League level. That list includes 2013 Tribe players Duke Welker and Jared Hughes, Winter League standouts Jay Jackson and Zack Thornton plus Norfolk Tides veteran Daniel Schlereth.

Potential Indians Bullpen/Relief Pitchers

Duke Welker

Duke Welker was selected by the MLB draft by the Seattle Mariners two times – out of Woodinville High School in 2004 (34th round, 1023rd overall) and during his freshman season at Seminole State College in 2005 (39th round, 1163rd overall).  He did not sign in 2004, instead transferring to the University of Arkansas in 2006 where he played two seasons before being selected as the Pittsburgh Pirates second-round pick in the 2007 Draft.

The righty spent the majority of 2013 with the Indians, leading the team in games (48) and serving as the closer following the departure of Vic Black (trade).  Welker also made his Major League debut with Pirates, pitching a perfect eighth inning against the Los Angeles Angels on June 23.

Before being called up in June, the right-hander made 11 straight appearances without allowing an earned run, a span in which he gave up just four hits and nine walks while striking out 20. Welker later concluded 2013 with a career-high nine saves and 3.57 ERA (25 ER in 63.0 IP).

Welker finished the 2013 campaign with Indianapolis, but following the season, joined the Minnesota Twins as the player to be named later to complete the Pirates’ midseason deal for Justin Morneau. Just a few months later, he returned to Indianapolis when the Pirates and Twins swapped the righty for the Tribe’s 2013 Starting Pitcher of the Year Kris Johnson.

Jared Hughes

The Pittsburgh Pirates selected right-hander Jared Hughes in the fourth round of the 2006 MLB Draft (110th overall).  The Bucs were able to snag Hughes when the hurler opted to attend California State University Long Beach rather than sign with Tampa Bay during the 2003 draft.

Just four full seasons into his professional career, Hughes made his Major League debut with 1.1 scoreless frames in the Pirates 5-4 victory over the Houston Astros on September 7, 2011. Following his debut, Hughes has since spent parts of each of the last two seasons in the majors, with Double-A Altoona and with the Indians.

Last season, Hughes dominated during his 18-game stint in the International League, surrendering only one run in 21.0 innings pitched with 18 strikeouts. He appeared in 29 games with the Pirates, fanning 23 in 32.0 innings of work.

Jay Jackson

Jay Jackson was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 2008 MLB Draft (ninth round, 281st overall).  After pitching in the Cubs chain for five years, he was signed by the Pirates as a minor league free agent on November 20.

Jackson has spent the majority of his six-year career as a starting pitcher (107 starts in 153 minor league games), but after picking up 10 saves with a perfect 0.00 ERA in 20.1 innings pitched with the Venados de Mazatlan this offseason, he could potentially continue his work out of the bullpen.

Prior to joining the Pirates, the right-hander split the 2013 season between Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A New Orleans (Miami Marlins). He concluded the year with a combined 4-7 record, 3.53 ERA (41 ER in 104.2 IP) and 93 strikeouts in 21 games (18 starts). He transitioned to the bullpen for his last three appearances.

Zack Thornton

Zack Thornton was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 2008 (43rd round, 1287th overall) out of Ventura College. He chose not to sign and transferred to the University of Oregon for the rest of his collegiate baseball career. He was then selected by the Oakland Athletics in the 23rd round of the 2010 MLB Draft (695th overall).

Thornton joined the Pirates organization in an offseason trade in 2012 that sent Chris Resop to Oakland. Last season, he progressed through the system quickly, combining for a 7-3 record with a 2.63 ERA (22 ER in 75.1 IP) between Hi-A Bradenton, Altoona and the Tribe.

The right-hander has epitomized the role of a strikeout pitcher during his career, most recently combing for a career-high 90 strikeouts during the 2013 campaign. Thornton then spent the offseason with the Arizona Fall League’s Scottsdale Scorpions, where he recorded an impressive 4.7 strikeout-to-walk ratio and the league’s second-best WHIP (0.75).

Daniel Schlereth

Daniel Schlereth, the son of former NFL player and current ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth, was drafted in consecutive years by the Oakland Athletics (eighth round, 270th overall) and the Arizona Diamondbacks (first round, 26th overall) in 2007 and 2008 respectively. After signing in 2008, Schlereth pitched just one year in the minors before making his Major League debut with the a scoreless inning of relief against the Atlanta Braves on May 29, 2009.

Since that season, he has suited up for the Detroit Tigers (2010-2012) and Triple-A Norfolk (Baltimore Orioles, 2013).

Schlereth enters the 2014 campaign boasting a1.71 ERA (23 ER in 121.1 IP) with 156 strikeouts in 101 minor league games (6 starts).  He is also coming off a solid 2013 campaign in which he registered an 0.82 ERA (1 ER in 11 IP) in 12 games with the Tides last season.

In the System

Two notable relievers among Pirates’ farmhands include Robbie Kilcrease and Rinku Singh.  At 24 and 25, respectively, Kilcrease and Singh have both spent their entire minor league careers in Pittsburgh’s organization.

Kilcrease spent the 2013 season as the Bradenton Marauders’ primary closer and led the team with 11 saves in 40 appearances. He also posted a 1.36 ERA (10 ER, 66.0 IP) in that span.

Singh, originally from India, was the winner of a 2008 reality-show Million Dollar Arm (highlighted in the upcoming film) where he beat out 37,000 other contestants for a $100,000 prize, while also attracting enough attention to travel to the U.S. for workout sessions with scouts in November, 2008. In his last full season, he racked up 65 strikeouts while posting a solid 3.00 ERA (24 ER in 72.0 IP) for the West Virginia Power (2012).

Rinku Singh
(Photo by Scott Jontes/Four Seam Images)

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