The White Sox claimed right-handed pitcher Maikel Cleto off of waivers Wednesday from Kansas City. He has been able to touch triple-digits with his fastball in the past, and can be expected to sit in the mid-to-high 90’s in the worst of times. This heavy-duty fastball/slider combo has only produced pedestrian strikeout numbers in the minors and his control and command are both cuckoo-crazy.
Yet Cleto is only 24-years-old, and was still being tried as a starter as recently as last season. There is a lot of reason for optimism here. And, at the risk of writing about the man like he is a toaster over than turns pitchers from raw to fully cooked, there is also Don Cooper.
Man, would it be fun if the Sox could do this with hitting. How much hope would there be for Jose Abreu if the hitting instructor was known for being able to turn any guy with raw power into a half-decent corner bat who can crank out 20-25 home runs before being flipped for prospects?
Think of how such a team must look at the White Sox banging sticks together trying to turn Dayan Viciedo into a roaring fire, and wondering how long it will take them to give up so they can claim him on waivers and turn him into an .800 OPS machine? These thoughts–if I weren’t permanently exhausted and capable of sleeping through a bear breaking into my apartment and making himself an omelet–would keep me up at night.
Anyways, Cleto. Bringing him on required the Sox to DFA recently acquired utility man Jake Elmore to make room. With Marcus Semien banging on the door and Leury Garcia in tow, the Sox aren’t nearly in the position of need for a utility guy they were in the past few Rey Olmedo and Angel Sanchez-stained seasons and Elmore faced an uphill battle to find any playing time. Looking over his record now does offer the chance to note that he somehow managed to go 1-for-7 stealing bases last season for Houston. If at first you don’t succeed, bang your head against the wall until you pass out.
While it’s understandable that a juggernaut like the Cardinals would have to shift around resources mid-season and waive a guy like Cleto–which they did last June–the Royals booting such an obvious relief prospect is curious. His MLB numbers are awful, but they’re also drunk on strikeouts (32.1% K-rate). This is apparently a two-seam fastball he can, or could throw in 2011.
Hopefully the restraining order Nate Schierholtz has on Cleto after this doesn’t result in legal complications for the Crosstown Classic.
When the Cardinals had Cleto working as a reliever full-time in 2012, he posted a 3.0 K/BB ratio in Triple-A, with 66 strikeouts in 53.2 innings. A month missed with a non-disclosed shoulder injury in 2010 is the most recent entry on his Baseball Prospectus injury history. Again, there are a lot of positives.
Some enterprising souls have thrown adjectives like “atrocious” or “terrible” on Cleto’s command, and perhaps there’s more reason for him to be joining his third organization than his resume and potential hint at. But as far as basically free reclamation projects go, Cleto is remarkably clear-cut as the type of guy the White Sox are looking for. That guys like him are still so easily available is part of why Addison Reed is in Arizona.
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