How Does Nick Sandlin Figure into the Tribe’s Future Plans?

With the 67th overall pick in this year’s draft (second round), the Indians selected right-handed pitcher Nick Sandlin.

For most of you, this means nothing.  You probably have never heard of Sandlin, nor do you really care much about him (yet). However, if his development breaks a certain way, we might be watching him pitch in Cleveland sooner rather than later.

Considering Sandlin was ranked 164th by MLB, and signed an under-slot deal for the 67th pick, some believe the Indians may have overdrafted him. That’s not to say he’s without talent; Sandlin was successful as a starter his last two years of college with his five-pitch mix. But despite his success, Sandlin doesn’t have much in the way of overpowering stuff. His best pitch is his fastball that reaches 94 with good life down in the zone.

You’re probably wondering why anyone would be excited about a pitcher who seems to profile as a mere back-of-the-rotation starter. And you’d be right to be skeptical of that. Sandlin’s 5’11″ frame has left many to question the pitcher’s durability moving forward. Further question were raised when he left a start early and missed the following start with shoulder tightness. Not to mention that even the most-polished, fastest-moving starters (such as Trevor Bauer) take at least a year to even get MLB debut consideration. On top of that, the Tribe’s rotation is packed to capacity at the moment.

But Sandlin’s path to the majors might be through the bullpen.

A deeper look at his profile leads me to believe that Sandlin has the ability to be a very effective, fast moving reliever. What makes him unique is the different arm angles at which he throws his pitches. The Indians’ second rounder throws in three different arm slots. He mixes and matches his pitches and deliveries from an over the top traditional form, all the way down to throwing side arm. It will be interesting to see if he tries to pitch side armed more often at the next level. Considering the movement of his fastball down, and the big break on his slider, it wouldn’t shock me if Sandlin is the next Darren O’Day or Brad Ziegler.

It may not be out of the question to see him in Cleveland this year. In fact, another division rival recently used their first round pick out of the bullpen the year he was drafted. In 2014, the Royals used left-handed pitcher Brandon Finnegan in a bullpen that was a major part to their World Series run. In fact, Finnegan even pitched in the World Series. Sandlin could be able to provide a boost to the Indians this year. The bar doesn’t look all that high at the moment, to put it bluntly; it’s easy to see him being an upgrade over someone like Dan Otero. Otero currently has an ERA of 5.71 and a FIP of 5.15. Sandlin can definitely present an upgrade to that, as similar pitchers like Pat Neshek and Ziegler posted numbers much better than Otero their respective rookie seasons. Neshek had a 2.88 FIP while Ziegler’s sat at 3.72.

Whether it be this year, next, or somewhere down the line, if Sandlin can produce like other submariners out of the bullpen, he will make the Tribe’s relief corps a stronger unit moving forward.