After some serious bumps in the road, former Phillies prospect Carlos Carrasco is headed back to full health and is focused on a successful future in the big leagues.
As a highly rated prospect in the Phillies’ organization, Carrasco once battled for an opening day roster spot with the Phils. During spring training 2009, the right-hander appeared in six games, posting a 2-2 record with a 5.95 ERA. The statistics weren’t overly impressive, but the “stuff” was there, just as it had been six months prior when he posted a 1.72 ERA over six starts as a 21-year-old in Triple-A. Philies brass, as well as scouts throughout baseball, saw great potential in the Venezuelan hurler and he became a sought-after commodity.
By mid-season that year, Carrasco would become the key prospect dealt in a package that allowed the Phillies to acquire Indians ace Cliff Lee. By the end of that season, at age 22, Carrasco had made his big league debut for the Indians, while Lee led a charge to the World Series for the Phils.
Since his entrance to the majors, Carrasco experienced some rough stretches, as he posted a 10-15 record with a 4.93 ERA in 33 starts. Last year, his season ended short after it was determined that he would require Tommy John surgery to repair a damaged ligament in his right elbow.
After nearly a year of recovery, Carrasco officially began facing batters this month, as he joined the Double-A Akron Aeros for their playoff run, throwing a few rehab outings. In a single inning of work in Akron’s division series opener and another frame in the series-clinching game against Bowie, Carrasco twice retired all three batters he faced, striking out three combined hitters.
In his next outing, Carrasco took to the mound on the one-year anniversary of his procedure, against Trenton in Game 3 of the Eastern League championship series. That effort did not go as smoothly. One win away from a league title, Carrasco let up four first-inning runs as the opposing Trenton offense started the contest with four straight hits, capped off with a home run by right fielder Zoilo Almonte. Akron dropped that game to Trenton and was not able to lock down a sweep.
Despite that troubling appearance, there were still some positives that could be taken from the outing for Carrasco, as he was steadily hitting 97 MPH with his fastball, plus he retired the six batters that followed Almonte’s smash.
The velocity is an improvement for Carrasco, who is still very young at 25 years old. However, he has not changed anything mechanically or with his pitch repertoire, which includes a curve ball, a changeup and a slider. Also citing improved command, Carrasco is pleased with his progress following a lengthy period on the shelf.
“The biggest difference I see is velocity,” Carrasco stated. “Before the surgery I threw 94 to 95, but now, this time, I am throwing 96 to 98. So, it’s something good coming from the surgery. I spent this whole year in Arizona and worked hard. I feel excited. Everything’s coming good and every pitch is good, my secondary pitches are really good. I just feel great.
“But the fastball command is what I see a big difference in now than before. And in my changeup too.”
Still dealing with some soreness the day after his appearances as he conditions what he refers to as his new arm, Carrasco believes that the mental preparation for what was ahead was tougher to deal with, at times, than the physical work he had to accomplish this year.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder credits Indians pitching coach Scott Radinsky with being helpful throughout his recovery process, as the veteran pitcher and coach (who was fired by Cleveland in August), prepared the young hurler for the long road of downtime.
Carrasco felt comforted by his coach, who missed time during his own playing days due to complications from Hodgkin’s Disease, a type of cancer that originates in the blood. Radinsky also went through his own Tommy John surgery during the latter portion of his career.
“[Coach Radinsky] told me I had to do everything they asked me to do, as far as exercising and everything. He told me, ‘Okay, it’s going to be one year out, so put that in your mind, so you’re going to be strong for next year. But the most important thing is to keep doing what you’re doing right now and don’t let it go.’ He supported me and made sure I had the right mindset and knew what to expect,” Carrasco said.
Despite the focus on staying mentally tough, there were still instances when Carrasco would feel down.
“The worst part was missing the team,” Carrasco said. “But, every time from the first game until [now], I followed the team and everything, so it’s a little bit sad for me to see my friends play and know I can’t be there and help the team.”
As the 2012 season drew to a close, Carrasco did get the perk of some team unity with the Aeros, as the team won the best-of-five championship series in four games on Saturday in Trenton.
Carrasco will focus his off-season on getting back to full health and spending time with his family, although he said there was some indication that the Indians organization wished for him to pitch in a winter league, which he does not wish to do.
A three-time MLB All-Star Futures Game selection while in the Phillies organization, Carrasco admits that he does not stay in touch with anyone from the Phils aside from a pair of guys who were dealt along with him to the Indians, Lou Marson and Jason Donald. Although, during the opening round of the playoffs, Carrasco hoped that Trenton would lose to Reading so he could face his former team.
“Yeah, last week when we played at home and everything, I followed the two teams (in the other EL division series). And I wondered, ‘What team is it going to be?’ and I thought it was Reading that would win. I pitched for Reading in 2007 and 2008, so that’s the team I wanted to face,” Carrasco said.
Having earned an Eastern League championship ring with his current organization, Carrasco now hopes to do add to his jewelry collection with Cleveland in the future, as he expects to be a key contributor with the Indians for years to come.
Donald, the Phillies’ 3rd round draft selection in 2006, has been used as a utility infielder this year for the Indians, but spent a portion of the season with Triple-A Columbus, where the 28-year-old sported a .277 average with six home runs and 31 RBI in 65 games. With the big league team, through action on Saturday, Donald had a .191 average with two homers and nine RBI in 39 games.
Marson is batting .227 with no home runs and 12 RBI in 63 games as the Indians’ backup catcher this season. The 26-year-old was the Phillies’ 4th round draft pick in 2004.
Jason Knapp, another key player in the 2009 Phillies-Indians trade, was released by Cleveland last month, following three years of health issues and failure to bounce back from two shoulder surgeries. Prior to the swap, Knapp, who was the Phils’ 2nd-round draft choice in 2008, pitched just 40 innings in the Indians’ system. At the time of the deal, Knapp was 18-years-old and had been heating up the Class A South Atlantic League with his 98 MPH fastball.