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Indians Indians Archive Opposite Field #10: Bryson, Bryce & Bryan Price
Written by Andrew Clayman

Andrew Clayman

bryson-and-priceThe Bullpen Mafia might rule the streets of Cleveland, but just down I-77, a new gang of fire-balling outlaws is making its name in the relief-pitching game— and what a confusing name it is! According to the media guide, Rob Bryson, Bryce Stowell, and Bryan Price are, in fact, three distinct members of the Akron Aeros pitching staff. But for the average Indians fan— ADD-raddled and/or elderly-- they are an undistinguishable triumvirate; the Snap, Crackle, and Pop of the Double-A crop. … The Bryce Krispies.

Preface: If At First You Don’t Succeed, Bry Bry Again

For a franchise perpetually short on top-tier minor league prospects, the Indians’ farm clubs sure do seem to win a lot. Last year, Cord Phelps and the Columbus Clippers took home the International League title. And this season, the Akron Aeros— already winners of three Eastern League Championships in the past decade— are off to a 21-8 start, brought about largely by a bonkers team ERA of 2.26! Admittedly, a large portion of the credit for that sparkling stat has to go to the Akron starting rotation, which has seen early season heroics from 23 year-old T.J. McFarland (5-1, 2.62), 27 year-old Steven Wright (3-1, 1.12), and 21 year-old Giovanni Soto (3-0, 3.33)— the somewhat forgotten byproduct of shipping Jhonny Peralta and his chinstrap beard to Detroit. From this point forward, however, we’re going to thoroughly ignore these starting pitchers’ fine accomplishments and focus all of our attention on the Canal Street Mafia that picks up their garbage.

Bullpens don’t tend to function quite the same way in the Minors as they do up in the Bigs. Things are far less regimented, and roles bounce around based less on performance and more on random experimentation. “How does this guy handle pitching in the ninth? How about stretching him out for two innings? Or against a couple lefties? Or dressed in lady’s undergarments?” It’s old school, carnival baseball-- where t-shirt guns inspire mass hysteria and every player gets their chance to shine. Case in point, five Akron relief pitchers have already recorded saves this year, including the fairly unheralded Preston Guilmet (4), Matt Langwell (3), and Kyle Landis (2). Combined, those three fellas have tossed 34 innings thus far for the Aeros, allowing just 7 earned runs (1.85 ERA) and striking out 42. Pretty impressive, to be sure. But sadly for them, not as impressive as having names that sound the same.

The Bryce Is Right

bstowellNot since the glory days of Bob Milacki, Dave Mlicki, and Mike Bielecki has the Indians organization attempted a name-based pitching staff recruitment project quite like this. It began in the summer of 2008, when the 6-foot-2, UC-Irvine right-hander Bryce Stowell was selected in the 22nd round of the Amateur Draft. With a heater in the mid to high 90s, Stowell moved up the ranks in a hurry, going from Kinston to Akron all the way up to Columbus in 2010. Elbow problems subsequently raised some serious concerns, but Stowell started back at square one last season and worked his way back to Akron, where he dominated out of the pen again. Now 25, he was off to a monster start for the Aeros this year, allowing just three hits in seven innings of work and striking out FIFTEEN. The bad news is, Bryce is currently on the disabled list with a sore right forearm. His journey back to Columbus, and possibly Cleveland come September, may be on hold again.

Back When Indians Hunted Bryson on the Plains

robbryson1Just a few weeks after Bryce Stowell was drafted, Mark Shapiro added the second piece to his Bry triangle. While most onlookers considered Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley the key acquisitions in the 2008 trade that sent Cy Young winner CC Sabathia to Milwaukee, Shapiro knew that the Brew Crew’s Low-A hurler Rob Bryson was the magic bullet in the deal. Sure, Bryson had only been a 31st round draft pick in 2006, and he projected as more of a middle reliever than a backend guy, but something about his name just conjured up hazy visions of Bry-normous  success.

Naturally, a couple weeks after the trade, Bryson blew out his shoulder, underwent surgery, and wound up missing pretty much all of the following season. BUT, in the years since his comeback—despite bouncing between Single-A and Double-A a bit-- Rob has emerged as a viable Major League prospect once more. Still just 24, the righty posted a 2.29 ERA and 11 K/9 between Lake County, Kinston, and Akron in 2011, and he’s been missing plenty of bats again this season, as he stands at 3-0 through 15 innings of work with 19 strikeouts and a 2.93 ERA. Coming into the season, TCF’s Al Ciammiachella had him ranked #21 on his Top 50 Tribe Prospect board (Bryce Stowell was #27).

The Price is Bryan

bryanprice1And thus we arrive at the final chapter of the “Bryce Krispy” saga. Back in July of 2009, Bryce Stowell was struggling mightily in Kinston and Rob Bryson was recovering from shoulder surgery. Shapiro was concerned, but unwavering in his goal to complete his Bry-angle. But where? Where could he find that final mid-level bullpen prospect to complete his demented plan?! The answer soon presented itself—Boston. The playoff-bound Red Sox wanted Victor Martinez, and Shapiro was willing to oblige for a haul of young arms. “We’ll give you Justin Masterson,” the Sox said, “and this kid Nick Hagadone, too. Satisfied?”

“I’m afraid not,” Shapiro coldly replied. “Don’t get me wrong. I prophesize that you’re giving me a top-of-the-rotation starter and a dominating backend bullpen guy with those two. But I require one more pitcher.”

“Fine,” said the desperate Red Sox fellow. “You want Buchholz then or what?”

“Yeah right, maybe if I want one good season out of a guy,” Shapiro laughed. “No, no. I want the kid pitching for your A-ball team down in Salem. He’s 1-6 with a 6.54 ERA, and he’s gotta be mine!”

And so, with little hesitation, the Red Sox included their struggling 2008 first round draft pick into the Victor Martinez deal—sending Masterson, Hagadone, and Bryan Price to the Indians in a trade roundly despised by everyone in Cleveland…

…Until this year anyway. With Masterson serving as the Tribe’s ace and Hagadone blowing away Major League opposition, Bryan Price has quietly found himself a path to the Majors himself-- through the bullpen. Ever since the Indians converted him to a relief role in Akron in 2010, he’s been solid (3.25 ERA in 2010, 2.79 in 2011). But this year, he appears to have taken another step. At 25, Bry Bry Price has fanned 23 hitters in just 17 innings for a 12.2 K/9 mark (more than double his 5.7 K/9 of a year ago). His WHIP has also dipped to 1.12 (versus 1.26 in 2011). Granted, it’s only been a month. But Price has never looked as in-command of his stuff as he does right now.

So, that pretty much wraps up this brief history of the Bryce Krispy Boys and their evil rise to the top of the Double-A bullpen underworld. Will 2012 be the year they make their run at the Bullpen Mafia? Or will they take over the more vulnerable Columbus territory first? Either way, Mark Shapiro can rest easy. His vision of a bullpen with three big, right-handed, 24-25 year-old dudes--with basically the same stupid name-- has been realized. The letters B-R-Y need no longer determine the drafting and trade strategies of the Cleveland Indians.

Wait, who did we draft in the sixth round last year?

An outfielder named Bryson Myles?

Good lord. If this is still the Tribe business model, how exactly did Bryce Harper get away from us?

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