Dan Otero Very Quietly a Big Part of the Cleveland Indians’ Very Quiet Success This Year
In light of the Cavaliers winning Game 7 of the NBA finals tonight, it’s going to be awhile before anyone but die-hard Tribe fans notice just how well the Indians are playing this season. Even when people start to notice, assuming the Indians keep winning, one guy who probably won’t get enough credit for that success is Dan Otero.
Otero was originally a 21st round draft pick by the San Francisco Giants in 2007. His stuff merited the low draft pick, but from the moment he reached professional baseball, his command and his ability to pitch made him consistently successful, at least when he was healthy.
He caught my attention when he had a fantastic season in AA ball in 2009. However, he promptly hurt his arm, and wasn’t fully back until 2011, his age 26 season, when his age made him barely a prospect. He should have gotten a September call-up that year, but his lack of stuff and his tough luck made him easy to overlook.
He pitched well in AAA in 2012 and got a look from the Giants in his age 27 season. Not surprisingly, he was hit hard in his first major league trail, because Otero is almost certainly a pitcher who benefits from learning and exploiting the weaknesses of the hitters he’s facing.
That off-season he was claimed off of waivers, first by the Yankees and then by the A’s. He was terrific at AAA Sacramento to start 2013 and terrific for the A’s to finish the 2013 season. He was nearly as good for the A’s in 2014 when he pitched in 72 games.
However, the bottom fell out in 2015. Otero is a guy who relies on his ability to avoid free passes and keep the ball down. In 2015, I have to conclude from his numbers that he wasn’t keeping the ball down that year with predictable results. Batters beat him like a dusty rug and he allowed seven home runs in only 46.2 IP.
Here’s where the Indians come in. A lot of teams would have thought that Otero’s two years of success in 2013 and 2014 were a fluke based on the fact that the American League’s hitters weren’t familiar with him. In fact, the Phillies claimed Otero off waivers and then sold him to the Tribe for cash considerations, which probably weren’t very great.
However, the Tribe appear to have signed Otero to a major league contract — baseball reference lists Otero’s 2016 salary as $520,000, which strongly suggests a major league contract for a couple of reasons. First, the major league portion of minor league deals generally don’t get listed on baseball reference, and for a player with Otero’s experience a minor league deal would typically call for a minor league salary of $125,000 to $250,000 and a major league salary of $600,000 to $800,000.
At any rate, I suspect the Indians saw something in Otero they thought they could fix and decided he was worth a major league deal, even though pitchers with Otero’s track record typically don’t get them. The Indians were apparently right, because Otero has been quietly tremendous for the 2016 team. He currently has a 0.98 ERA with 26 Ks in 27.2 innings pitched. He still gives up plenty of base hits, but he doesn’t walk anybody, and he has yet to give up a home run this season.
Otero isn’t going to take closer Cody Allen‘s job, because Allen has true closer stuff. However, Otero has effectively bridged the gap between the Tribe’s strong starting pitching and Allen and turned the 8th inning into a dead zone for opposing offenses.
Another former San Francisco Giant and very low draft pick who is helping the Indians in a big way this season is Rajai Davis. I have long wondered why Davis, with his plus speed and ability to play center field was not selected until the 38th round of the 2001 Draft. He played at a secondary campus of the University of Connecticut, and I would guess his college offensive production and his college swing left a lot to be desired.
Davis eventually figured it out, and in his age 35 season he continues to be a valuable fourth outfielder who ends up playing almost every day because of injuries and his ability to play all three outfield positions. It was certainly a blessing for the Tribe to have Davis around when Marlon Byrd tested positive for PEDs a second time.