Game: Richmond Flying Squirrels @ Akron Aeros (Double-A Eastern League)
Date: May 29th, 2011 - Box Score - Recap
Compiled by: Daniel Jarrett
Joe Gardner was drafted by the Indians in the 3rd round in 2009 out of the University of California - Santa Barbara. He made his debut in 2010 starting with Class-A Lake County of the South Atlantic League, before moving up to Class-A Advanced Kinston of the Carolina League. Gardner had a pretty impressive first season, posting a 13-6 record in 28 starts with 142 K's over 147 IP. His 2.75 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and .197 BAA were outstanding, and are strong indicators of the talent that Gardner possesses. Equally impressive was his combined ground ball rate of 3.89, which will allow him to keep the ball in the park as he moves up the ranks.
The Indians promoted Garnder to Double-A Akron of the Eastern League to open the 2011 season and he has seen mixed results so far. His 3-3 record over eight starts with a 3.46 ERA looks fairly solid, but according to his FanGraphs player profile, most of his ratios are moving in the wrong direction.
His K/9 ratio is down and his BB/9 ratio is up, which has nearly cut his K/BB ratio in half from 2.29 to 1.18 this year. His FIP is up nearly a full run to 4.53 and his BAA and BABIP have both increased as well, explaining his WHIP jumping up to 1.51 through his first eight starts. His decreased strand rate and increased HR rate are contributing factors to his ERA being nearly a run higher so far this season.
However, he is adjusting to Double-A as a 23-year-old and doesn't have many too professional innings under his belt, so it's worth keeping an eye on his stats to see how he adjusts the rest of the season.
Gardner primarily throws a hard two seam fastball and a sinker in the low 90s which helps him generate a ton of ground balls. He's working on a changeup and occasionally spins a breaking ball but at this point hitters are able to pick it up early enough that they aren't often fooled by it. His two-seamer has outstanding movement and sometimes runs right out of the zone, but he can bury it on the hands of right-handed batters. Like so many young pitching prospects, the key to Gardner's long-term success will be the development of his secondary pitches. However, even if he is unable to polish them into at least average pitches his power two-seamer, sinker combo and his ability to generate ground ball outs will work effectively towards the back of any big league bullpen.
Watch Gardner warming up on the mound before his start: