In December of 2010, fan favorite, but far from Tony La Russa's favorite, Brendan Ryan was shipped out to Seattle for strong armed high-A RHP Maikel Cleto. We wrote about Cleto at the time and we were basically not super impressed with anything but the velocity.
"Cleto has a power arm that at times has reached 100 [mph]," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said in announcing the deal. "He's someone that could project as a back of the bullpen talent with additional development and experience."
Cleto spent just under a month in Palm Beach in the 2011 season showing his promise striking out 33 and only walking 10. Another month in Springfield with similar strikeout to walk numbers and Cleto was called up to St. Louis to sop up some innings for the big club and I had no idea what they were doing. They've done this since with top prospects like Carlos Martinez, but considering how much they were shuttling Cleto, it didn't seem like they left him in a way that he could develop. And considering how Cleto was used by TLR, he wasn't treated like a top prospect, instead like a org player left on the mound to melt-down and implode in front of the booing BFIB. I ranted a bit (ok, a lot) about it the next day. Cleto was sent back to Memphis from St. Louis and later in July, azruavatar wrote about how he was still adjusting to Memphis. His strikeout numbers shrank at Memphis and his walks increased.
Despite all that, we still placed him at 15 on the Future Redbirds top 20 after the 2011 season.
In 2012, Cleto returned to Memphis and the shuttle to and from St. Louis when the Cardinals came calling and needed innings. His Memphis strikeout numbers were encouraging, but he was still very hittable as we all saw during his mop-up innings in St. Louis. He was shifted full-time from starting to the bullpen.
And still we ranked Cleto in our top 20 and he actually went up one spot to 14th, he still had the fastball and the strikeout rate was staying steady, here's what Andy had to say:
Of those pitchers with at least fifty innings pitched in triple-A’s Pacific Coast League, Cleto struck batters out at the fourth highest rate (28.4%). It was easy to overlook his 2012 numbers because of terrible results on balls in play, but he took some impressive strides (compared to 2011 in Memphis) by increasing his strikeout rate by seven percent and decreasing his walk rate by four percent. He still needs to improve his control, but his ability to miss bats makes him difficult to ignore. Another right handed pitcher who throws 100 MPH. Ho-hum. - Andy
However, the Cardinals patience was running thin, after 53 walks and 53 strikeouts in 53.1 innings in Memphis mixed between starting and relieving and another 2.1 inning disaster in St. Louis mopping up a 5-3 losing effort that quickly turned into a 10-3 loss, the Cardinals admitted defeat and sent Cleto to outright waivers where he was claimed by the Royals.
Cleto's story is as old as time, a pitcher who can throw hard, who everyone says "if he could learn control, he'd be amazing" never actually learns control and flames out. It is possible that Cleto's story would be different if they had left him in Springfield in 2011 and allowed him to develop on a normal year by year, level by level track. Also, it is obvious that the Cardinals treatment of Cleto did not exactly re-define "kid gloves" as they didn't necessarily treat him like one of their top prospects.
But, there is good news in all my glumness. The Cardinals have such a strong minor league system, that they do not have to hope Cleto finds his control, they can let him go and give the opportunity in the Memphis bullpen to another reliever moving up from Memphis. Their farm system is so strong, they will not miss Cleto with right handed relievers like Blazek (throwing 96 MPH in his MLB debut), Seth Maness and Keith Butler coming up to the majors with Jorge Rondon (who also throws 100 MPH) on the 40 man roster and waiting at Memphis.