July 4, 2012; St. Louis, MO. USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Maikel Cleto (63) in action against the Colorado Rockies at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE

Checking in with the top prospects: Mikael Cleto

Over the next few days, we are going to look at the top 15 Cardinals prospects from the FanGraphs preseason rankings and look at how they performed in 2012.  Some improved, others fell off, and still others just treaded water.

Our first look will be at #15 on the list:  Mikael Cleto.

Cleto was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Mets in 2006 and was moved to the Mariners with Aaron Heilman, Endy Chavez, Jason Vargas, Mike Carp, and Ezequiel Carrera for J.J. Putz, Jeremy Reed and Sean Green in 2009.  He missed some time with a back injury, but showed strikeout potential and the upside of being a back of the rotation starter or a late-inning reliever.

He came to the Cardinals in 2010 in a trade for shortstop Brendan Ryan.  Mikael made his major league debut in 2011 and has had sporadic stints with the big league team but nothing long-term. Cleto has a good repertoire of pitches, including a fastball that tops out at 99 mph, an 89 mph change-up, an 86 mph slider, and an 82 mph curve.

This season, Cleto has spent the bulk of the year at AAA, but had a couple of short stints in the majors. In his very short time on the big league club, Cleto pitched nine innings in relief. He continued to show his power arm, but also displayed his greatest weakness: home runs. In both of Cleto’s very short appearanes on the STL Cardinals, he has been prone to the longball, which has really clouded management’s judgement of his ability. He struck out fifteen batters through nine innings of relief, but giving up four home runs doesn’t build a lot of confidence.

He has a bit of a larger sample size at AAA, where he has pitched 53.2 innings of relief this season. He hasn’t given up as many gopher balls, but still sports a 5.37 ERA. Some of that can be chalked up a bit to luck, as he has an unreasonably high .346 BABIP and his FIP is only 3.16. This shows that the defense at Memphis hasn’t helped Cleto out much. The 3.16 FIP, however, isn’t exactly a dominant number. Since Cleto has really settled into the bullpen, we really have to look at his upside as a closer. He has excellent strikeout numbers and has controlled his walks this season, but, as long as he continues to give up home runs at the major league level, he won’t get a good look as a setup man or closer. I think, even with his interesting power arm, Cleto’s upside may be tapering a bit. He only turned 23 this season, so there is plenty of time for things to click for him, but if it doesn’t happen soon he may be saddled with the dreaded label of bust.

I don’t believe we will see Cleto in the top 15 prospects next season, as his sub-par performance may have hurt the perception of his abilities. Not to mention, there are relievers like Barret Browning, Sam Freeman, and Iden Nazario who have had solid seasons and may surpass Cleto.

Tags: Minor Leagues St Louis Cardinals

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