Fausto Carmona wrapped up a sterling 2003 season with 17 wins and a 2.06 ERA at Class A, but there were still some questions surrounding the young Dominican right-hander.
Could he keep dominating at higher levels?
"Absolutely, I knew it after watching him," said Brad Komminsk, Carmona's manager in 2004 at Double-A Akron. "I didn't know if he could do it consistently, but after that year, [his future Major League success] didn't surprise, to be honest."
Carmona's breakout '03 campaign with Lake County set the stage for a quick rise to the Majors with Cleveland. He was on the Indians' 40-man roster by the end of 2004 and, a couple seasons later, was in Cleveland to stay.
"He was a very special player," said Rouglas Odor, Carmona's first Minor League manager in 2002 with Rookie-level Burlington. "When I had him that year, I remember him being a hard thrower -- he was a strike-thrower, pounding that strike zone. It seemed like 95 percent of the time, he threw a strike."
Carmona's poise and command on the mound, from his days facing college Draft picks in small towns to impressing big league scouts in Spring Training, kept him on the road to Cleveland.
"He was good, he dominated back then," said Komminsk, who manages Double-A Bowie in the Orioles organization and watched Carmona strike out 63 batters over 87 innings for the Aeros in '04. "His size and velocity and the way he attacked hitters, he always kept the ball down in the zone."
Carmona's road began a decade ago when the Indians discovered him in the Dominican Republic. He signed with Cleveland as a non-drafted free agent in 2000 and spent the following year in the Tribe's Dominican Summer League program, where he led the team with 75 1/3 innings pitched.
The Indians bumped Carmona up in 2002 to face better competition. He spent most of year with Odor at Burlington in the Appalachian League and finished third in the circuit in innings pitched (76 1/3) and fewest walks-per-nine inning (1.05). However, he went 2-4 and gave up a league-high 89 hits.
"I remember we were impressed," said Odor, currently a coach at Class A Advanced Kinston. "It was unusual to see a young pitcher at that level pounding the strike zone. The problem most have is command, but in his case, his control was unbelievable, he was challenging everyone."
Carmona made a few scoreless appearances out of the bullpen for short-season Mahoning Valley to end the year, leaving him with a 3.14 ERA.
So when Carmona arrived in 2003 with a season that exceeded anyone's expectations, the buzz only grew. In his first full season in the Minors, he led the Indians organization in wins and won the Bob Feller Award as the Tribe's Minor League Pitcher of the Year, finishing 17-4 with a combined 2.16 ERA.
"When he won 17 games the year after, I didn't have any doubt in my mind he would be a Major League pitcher," said Odor, who spent seven seasons as a player in Cleveland's system. "His ability to compete on the mound -- when you throw strikes, you make a lot of things happen. He was doing that back then and I didn't have any doubt in my mind that he'd have the opportunity to reach the Majors."
The right-hander was named the South Atlantic League's Most Outstanding Pitcher and tabbed as the Indians' No. 3 prospect as a Class A All-Star by Baseball America. He also led the league with a 2.06 ERA, allowing two runs or fewer in 15 of 24 starts.
"Fausto had an outstanding season," said John Farrell, who was the Indians' player development director at the time. "[He was] one of our most consistent starters in the organization and a key contributor to Lake County winning their first division title."
Carmona was showing consistency, too, walking only 14 over 148 1/3 innings and lasting at least five frames in 23 of 24 outings.
Odor said Carmona was so economical on the mound, he'd let him pitch deeper in games.
"He wasn't striking out everyone, but they were off-balance, they were putting the ball in play and he was throwing five innings with 55, 60 pitches," Odor said. "You don't want your pitchers to throw more than 70-80 pitches, but we were letting him go an extra inning."
The Santo Domingo native began the 2004 season in the Carolina League, but an improved strikeout total helped him finish the year at Triple-A.
Carmona ranked second in the system in strikeouts, improving from 86 over 154 1/3 innings in 2003 to 122 over 163 frames. He fanned at least seven batters on four occasions and went 4-0 with a 2.06 ERA over seven outings from May 9-June 13.
"He was real aggressive with his fastball and he threw a hard sinker, 92-97 mph," Komminsk said. "He kept the ball down and he had a lot of confidence back then."
Carmona participated in the Indians' winter development program and spent a few months in Cleveland taking English lessons.
"He was a great kid, a great kid," said Odor. "Back then, he didn't know any English at all, so he took English classes. He wanted to learn the language, adapt to the new culture, and he did it. The improvement he made with his language was huge in one, two years. His first year, he didn't know much, but then he was communicating with the coaching staffs. He did a great job."
Komminsk and Odor said the young ace kept to himself for the most part during the season.
"He was quiet back then, he still is," Komminsk said. "He was well-liked, always a good teammate. Everyone seemed to like him, I certainly did. I'd take him right now."
Komminsk recalled one game in particular that had the scouts a little excited.
"He came up from Kinston and I remember a start he dominated," Komminsk said, referring to a May 19 start against Bowie in which he allowed one run over 7 1/3 innings. "And one of the scouts said to me, 'He won't be here long and he's not going back to Kinston.'"
Odor said that early on, Carmona picked up a bit of advice from Indians pitching coach Tony Arnold. When his English improved, it was something he liked to remind the coaches.
"He's pounding the zone and one of the hitters on the Braves was taking good cuts. Tony told him, 'Listen, sometimes when you're facing those types of hitters, you gotta come hard, up and in.' And he found success," Odor recalled. "Every time he was gonna face the same team, he'd remind Tony, 'Hey, don't worry about it.' So it was kind of funny. His first year, he didn't speak much English at all, but he was already communicating."
Carmona split the following summer between Akron and Buffalo and led the entire Indians organization with 173 1/3 innings. He ranked second with 13 wins, including a notable Triple-A debut on June 25 when he struck out a season-high eight and held Durham to a run over eight innings.
Cleveland brought Carmona to the Majors twice in 2005, although he did not appear in a game. Still, he became the first Lake County alumnus to earn a promotion to the bigs.
The right-hander did pitch on a Major League mound when he was selected to the World Team and recorded two outs at the All-Star Futures Game in Detroit.
"He was humble, he didn't say much, but he just came to the park and he was ready to compete," Odor said.
Carmona was on the bubble for a Major League roster spot in 2006 and was optioned to Triple-A during Spring Training. But the assignment didn't last long. After a pair of starts for Buffalo, he got the call to Cleveland on April 15 and allowed an unearned run over six innings to win his Major League debut against Detroit.
A starter for his entire Minor League career, the Indians briefly tried to use Carmona as a closer during his rookie campaign, an experiment that ended with the struggling righty back in Buffalo's rotation by late August. He returned to Cleveland as a starter on Sept. 5, although it wasn't an easy road -- Carmona lost his last 10 decisions, the first Indian since Brent Strom in 1973 to lose 10 consecutive games in one season.
Carmona returned to form in 2007, recording 19 wins in one of the better seasons by an Indians right-hander.
Minor League career breakdown
2001: After signing with Cleveland in 2000, Carmona joins the team's Dominican Summer League club and leads the rotation in innings pitched. ||
2002: The right-hander leaves the Dominican Republic for the Appalachian League, spending most of the summer with Burlington. He finishes up at short-season Mahoning Valley, combining to go 2-4. ||
2003: Carmona wins basically every award he can after notching 17 victories and a South Atlantic League-leading 2.06 ERA at Class A Lake County. The Indians name him Minor League Pitcher of the Year in a season that saw him reach Double-A Akron for one start. |
2004: Carmona fares better at Class A Advanced Kinston -- going 5-2 with a 2.83 ERA -- than with the Double-A Aeros, whom he joins in June. He goes 4-8 with a 4.97 ERA in the Eastern League, but the Indians give him a small taste of Triple-A anyway. |
2005: Carmona splits the season between Akron and Buffalo, finishing 13-9 with a 3.68 ERA. The Indians call him up twice, although he doesn't pitch in the Majors.|
2006: The Tribe assign Carmona to Buffalo out of Spring Training, but he's called up after only two starts. A brief -- and unsuccessful stint -- as a closer lands him back in upstate New York, but he returns to wrap up the season with Cleveland.|