Chen-Chang Lee was called the most Major League ready Indians' prospect at the beginning of 2013 (by BurningRiverBaseball) and the number two prospect in 2012 (behind T.J. McFarland, who was taken in the 2013 Rule 5 Draft). Since he was signed as a 21 year old out of Taiwan in 2008, he has been one of the Indians best relief prospects and he finally made his debut last year. Since the Indians had such a dominant bullpen in 2013, Lee was not used much during the play-off stretch, but with Chris Perez, Joe Smith and Matt Albers all leaving there are glaring holes that must be filled. Lee is a prime candidate to fill one of these holes.
Last season, in very limited use, Lee threw just 4.1 innings in eight games. In that time, he struck out four batters and allowed two runs, but it is impossible to really gouge his talent by such a small sample size. A better judge would be his AAA league numbers as these are against other borderline Major Leaguers and are of a much larger quantity. In parts of four seasons (he advanced to AAA in just his second professional season), Lee allowed a 2.34 ERA in 57.2 innings and most impressively struck out 75 batters. Not just in AAA, Lee struck out 11 batters per nine innings over all levels, a number that he could come near maintaining at the Major League level. Even if he dropped two strike outs out of every 27 outs, he would still easily reach prodigious strike out totals.
Lee isn't the only big strike out pitcher to join the Indians recently. After a decade of drafting soft tossers like Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers, the Indians have started to value power and will be featuring two of this hard throwers in 2014. In addition to Lee, Danny Salazar will be one of the team's top starters. With similar strike out numbers to Lee, he had a 11.8 K/9 in 59.1 innings and was able to repeat these numbers on the Major League level. With the Indians during pivotal games down the stretch, Salazar threw 52 innings, kept and ERA of just 3.12 and struck out 65. While this doesn't mean much to how Lee will produce at the Major League level, it would not be surprising if he was also able to continue his minor league success.
Lee is the tenth Taiwanese born player to play in the Major Leagues and will look to match the great reliever and fellow countryman, Hung-Chi Kuo (3.73 ERA in 292.1 IP). He actually has a chance to surpass the former Dodger closer. With a much weaker overall bullpen in 2014, Lee will have a great opportunity to prove himself. If he can pitch anywhere near as effectively as he did in AAA, he would likely be considered as the future closer and would be used as a top set-up man along with Cody Allen. Even if he struggles, he will likely stay on the roster for the whole season as a right handed specialist.
Lee is under control through 2019 and this should excite Indians fans. While he might not be a superstar next season, he is likely the closer of the future. He is also bringing around a new kind of Indians baseball. Since the days of Luis Tiant and Sam McDowell, the Indians have gotten away from the dominant strike out pitcher, never having more than one Bartolo Colon or C.C. Sabathia on the roster at a time. Salazar and Lee are ushering in a new ERA of Indians pitching. A return to what originally helped the Indians become so successful with flame throwers like Bob Feller. While it likely won't be next year, Indians fans can look forward to a long period of dominance, especially with Salazar, Allen and Lee. If the three of them pitch in the same game, it is hard to imagine anyone even making contact, let alone scoring a run.