Minor League Profile: Alex Caldera
By Jack Dempsey
The Royals drafted right-hander Alex Caldera out of Chaffey Junior College in the 13th round of the 2007 amateur draft.¬† In 2007, he went 9-2 with a 1.70 ERA to earn the Foothill Conference Pitcher of the Year honors.¬† He also helped Chaffey reach a 43-5 mark and win the Foothill Conference championship that year.¬† At Chaffey, he played in the same school as several other eventual professional ballplayers who were drafted around him, including Drew Macias with the San Diego Padres, Jason Rice with the Chicago White Sox, and Willie Holmes with the Boston Red Sox.
Caldera has steadily worked his way up the organizational ladder, making stops in both Burlington affiliates and Wilmington.¬† After signing with K.C., Caldera spent the short remainder of the 2007 summer with Rookie-level Burlington, where he posted a 3.4 ERA and an even 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 42 1/3 innings.¬† In 2008, he essentially posted the same line with Low-A Burlington, except he managed to limit the home run ball slightly more.¬† He tossed 25 starts in 149 innings, fanning 7.2 batters per inning while walking only 2.2 in that time span.¬† However, the promotion to the High-A Carolina League proved difficult, as he posted a 4.77 ERA and issued 11 wild pitches while condensing his K-to-BB ratio a bit more in nearly the same amount of starts and innings.¬† Additionally, the home run ball began to plague him a bit more, though Fangraphs would seem to indicate that Caldera was a bit unlucky in ’09, as he posted an ERA nearly .7 runs higher than his FIP due to a relatively (flukishly) low left on base percentage.¬† However, as mentioned below, Caldera has picked up steam this year, proving over a significant sample size that he has borderline mastered the Carolina League, earning the League’s Pitcher of the Week award for the period ranging from May 10-16.
Caldera is a finesse pitcher, tossing rather consistently in the upper 80s and hitting the low 90s occasionally.¬† He compliments his fastball with an average changeup and a slightly above average curveball.¬† He’s already 24 years old, so one could argue that he’s slightly above average in terms of age for the High-A Carolina League.¬† Much like he was in college, he has proven a control artist over the years, allowing an average of 2.7 BB/9 over his 398 2/3 innings of duty, including this season.¬† Caldera owns a career 3.59 professional ERA over 70 starts and 76 appearances.¬† At 6’3″, 200 lbs., he has a rather projectable frame despite his slightly older age.
At this stage, I would profile his upside as that of a back of the rotation starter.¬† He could eventually find himself in the mold of a Minnesota Twins control artist such as Nick Blackburn.¬† In fact, I would compare their statistics at this point, though Blackburn was more highly regarded and possesses a slightly more imposing build.¬† Both are similarly groundball pitchers who rely on guile, pitch efficiency, and “pitchability” to induce outs.¬† Caldera has induced roughly 46.8% of batted balls for groundouts and having pitched in pitcher-friendly ballparks in Community Field in Burlington, Ia. and Frawley Stadium in Wilmington, Del., which have tempered even fly balls.
His lefty/righty split is rather dramatic and it could be a testament to a developing change-up.¬† In his career against lefties, his “FIP” (Fielding Independent ERA) is 4.33, while his FIP is 3.04 career against righties.¬† His other lefty/righty splits are also rather revealing (.276 batting average with LHB vs. .235 with RHB, 1.35 WHIP with LHB vs. 1.11 WHIP with RHB).
Caldera is one of those pitchers who doesn’t rave scouts but he continues to post formidable numbers due to the factors I mentioned above.¬† In my opinion, the Royals would benefit from promoting Caldera to AA Northwest Arkansas sooner rather than later.¬† Having improved his ERA by nearly two full runs over last season and already tossing roughly 200 innings in the Carolina League alone, it’s time to push the 24-year-old to the decidedly more hitter-friendly Texas League.
I would absolutely rank Caldera in my top 30 Royals prospects list right now and I hope that despite his not exactly eye-popping tools the organization takes him seriously enough to warrant further consideration in the upper minors and eventually (if he makes a case in those levels) the majors.¬† They have shown more than willing to give pitch-to-contact pitchers like Anthony Lerew and the veteran Bruce Chen extended opportunities in the Majors, so why not Caldera, whose strikeout numbers have been even more impressive?
By Jack Dempsey
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