Pitching is a fickle beast. It’s a position that can age on you very quickly and one humbling you even after winning a few Cy Young awards and World Series trophies (See: Tim Lincecum). For the better part of a decade the New York Yankees have been operating under the, “Let’s sign free agent pitchers who were developed by other teams” premise. Pitchers such as CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Michael Pineda fall under this category. While, two out of those three players have produced (well) for the Yankees, what’s troubling are the starting pitchers whom the organization has tried to develop. Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain can be lumped into a group of promising pitchers who haven’t live up to expectations.
So where am I going with this, you ask? Andy Pettitte is probably the last pitcher the Yankees have developed AND used for the majority of his career. If we look at the current rotation – and I’m guessing it’ll look like something like: Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Hughes and Nova rounding out the top five. David Phelps and, later hopefully, Michael Pineda will make appearances throughout the season filling in for injuries and such. Overall, the top two guys in the Yankees rotation come from outside the organization, while the next three were developed from within.
With all due respect to Andy Pettitte, he’s not an ace, and never was an ace. He’s been a solid #2-#3 guy throughout his career. Granted, he’s pitched like an ace at times, but he’s never been counted on to carry that load for the Yankees or as a Houston Astro. It’s been a very long time since the Yankees have developed a pitcher who turned out either as an ace or a solid #2 pitcher. Now, it’s not easy to draft and then cultivate that talent, especially since the Yankees are regularly drafting players later in rounds, but they haven’t seem to hit on any of them lately.
Taking a quick look at their pitching prospects and you’ll quickly come to the realization that there’s no one in the minors who has the look or feel of an ace. Manny Banuelos, in his four seasons within the Yankees organization, he’s only pitched more than 100 innings twice. (2009 and 2011). He’s battled injuries throughout his short career, and is lost for the 2013 season due to Tommy John surgery. That said, he’s pitched in only 153.2 innings the last two years. He’ll turn 22 before next season and won’t pitch in a meaningful game until he’s 23. That development time is crucial for a young pitcher and Banuelos is getting closer to bust territory. There I said it, I know he’s still young and has time to flourish, but it’ll be quite awhile before the Yankees see any return of investment from Banuelos because he’ll still need to work through at least two years of inning limits to work his arm into major league shape.
Then we come to Dellin Betances. He was once the next pitcher to break the Yankees staff (third-best prospect in the Yankees system in 2012, according to Baseball America), but he has since fallen, and it hasn’t been particularly pretty either. As a person, I feel bad for the guy, but as a fan I just shake my head. He’s been with the Yankees since 2006 and quickly rose through the ranks. He’s always had control problems, but he could strike guys out at a great clip (10.53 K/9 and 27.3 percent K-rate in 2008 in A-ball). In 2011 something changed and he became something resembling a pitcher. His walk rate skyrocketed and landed at 8.32 (!!!) in 74 innings in Triple-A. He was demoted to Double-A after a short stint in rookie ball, and he still struggled mightily. His ERA hovered around 6.00 and he just looked completely out of whack. Many blame his mechanics as a source of his troubles. Here’s hoping that he’ll find his way back.
There are some positives in the system, though. For instance, Brett Marshall pitched well at Trenton this past season. Although he doesn’t strike many guys out (6.82 K/9), he’ll keep the ball in the ballpark (0.85 HR/9) and keep walks down (3.01 BB/9). Another pitcher garnering some attention is Nik Turley, who in 112 innings pitched to a 2.89 ERA (3.36 FIP) with the Charleston Riverdogs (A+). What’s more is he’s a big lefty (6-6, 230), but his fastball only reaches the upper 80′s, low 90′s thus far. He’s 22-years-old and quickly making his way through the system so he’ll most likely be up in the Bronx by 2014-2015.
Meanwhile, Bryan Mitchell (A), Adam Warren (AAA), and Zach Nuding (A), along with Turley and Marshall are the next batch of pitchers the Yankees are counting on. If this new “low” austerity budget is going to work, the Yankees will need to put more time into developing and cultivating younger talent as a means of keeping costs down while still getting the production they need to remain a perennial contender. The problem for the Yankees is that most of their young talent, pitching and positional players, are in the lower-tiers of the organization. They will need some of these players to pan out and thus far, the Yankees track record isn’t very good.