The New York Yankees take the field in Clearwater today against the Philadelphia Phillies for what will be the most interesting event of Yankees' Spring Training thus far in 2012. That is because young fireballer Michael Pineda, acquired during the offseason for prized prospect Jesus Montero, will pitch for the first time as a Yankee.
Pineda, 23, is in just his second season. He went 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA as a rookie. His numbers included a 1.10 WHIP and batters hit just .209 against him. He struck out 173 hitters in 171 innings. The Yankees acquired him for Montero, hoping that he can develop into a cornerstone of their rotation.
Already, there are questions about Pineda. Can he develop his change-up into an adequate third pitch? Can he handle the bright lights and pressure of playing in New York? Why did the 6-foot-7 youngster he come to Spring Training 10 pounds heavier than the 270 pounds he pitched at last season? What did the Mariners know about a 23-year-old with this kind of an arm -- and a controllable contract -- that made them willing to trade him?
The New York Post has already targeted Pineda as a Spring Training whipping boy. Today, George King wrote "What we know of Michael Pineda in the brief time he has been with the Yankees can't be viewed as encouraging." According to King all we know that Pineda is"Ten pounds heavier. One pitch short. That's what we know so far about Pineda."
How about we cut Pineda some slack here? Of course, there will be a learning curve for a young man who pitched in the obscurity of Seattle a season ago. Of course, at the age of 23, his repertoire of pitches is probably not fully refined. Of course there is going to be curiosity about how Pineda navigates the American League East. If course he will always be measured against whatever Montero accomplishes in Seattle.
But, let's be real. Pitchers with arms and potential like this -- especially ones who are cost effective -- don't grow on trees. This was undoubtedly a move worth making for general manager Brian Cashman and the Yankees.
Should we expect Pineda to be Felix Hernandez or CC Sabathia? No, of course not. He is still a young man learning his craft, and his work will resemble that at times. Pineda doesn't have to be the Yankee ace this season. He has to be better than A.J. Burnett. He has to show he can handle New York, that he has the ability to grow into a top-flight pitcher who can be a front-line piece of the rotation for the next several years.
Let's give him a chance to do that. Let's not beat him up before he has even thrown a pitch.