Before Thursday's signing of premier relief pitcher Rafael Soriano New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman had been speculating that the team might need to turn to its farm system in 2011 to plug holes in its starting rotation.
After missing out on Cliff Lee and seeing Andy Pettitte decide not to pitch (while not retiring) the Yankees might just as well hang a huge 'vacancy' sign in the No. 4 and 5 spots in their rotation. Other than the youngsters, all sorts of bargain-bin names have been linked to the Yankees in recent weeks.
The Soriano signing changes the equation. It gives the Yankees the option of taking Joba Chamberlain out of the bullpen and putting him back into the starting rotation -- something they have not said they are considering but it is worth speculating about. They could even use Chamberlain to try and deal for an established starter. Or, they could keep hunting for options like Justin Duchscherer in the bargain bin.
If, however, they do turn to the youngsters in their system to fill at least one hole in the rotation there are several names to keep an eye on. I asked John Sickels of SB Nation's fabulous website, Minor League Ball, to summarize the young pitchers he thought had the best chance to help the Yankees this season. He was gracious enough to do so, and below is his assessment.
From John Sickels
Here is a brief synopsis of rookies who may get a chance to start games for the New York Yankees in 2011. For more information, you can check out my SB Nation blog, Minor LeagueBall.com, or pre-order the 2011 Baseball Prospect Book available at JohnSickels.net.
Manny Banuelos, LHP: Signed out of Mexico in 2008, Banuelos doesn't turn 20 until March. He has three Double-A starts to his credit and will return to Trenton in 2011, with a late-season promotion possible if he pitches well, although he probably won't see New York until ‘12. Scouts who saw him in the Arizona Fall League marveled at how a 5-foot-10, 155 pound pitcher can generate 90-95 MPH fastballs with such an easy delivery. His curve and change are also solid, and he has a good feel for pitching given his age.
Dellin Betances, RHP: The 22-year-old Betances recovered from elbow surgery last year, regaining his fastball that can hit 96 MPH while refining his curve and changeup. Like Banuelos, the native New Yorker has just three starts in Double-A under his belt and will likely begin the season at that level, but should be a candidate for a late-season promotion, with an eye for a rotation slot or bullpen job in 2012. Command has been a problem at times, but a 108/22 K/BB ratio last year augers well for his future.
Andrew Brackman, RHP: The 6-foot-10, 25-year-old North Carolina State product cost $4.55 million to sign in '07 and promptly had Tommy John surgery. After a poor '09, he rebounded in '10, and stayed steady after being promoted to Trenton at mid-season. He's regained his 93-95 MPH heater and shows a plus curve, but is still working on his changeup. He will probably begin the year in Triple-A, but if he continues to throw strikes he should be one of the first pitchers promoted; keep in mind he has a major league contract. Like Betances and Banuelos, he should take a larger role in '12, but it remains to be seen if he'll start or relieve.
Hector Noesi, RHP: Noesi turns 24 this month and is another Tommy John survivor. His calling card is outstanding control, and shown by his 153/28 K/BB in 161 innings last year, including 19 innings for Triple-A Scranton. He keeps hitters off-balance with an 89-93 MPH fastball and a killer changeup, but his breaking ball is just mediocre. He doesn't have the same physical ceiling as the pitchers listed above him, but is more polished and should reach the majors sooner, profiling as a fifth starter.
Ivan Nova, RHP: Yankees fans are familiar with the 24-year-old Nova, a Dominican right-hander who made seven starts and three relief appearances for the Yankees last year, following up a 12-3, 2.86, 115/48 K/BB campaign in Triple-A. He performed adequately in the majors and should be the leading candidate for the fifth starter's job entering spring training. I think what you see is what you get here: he can be an average pitcher in the short run, with some chance to get beyond that eventually if he can refine his secondary pitches to go with his fastball. Most teams would be happy to have someone like that as a fifth starter.
David Phelps, RHP: This 24-year-old Notre Dame product was a 14th round pick in 2008, but he's moved up the ladder quickly, outperforming more-heralded prospects. He went 10-2, 2.50 with a 141/36 K/BB in 159 innings last year between Trenton and Scranton, and has more Triple-A innings than anyone on this list but Nova. He works off a low-90s fastball and throws strikes, but most scouts rate his breaking ball and changeup as just so-so. Still, the performance has been there and he has nothing left to prove in the minors. He could sneak into a job as a fifth starter or reliever. He would make great trade bait.
Adam Warren, RHP: A fourth-round pick in 2009 from North Carolina, Warren is 23 years old and reached Double-A in his first full season, with a combined 11-7, 2.59, 126/33 K/BB in 135 innings of work, 54 of them at Trenton. Like Phelps, he isn't as physically blessed as some of these other guys in fastball terms, but he really knows how to pitch, picking up large numbers of grounders with his sinker, curve, cutter, and changeup. He projects as a number four starter who chews innings. Like Phelps, you could hear his name in trade rumors, and scouts like him better
since his secondary stuff is sharper.
Thanks, John. Seems to me like there are several young Yankee hurlers who could have bright futures, but that many of these guys would be better served if they are not needed at the big-league level this season. Which of these guys excites you the most, Yankee fans?