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Jan 012010

Photo Courtesy Of John M. Seltzer
Yesterday, we discussed John Sickels’ top 20 Yankees prospects list. One notable omission from the list was Dellin Betances, who was not even noted as an honorable mention. It represented a significant fall from grace from Betances, who was drafted by the Yankees in the 8th round of the 2006 draft. He came highly regarded, with a big arm, some inconsistent mechanics, control issues, and some questions about his durability. He quickly made his way onto top prospect lists, coming in at 100 on BA’s 2007 list and getting a very solid B from Sickels, who is not one to hand out rankings like that to pitchers with such limited experience. In 2008, Sickels dropped him to a B- after a 2007 season in which he pitched only 25.1 innings due to a strained elbow. However, he had a solid 2008, and seemed to solve his control problems in the second half as went from 40/64 BB/K in 55 innings before the ASB to a 19/71 BB/K in 60.1 innings after. Based on that performance, Sickels left Betances at B- but bumped him up to 3rd on the Yankee list for 2009.

Betances’ 2009 was a disaster, as he pitched just 44 innings, saw his K rate drop below 10 for the first time in his career (8.9), and had his BB rate climb back over 5 (5.5). He once again got injured, and the early word was that it was TJ surgery. However, it was in fact ligament enhancement surgery (Mariano had the same one), and he should be ready to pitch in High-A Tampa near the start of the year, when he will be 22. Sickels left Dellin off of his 2010 list entirely, and while it is possible for Betances to turn his career around, it seems like this is one lottery ticket that is not going to pay off.

There is a lesson in Betances’ story for Yankees fans like myself who obsess over the minor league system. There is no such thing as a pitching prospect. To delve deeper, the high-ceilinged, super skilled projects toiling in the lower levels that we get excited about are unlikely to ever see the majors. Most of those high risk, high reward guys are lottery tickets, and the lotto rarely pays off. Betances was a top prospect from the moment he was drafted, sporadically displayed tantalizing potential to maintain that status, and now is a 22 year old that has never been past High-A and is coming back from a fairly significant injury. (Note: This is a surgery that reportedly can help the player actually get stronger, so I am not sure how significant the injury is).

We get excited about these guys, project them as future aces, and hope that the team refuses to deal them for anyone but the greatest players. The fact of the matter is, many of these lottery tickets should be probably traded in for useful major league players. It is the job of the general manager to try and maximize the value that you can extract from such players by identifying which of these gambles should be cashed in. That is why it made sense to trade Arodys Vizcaino (who is likely a better prospect than Betances was at his age) for Javier Vazquez. You need to give the other club something of value in a trade for an established performer like Vazquez, and using a High-A player who is not yet a top 25-type prospect is a prudent use of resources. It is possible that Vizcaino will make the Yankees regret that trade at some point in the future. But as the saga of Dellin Betances shows us, it is unlikely.

15 Responses to “The Lesson Of Dellin Betances”

  1. While I agree to a point I wouldn’t write off the guy completely. He will start the year as a 22 year old in High A. Same as most college draftees. He could finish in AA if he is healthy. He also pitched 121 innings 1 year so 150 in High A and AA would be fine. Then he can pitch half a season in AA and AAA to 180 and make the majors at 24, 25. Nothing wrong with that. That of course is if he is healthy but a freak accident can happen to any player.  (Quote)

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    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    He’s had injury issues since being drafted, so it isn’t an isolated occurrence. That said, I’m not giving up on him. I am just saying that he doesn’t have much value right now. That can change.  (Quote)

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  2. I didn’t care about Vizcaino getting traded.Like you said he has long ways to go and who knows if he’s more than a RH reliever at 6′, maybe 6’1.Mike Dunn though is a LEFTY who throws heat, 95 + a real commodity and as a converted OF”er he figured to get better and better.He’s the loss, he’s pretty much ready and could end up a lot more than just a lefty specialist.  (Quote)

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    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    Mike Dunn cannot get the ball over the plate. i just dont see it for him, and really dont see him being anything more than a 6th-7th inning type at best.  (Quote)

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  3. I think it’s fair to say these guys are lotto tickets, but there is a point at which the odds jump markedly. Vizcaino was a short-season stud and probably not at that point, but once you start performing at High A or AA and start getting rave reviews from people who see your game films regularly, you become less of a number on the roulette wheel and more like a color. That’s why historic Top 50 MLB prospect lists read like a who’s who of contemporary stars. They can certainly miss once they get to this point (Eric Duncan) but it becomes increasingly likely that they’ll end up as major league contributors, even stars, once they do.  (Quote)

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    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    I think surviving the jump to AA is key. You start doing that, and then I really have to pause before including you in a deal.  (Quote)

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  4. No lefty in the history of MLB ever got better control after a few seasons of pitching? How about almost all do and few lefties are not late developers.
    How many guys Vizcaino’s size become special? Especially now post steroids.What is he 6′ but they list him 6’1?  (Quote)

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  5. As far as a lesson regarding Bettances, there’s a huge difference between a longshot 6’9 pitcher with a huge flaw in his delivery and other good young prospects, who succeed at every level and look like pitchers, who you can better project as major league pitchers.
    I’m knew to following this very closely but I have been an NFL draftnick for years, follow college football recruiting and used to follow college and NBA hoops many years ago but have lost interest there.
    What I’ve noticed so far is the PUNDITS who rate these prospects are pretty much useless.You can pretty much predict who they’ll call a top prospect and who they won’t without seeing the players play because they don’t project what a kid can be and go off of things like draft position and initial reports and don’t follow up progress, don’t use their eyes and experience..
    As a for instance the kid Russo at triple A last year hit .325 after hitting .300 in double A and supposedly is a solid fielder.AM i to believe the myriad of infielders listed ahead of him are TRULY better prospects, have a better chance to make the Majors than he does?
    Somebody decided he can’t play is only a mediocre talent (probably the same guy that didn’t think Don Mattingly could play) and that’s where that is.
    Frankly, I think there’s a 90% chance Russo plays in the major leagues in the next 2 seasons, maybe next season and a 50% chance many of the guys listen above him never play in the majors, so something is worng.  (Quote)

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    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    It depends what you are looking for on these lists. Russo is likely to be a major leaguer, but he is unlikely to be an above average regular on a winning team (not impossible, just unlikely). If the lists are based on upside, he will be lower. If it is a mix of talent and probability, he will move up.  (Quote)

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  6. Hopefully Dellin stays healthy…It be cool to see a local kid rise in a yankee uniform. I think the yankees knew he was a major project when they drafted him. I’d say he was more of a project than most bc of his size. He might not get his act together till later on …but if he does I think he has a higher ceiling than vizcaino bc of his power and size..clearly he has more right?  (Quote)

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  7. The lesson of Dellin Betances may need some editing. You don’t write off a guy that is 6’8″ 245 lbs that tops out at 99 mph with a knee buckling hammer curveball because he had surgery. Guys like this that are drafted at 18 years old out of High school take some time to develop. We had no prayer of drafting this kid had he went to college.

    None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Which is why so many scouts and other teams were pissed when we drafted him in the 8th round and he signed. Nobody expected this kid to sign, so nobody drafted. But the allure of New York and a million bucks to a Brooklyn native sealed the deal. We are lucky to have him.

    Have a little patience before you go writing the guy off. It’s easy to forget that the dude is just 22 years old. Most people his age just got drafted out of college and are headed for the minors. At least wait until he turns 27 and is still toiling at the lower levels before writing him off. Next season he will end up with a roster spot, guaranteed.  (Quote)

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    Steve S. Reply:

    You’re right. I thought Mo jumped the gun on this one when it was posted. From early on there was a suspicion that his elbow would go at some point, but elbows (unlike shoulders) can generally be fixed. He’s shown good attitude and work ethic, has added the weight that the team was looking for him to do, and that goes a long way in my book. Guys who work hard are safer bets than those who don’t.

    One quibble, though. He wasn’t throwing 99 in HS and he made it clear on draft day that he only wanted to sign with the Yanks. That’s why he fell to the 8th round. He was a project from Day 1, the Yanks had to completely scrap his mechanics and start from scratch. But in his case, that was a good thing. Guys as tall as him tend to fall into bad habits with their delivery, so having a clean slate to work with meant the Yanks could build him from the ground up. When he was drafted, he was a high-ceilinged lottery ticket. What got the Yanks so excited was how quickly he picked everything up.  (Quote)

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    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    As I said in the comments above you when I posted this: “That said, I’m not giving up on him. I am just saying that he doesn’t have much value right now. That can change.”

    And it may have changed, which actually strengthens my point. His value has fluctuated wildly since being drafted. If he continues to dominate, he will have rebuilt trade value where he had none just a month ago. If you dont like the lottery ticket analogy, you can view them as high risk, high reward stocks. At 19, guys like Betances look like a sure thing to provide real value, and that simply is not always true.  (Quote)

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  8. I have had the great opportunity this season to watch Dellin pitch in Tampa this season. He has been nothing but spectacular. His only loss was awful but besides that he has been one of the Tampa Yankees top starting pitchers. In a game just a few days ago he only allowed 5 hits and 1 run through 5 innings and struck out the side in the 3rd and the first batter of the 4th. He is the real deal. I am hoping that he makes it through the yankee farm system and that everyone else gets to see what i have been privileged to see so far in 2010  (Quote)

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