Not that long ago, the Yankees had more pitching depth than they could have dreamed of. The Triple-A rotation was so full that qualified pitchers had to move to Double-A, and the team even let a few go in the Rule V draft. An impressive amount of pitching has left the organization over the past two years. Off the top of my head, the Yankees have traded, let loose, or seen the (maybe temporary) demise of: Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen, Ian Kennedy, George Kontos, Kei Igawa, Eric Hacker, Jeff Marquez, Steve White, Tyler Clippard, Matt DeSalvo and Phil Coke, while Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Alfredo Aceves sit comfortably in the major leagues.
While there’s not a ton of major league success there, that’s the nature of depth pitching. A lot of it won’t work out, so having many options is necessary to ensure a not-so-disastrous outcome if a starter goes down. I’m going to separate Yankee depth into three categories: ready now, ready potentially some time this year, ready potentially some time next year.
Right now, the Yankees would almost certainly go to their major league roster before their Triple-A group to fill long and short term vacancies in their rotation. The loser of the Hughes/Chamberlain competition is definitely the best option, but Chad Gaudin is no slouch. I get the sense that Alfredo Aceves will be a reliever from here on out, since the Yankees felt it necessary to carry two legitimate long relievers on their roster. Sergio Mitre is one of them, and he seems terribly out of place. Gaudin can do everything that Mitre can, but better. I don’t understand why the Yankees are holding on to Mitre, and I’m a little bit worried that they’ll feel obligated to use him as a spot starter. Uninspiring names like Jason Hirsch follow here. Hopefully, we won’t have to see any pointless veteran call ups in the rotation this year.
Regardless, the Yankees have so-so depth here. It depends on how you view Hughes or Chamberlain. Will they undergo a mid-season conversion in the case of long-term need? I think that they should but we’ll see. If all we need this season is for Gaudin or Mitre to fill a few spot starts, we’re going to win the division by a mile.
Potentially Ready This Season
Now, we dip into the Triple-A roster. Ivan Nova is already on the 40-man roster, so I’d expect him to (all else being equal) be the first call up. Nova isn’t as safe a bet as you’d like for someone in this position, but he’s got some upside, and the Yankees sure do love him. At some point, we’ll see him in the majors in 2010. Zach McAllister is next, who does not own a 40-man spot. I don’t really expect the Yankees will be at all hesitant to burn one of McAllister’s options, so he’s not far behind Nova in turns of depth. Really, we’ll probably see the guy pitching the best get the call-up.
Below the “big two” are two names that will take a little bit of development to make their season debuts. The first should be familiar to fans of this blog: Wilkins De La Rosa. De La Rosa is a converted outfielder who spent the first part of his pitching career throwing absolute gas from the left side in relief. I was probably not the only person to be surprised to see the Yankees convert him to starting, and then see him stick there. Long term, a lot of people see De La Rosa as a relief pitcher, but he was very strong in the Trenton Thunder rotation, so we’ll see. The second is Lance Pendleton, who is a less familiar name. Overcoming some major injuries in his career, Pendleton has set himself back on track with a really strong 2009 performance (149 innings, 3.14 ERA, 130/46 K/BB), and will start the season in Double-A. He’s 26 years old, so the Yankees could fast track him if he performs.
The next two to watch are Ryan Pope and Jeremy Bleich. Both are fairly healthy, talented pitchers who have some learning issues to overcome before being put into the major league pitcher. Bleich proved especially hittable last season, allowing a 6.65 ERA and 84 hits in 65 Double-A innings. The good news on Bleich is that his strikeout rate neared the magical 1 per inning mark, with 60 during that time. Ryan Pope is less talented, but slightly more established than Bleich. His full season at Double-A reminded us why Carlos Silva (his comparable) was a really bad guy for the Mariners to sign. Pope allowed a 4.78 ERA and 155 hits in 141 innings despite only 34 walks allowed.
A few more names could pop up if they have exceptional seasons. D.J. Mitchell put himself on the map last season, and will likely start the season in Double-A. George Kontos could make a late-season surgery comeback, as could Christian Garcia or Alan Horne. But really, this is the 2010 list, and it is much weaker than last season.
Potentially Ready Sometime in 2011
Here, the Yankees look to start rebuilding their solid pitching depth. 2009 standouts Adam Warren, Josh Phelps and Hector Noesi all have a lot of good things about them. Warren and Phelps join Mitchell as NCAA veterans with good enough fastballs to be be able to learn how to pitch in the major leagues, similar to guys like George Kontos, Tim Norton, and Ross Ohlendorf in the Yankees’ past. I always feel that guys like these are chronically underrated on draft day. I’m willing to bet that at least 1 of the crew pitches in the majors that year.
Andrew Brackman lurks in the background, offering so much promise despite the frustration that he causes fans. Manuel Banuelos is only going to be 19 years old, but couldn’t have pitched any better in his major league debut. He’s got enough talent to climb to the majors if the Yankees are willing to push him. Finally, Jairo Heredia, who missed all of 2008, is another guy with tons of talent and polish who will open just a few strong months away from a Double-A promotion.
I listed a lot of names here. Fact is: the Yankees don’t have the depth they had before. Sitting with Hughes, Joba, and Kennedy in your back pocket is a really nice place to be. The guys at the top have a lot of question marks, and below them doesn’t lie a whole lot of immediate hope. The good news is that the Yankees could very quickly put themselves in to a position to return to the lands of abundance, and that’s a real nice place to be.
There is another piece of good news: the current rotation. Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte, and Vazquez are one of the most exceptionally healthy top-4s in the major leagues in the past few years, and Joba Chamberlain has a pretty good health record himself. This isn’t 2007 or 2006, when the Yankees opened the season with huge question marks to answer. They shouldn’t need the depth, which affords them the luxury of time.