With the off season winding down, I figure that it is about time to see where everybody is going to wind up. The Yankees manage to emerge from a slow post-2011 off season while hanging on to all of their top pitching prospects. I have prepared this graphic in order to attempt to project where they will all end up.
Brian Cashman wasn’t kidding when he said that our upper minor league rotations are full. The Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees and Double-A Trenton Thunder will have, by some measures, 10 prospects to fill 10 rotation spots. Craig Heyer and Shaeffer Hall are certainly the runts of the group, but they are a big improvement on the years when these kinds of guys took those spots. There is some downside to that of course – players won’t really be able to move up to a higher level in the middle of the season without an injury clearing the way. And of course, an injury means that a valuable prospect just went down. Last season saw guys like Dellin Betances and Manuel Banuelos make unexpectedly quick rises through the minor leagues. That won’t be as easy for Brett Marshall and Jose Ramirez, and it could keep a strongly performing Graham Stoneburner stuck at Double-A. Plus, if Nova gets bumped down to the minors, it throws the whole system into disarray. Still, that’s not a bad problem to have.
Scranton gets to start off with Andrew Brackman, Hector Noesi and David Phelps. Each has their own little test. Brackman has to continue to pitch within his mechanics like he did last year, since this is his last year with any options. David Phelps has to prove that his stuff plays to advanced hitters. Hector Noesi has a similar story – he needs to show whether or not his control of the strike zone holds up as he nears the majors. For Noesi, it will be about defining whether or not he can be a Major League innings eater or a serious impact starting pitcher. Adam Warren needs to follow up his standout performance at Trenton last season with another one, or start to face a possible bullpen conversion. D.J. Mitchell needs to learn to get lefties out, or he will be the first starting pitcher converted to the bullpen after Dellin Betances has a 15 strikeout game.
The story in Trenton is no doubt about Banuelos and Betances. Betances needs to stay healthy. He hasn’t had a truly healthy season since 2008, and smart watchers are very concerned that he’ll continue to be brittle. Height issues aside, Banuelos has none of those concerns. We’ll be looking for him to reestablish the amazing velocity he showcased last season, and continue to put up eye-popping numbers. Graham Stoneburner both has to follow up a phenomenal breakout season and deal with the struggle of being overshadowed by some many prospects above him. No matter how well he does, Stoneburner will probably not budge from the Trenton rotation all year. Too many guys are ahead of him. Heyer and Hall aren’t great prospects, but Heyer did pull off a 0.6 BB/9 last year, so who knows. Maybe he’s pretty good.
Brett Marshall could make Tampa very exciting this year. He’s a better prospect than people realize, and certainly made an impression after coming back from surgery last season. His challenge will be to strike out more batters with his 95-97 mph fastball, since he has averaged just 7.0 K/9 in 3 minor league seasons. Jose Ramirez joins him in the underrated category, and a strong performance could see him competing with Marshall to bump one of Hall or Heyer from Trenton. Jairo Heredia is still seeking redemption behind them, but hasn’t recovered well from shoulder issues. Sean Black may be the next David Phelps, but I know nothing about Kelvin Perez.
In Charleston, we’re searching for a breakout. Bryan Mitchell is one of the bigger sleepers in the organization. He profiles a lot like Brett Marshall, with wild, untamed flamethrowing stuff and at times a killer curveball. Varce and Burawa are experienced college arms who could climb up the ladder quickly, and both Richardson and O’Brien have some potential to be decent. Its a solid bunch, even if none have become all that exciting yet. However, a strong performance could put any of them on the map as future MLB prospects, especially Mitchell.
Of course, these are just projections. Adam Warren could be bumped from the Scranton rotation in favor of a veteran (one of Colon or Garcia perhaps) or Ivan Nova. On the lower end, the Yankees could push experienced players like Zach Varce or Daniel Burawa to Tampa, while cutting either Jairo Heredia or Kelvin Perez. One of the EST starters could impress in spring training and start in Charleston. Burawa could also be one of several to be converted to relief pitching along with D.J. Mitchell and Taylor Morton.
Which rotation is the most interesting to pay attention to? Obviously, its a contest between Trenton and Scranton, though Marshall and Ramirez could make some noise down in Tampa. Scranton has 5 legitimate prospects, while Trenton is kind of dragging along their bottom two. Still, I go with Trenton, where Betances and Banuelos will put on a show two days out of every 5.