The Big Three, revisited

Open Thread: Johan Santana
Requiem For An Offseason

For a young baseball player, nothing can be worse than the spectre of expectations. Ask Rocco Badelli, now retired at 29 and long called the next Joe DiMaggio, how he feels about the label now. Ask every relief pitcher who gets tagged as the next Mariano. Ask young sluggers about the pressures of Albert Pujols or Miguel Cabrera comparisons.

Meanwhile, for those kids who come of age as a member of the Yankees, the expectations are even greater. Win today, win tomorrow, win yesterday. There’s no time for growth, development, mistakes or adjustments. If you can’t cut it from the get-go, you’re not tough enough. I shudder to think where Robinson Cano would be had he hit .229 instead of .289 over his first 50 games.

A few years ago, as Mike mentioned in tonight’s Open Thread, we hitched our wagon to Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. The Yanks had three top arms they had selected in the early rounds of the amateur draft, and these kids were working their way successfully through the organization when Johan Santana became available. The Twins wanted Kennedy and Hughes plus others, and we believed it would be a mistake to include two of them in a deal with Minnesota.

At the time, we didn’t expect all three of them to be top-flight Major League starters. It rarely works that way with young arms. But we expected them to be useful Major Leaguers or Major League pieces in the right deal, and that’s what happened. Phil Hughes has emerged as a legitimate middle-of-the-rotation arm; Joba Chamberlain is working himself back from a shoulder injury more serious than originally thought; and Kennedy has found success in the NL after helping net the Yanks Curtis Granderson. My personal views on Joba’s role notwithstanding, that’s a great tale of pitcher development.

Now we have our second generation of the Big Three, and they’re getting a lot of attention early on. We call the top arms in the Yanks’ rotation the Killer B’s. They are, after all, the next generation of hyped — or overhyped — pitchers. Andrew Brackman, 25, Dellin Betances, 22, and Manny Banuelos, 19, are names regular RAB readers know well and names with which Yankee fans will soon become familiar. Already, reporters are getting itchy.

With the Yankees’ rotation heavy with question marks and thin with top-flight starters, the kids are under the microscope. Enter Joel Sherman. In his blog post today, Sherman talks about other Yankees who unexpectedly forced themselves into the picture. Alfonso Soriano‘s killer Spring Training in 2001 made the Yanks play him. Robinson Cano came up ahead of schedule when Tony Womack just couldn’t cut it. Phil Hughes was pressed into service when the Yanks’ thin rotation started to fall apart. Can history repeat itself with one of the Killer B’s?

Sherman almost answers his own question in the negative. Brian Cashman told The Post that these kids — the potential future — won’t be rushed. “They shouldn’t be caught up in our major league problems,” he said. But Sherman, who may be speculating or may be doing more than reading tea leaves, can’t help but wonder:

No matter how short the rotation might be, it is not up to two inexperienced pitchers to solve the mess caused by Cliff Lee’s rejection and Andy Pettitte‘s continued defection. Banuelos and Betances have each made three career starts at Double-A, which is the highest level they have attained. Both had injuries last year that severely restricted their workload. So you can expect that the Yankees will institute an innings cap not much above 130 — if that high — this season. With that the case, it would be hard to begin or end the year with either Banuelos or Betances in the rotation. In addition, Cashman stressed that Banuelos is 19 (he turns 20 next month).

For now, Banuelos and Betances are ticketed for Double-A. But keep this in mind: Many members of the Yankees organization feel breaking young pitchers in via the bullpen is worthwhile, so it is possible that the last 20 or 30 innings of their work could be out of the major league pen. Also, don’t forget, Soriano was not supposed to be with the Yankees in 2001 nor was Hughes supposed to be with the team in 2007. So whatever the rules are in the chill of February, remember they are always subject to rewrite.

I don’t discount Sherman’s sourcing. He’s very well connected within the upper reaches of the Yanks’ braintrust. But if the recent past is any indication, the Yanks won’t rush prized arms. Banuelos and Betances have combined for 30 AA innings. Brackman threw 80 at that level and is very much a work in progress, and the Yanks like to let their works in progress arrive when ready. If any player is going to play themselves onto the Yanks during Spring Training, it will be Jesus Montero and not Brackman, Banuelos or Betances.

So we’ll wait out this second generation of the Big Three. We’ll give them their innings at AA and AAA, and we’ll see their names pop up in trade rumors all season. If they can approximate the success of the first Big League — a starter, a reliever and a trade chip — the Yankees can pat themselves on the back for a job well done. The road to that end is long yet, and there is no need to rush.

Open Thread: Johan Santana
Requiem For An Offseason
  • mustang

    “At the time, we didn’t expect all three of them to be top-flight Major League starters.”


    That’s not what I remember in the spring of 2008. I remember it more like these guys going to be corner stone of the Yankees rotation for the next ten years and something about “stuff and make up”.

    • Dave

      No way. There might have been some fantasizing from starry-eyed delusionists. But Kennedy never projected well and Joba was always overvalued because of how he came onto the scene in late 2007. They were right not to trade Hughes AND Kennedy AND two minor-league position players for Santana. But not because Hughes/Kennedy were both supposed to be top-end rotation guys. It was because they’d have to give up two young arms with “potential” AND sign an extension with Santana. Hughes projected as a good #2 then. He still can be. It’s revisionist history to suggest that 2007-2008 thinking was that hughes-joba-kennedy was supposed to be our 1-2-3 for the “next ten years.” No realistic person thought that.

      • mustang

        “It’s revisionist history to suggest that 2007-2008 thinking was that hughes-joba-kennedy was supposed to be our 1-2-3 for the “next ten years.” No realistic person thought that.”

        More like 1-2-3/4, but that’s exactly what was being said right here.

        • Benjamin Kabak

          There is a different between potential and projection. Go find a single time in 2007-2008 when anyone said those three were going to pitching at the top of the Yanks’ rotation for the next ten years.

          • mustang

            Come on Ben seriously!

            How many times did we argue it? How many times did I hear about IPK 2007 minor league award? Or Hughes “stuff and make-up” line from you?

            I can’t even beginning to figure out how I would go back 3 years and find the comments, but believe me I would bet my house it was said numerous times

            • BigBlueAL

              Even back then though there was a difference between Hughes/Joba and IPK.

              Many of us didnt think he could even be a legitimate 4/5 starter in the AL East with his stuff while others argued he could be a solid 3/4 starter.

              I always hated the “Big 3” because it was an insult to Joba and Hughes to be in the same group with IPK lol. Even his biggest supporters did recognize the difference between his ceiling and Joba/Hughes.

              • mustang


                I still remember people here throwing up IPK’s September numbers and his minor league success and making him out to be a lot more then what he was. The hype for Joba and Hughes I understood never understood IPK.

                • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

                  “I still remember people here throwing up IPK’s September numbers and his minor league success and making him out to be a lot more then what he was.”

                  That’s fine, you can argue with what commenters may have been saying at the time, but in your initial comment you were saying that RAB itself – Ben, Joe and Mike – were saying all three would be top-flight Major League starters. I don’t think you can find an RAB post here that says that. Maybe they said they each had the potential to be top-flight Major League starters, but there’s nothing wrong with that. They all did have that potential.

                  So, your point is just not true.

                  (Not that I have an opinion on the matter, either way. Wink.)

                  • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

                    To follow-up…

                    For example… I can say today, without hesitation, that Banuelos, Betances and Brackman each have the potential to be top-flight MLB starters. They might never reach that level, but even if they don’t, that statement will not have been proven false.

            • mbonzo

              I remember everybody saying, omg Hughes will be a future ace and its exciting we have IPK. Kennedy had a lot of potential which really got lost by his injuries, but Hughes was always the gem of the organization. Even before Joba had his breakout years in the minors, Hughes was always the favorite. Hughes would have been the centerpiece of any trade for Johan, not IPK.

              • mustang


                Hughes was always pegged to be the Ace. Joba just seem to come out of nowhere, but this stuff was so good at time he was a trade untouchable. IPK just seem to ride on the other two coattail.

            • MikeD

              My take and memory on this was the Yankees had three top prospects, but there was no belief all three would become top-flight starters. I agreed with Keith Law (or maybe it was Neyer) at ESPN that more likely, one would become a MLB starter, one would flame out or be injured, and one would be traded.

              Whomever of the two said it was spot on and, oh yeah, book the same prediction for the Killer B’s.

      • mustang

        Agree on the Santana deal I was one of the people who wanted him and I was wrong very smart move on Cashman part.

  • mustang

    Agree with the thread hopefully the Yankees will let them develop slowly.

  • Mattchu12

    I have a feeling we might see at least two of the Killer B’s next season. Definitely Brackman, and I suspect Man-Ban despite the fact that he probably needs the most time down in the minors. A combination of the current pitching situation and the way Man-Ban gets talked about so much, I just have a feeling.

  • Brian

    Realistically I’m thinking that only Banuelos out of the killer B’s will have any long lasting type of impact on the Yankees. It is really hard for any type of prospect to stick with the Yankees, especially with the demand for immediate results. I hope I am wrong and Betances and Brackman hit their ceilings, but this go around with this trio of pitching prospects I will keep my expectations tempered.

  • Teh Comp Pick

    I think Brack could provide a meaningful contribution from the bullpen this year. Thats about it for 2011.

  • BigBlueAL

    Are the original “Save the Big 3” t-shirts still available?? lol

    • joe
      • jsbrendog (returns)

        those things were so poorly made. after 2 or 3 washings it ended up like a belly shirt. it iddnt even come down to my pants anymore

      • Esteban

        Heh, I like the people guaranteeing Santana wouldn’t break down and Bo questioning if teams actually thought hughes Joba kennedy were better than alan borne and jeff marquez

  • joe

    my thought Banuelos ends up like Hughes, Betances like kennedy, and brackman like joba. Just a thought i grabbed from mid-air.

    • SamVa

      I think Man-Ban is something special and will end up in the rotation for a long time to come.
      I think Betances will probably end up with something like the career of Daniel Cabrera…
      and Brackman I see as becoming a Farnsworth type pitcher…

      No basis what so ever.. just what I think.

      I know retarded.

      • Mattchu12

        I more or less agree with this notion. Man-Ban has that Johan Santana vibe. Not sure that Betances will ever be more than a Burnett type: Lots of injuries, lots of inconsistency. Brackman has plus relief pitcher written all over him.

        No evidence to support it, just what I suspect.

      • YankeesJunkie

        At this point it is really hard to peg any of these pitchers. It is hard to peg Banuelos to Johan because even though they are similar with the change up and fastball combo, Johan had a much better curve. I would have agreed a little more with the Betances-Cabrera argument except that Betances control this year was quite good where Cabrera never knew where the ball was going. Brackman to me is still enigma just because he is still new to pitching, his stuff has differing reports, and will continue to make the type he strides he did last season.

    • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      That’s a little silly, no? These three pitchers are very different from the last “Big Three.” Just because there were three pitching prospects then and there are another three pitching prospects now doesn’t mean they’re comparable in that way.

  • Avi

    “Many members of the Yankees organization feel breaking young pitchers in via the bullpen is worthwhile”

    Is this a good idea?

    • Tom Zig

      if you don’t keep them in the BP, then yes

      • A.D.

        Agreed, its a fine idea, especially to get some major league experience when innings limits come into play, but that doesn’t then make them a bullpen pitcher.

        • YankeesJunkie

          Only if he is right attitude.

          • jsbrendog (returns)

            grunt. fart.

            • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

              (jsb doesn’t even know the “grunt, fart” joke, he’s just being jsb.)

      • The Big City of Dreams

        Exactly only if it’s done properly. But once you start hearing “he’s born to be a reliever” that’s when you pull back.

  • Avi

    It’s worthwhile to point out that right now the B’s aren’t as highly touted as Hughes, Joba and Kennedy were. Hughes and Joba were ranked as the top pitching prospects in the game prior to ’07 and ’08 respectively by Baseball America (Dice-k was ahead of Hughes in ’07. Kennedy was ranked #45 prior to ’08. The B’s will likely be in the #30-#70 range when BA’s rankings come out this month.

    • Jonathan

      ya I agree that they aren’t “right now” but back then the OG Big Three were all on the cusp of making it to the big leagues. If the new Big Three progress without issue for the entire season they’ll be higher than #30-70.

    • MikeD

      Agreed. Right now, none of the Killer B’s are considered to be in the same class as Hughes or Joba as similar points, yet that could change. Depending on what these guys do out of the gate, they could quickly rise up the charts.

    • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      Very different development paths. The Big Three didn’t have the delays/injuries that the Killer Bs have dealt with. Kennedy was a polished college pitcher who cruised through the minors, Joba was a college guy who blasted onto the scene and shot through the system, and Hughes was a highly-touted HS draftee who experienced success at every level of the minors. There was plenty of hype about Betances when he was drafted, but he’s taken a long time to develop due to injuries and doesn’t necessarily have the diversity of offerings that the Big Three had (and that’s coming from a huge Betances fan). Brackman also had plenty of hype but immediately went under the knife and then, after the injury delay, had a very rough introduction to professional baseball, and Banuelos was a relatively undistinguished and off the radar international signee who has found velocity and success that nobody knew he would find.

    • gc

      Check back in a year or so. Barring any serious injury, and assuming they keep progressing at a reasonable rate, the buzz around them will only get louder and larger IMO.

  • Ryan

    Here’s to hoping we ALWAYS have a Big Three!

  • Nathan

    The original “Big Three”…yeah, for all the hype what do the Yankees have? Hughes, supposedly a potential ace, is still promising but more of a #3 at this point. Joba, whom I originally thought would either turn into a solid starter or Mo’s replacement, needs no intro. And IPK, well he is with Arizona.

    • whozat

      They have a 24 year old pitcher who is ALREADY a solid mid-rotation starter in the big leagues and still has the potential to be more. They have another guy who it looks like will be a good reliever, at least. The other was half of the package that landed their current centerfielder.

      That’s pretty much the best-realistic-case for three AA/AAA pitching prospects.

    • YankeesJunkie

      Phil Hughes from his 2006-2007 hamstring injury was easily the best pitching prospect in baseball and deservedly so. Even though he was rushed up to the majors it was only by a couple months at most because most likely he would have kept dominating AAA with a sub 2.5 FIP.

  • LarryM.,Fl.

    Ben nice article, I hope the Yankees do not rush the three B’s along too soon. Being an older generation Yankee fan from the middle 50’s the closest that I came to knowing stats was the back of the baseball card. But the influence of this blog has made me aware of the latest tools employed by baseball officials, media and fans to prove points on trades, drafts and FA’s. So, to rush the kids along after only 80 innings at AA between them is downright stupid and borders on small market no payroll mentality. There is someone always available by a team that the Yanks can acquire to pitch at the back end of the rotation in Spring Training or July. Patience.

    • CS Yankee

      Cashman has been walking the streets at night, just trying to get it right, its hard to sleep with so little pitching around…


  • Marc

    The Yanks won’t rush prized arms


    • The Big City of Dreams

      They won’t rush them until they need to.

  • Betsy

    If all Phil is is a middle of the rotation arm, then I’d have to say that the Big 3 overall turned out to be a giant disappointment. Joba is Joba, IPK is not year (and I don’t think he would have been more than a back end starter in the AL East) and Phil (though I have some questions about him) is fairly solid. It’s always good when a team can develop a starter, but the hype with Phil (and his minor league #s) suggested he’d be better than a middle of the rotation type

    • Benjamin Kabak

      If you’re disappointed that Phil Hughes is “only” a 2 or 3 starter, you’re doing it wrong.

    • CS Yankee

      Fail…the bread is still baking.

      Hughes had a great (yes, someone had to say it) year last year. He started out as #5 starter and was pitching as the #2 come postseason, had a low-4 ERA, exceeded/met his innings limit at what…25 yrs of age?

      Joba & IPK…we could beat that to death, but they are adding value to their pro teams today, are still fairly young and have still some upside in most peoples minds.

      Time will ultimately tell the tale, Hughes is not Verlander, Price, or King Felix but he has already achieved being a top 30 pitcher in all of baseball…Ace, not “true ace”, not “true Yankee ace”, but ace nevertheless.

      • CS Yankee

        Fail…on my part.

        Hughes is only 24, not 25. what he has done at the ripe old age of 24 has to be within the top .000001% of all baseball players growing up.

        It will be fun seeing him develop a another (or better) outpitch, but get real…look what he has done in 2010, factor in the age and he could quite be a “true ace” (top 20) in a few years.

  • Betsy

    Also, I can absolutely remember from message boards people dreaming of Joba and Phil anchoring our rotation for years to come. That’s not happening – not with Joba and very likely not with Phil either.

    • CS Yankee

      Depends on the meaning of “anchoring”…

      An anchor never leads, it holds the boat (or whatever) in place. It was fair view to have two young arms from within to help hold the rotation in place.

      It seems like another Joba “this & that” stance, he was very wow when he broke in, threw gas, and now could just be the best 6th inning workhorse on the planet.

      • The Big City of Dreams

        “now could just be the best 6th inning workhorse on the planet.”

        That’s not exactly something to be thrilled about.

    • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      So what’s your point? Should we not appreciate the potential of prospects? If people guaranteed that would happen, sure, you could take issue with that. But to take issue with people simply appreciating prospects’ potential? I just don’t understand your point.

      And let’s stop with this ‘I saw people on message boards saying stupid things!’ line of reasoning, please. I can find you a message board on the internet with people saying absolutely anything stupid you can imagine. There are stupid people out there, welcome to the internet.

  • Betsy

    Whozat, I think Phil’s ceiling is about a #3 starter because (a)I don’t think he has special stuff and (b) he has very iffy breaking pitches.

    • The Tragically FIP

      You constantly post about Phil Hughes but never have anything positive to say about him. You should be thrilled with the way he has turned out. A 24 year old middle of the rotation starter who has the potential to be more is nothing to be disappointed in.

    • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      Phil Hughes is a #3 starter today. He’s also 24 yrs old today and has been a full-time MLB starter for all of one season. Frankly, if he’s a #3 starter for the rest of his career, that’s a success-story. I also disagree with you if you think he is what he is and will never improve at all. The kid’s still 24 yrs old. We have to keep that in mind, some people forget how young he is because he first came up to MLB so young and he’s been with the MLB team for a while. He’s 24, the potential is still there for him to be a legit 2-3 in the Yanks’ rotation for a while. You can’t be disappointed with that.

      • Yank the Frank

        That’s very true. Patience has never been a Yankee team or fan virtue.

      • kosmo

        I agree that Hughes is only 24 and the potential for much greater success might still be there.On the other hand he has now pitched professionally for 5 years.He´s pitched in playoff situations ,started and relieved,suffered injury.Your right he could be a very effective mid-rotation SP.I think everyone including the Yankee brass is expecting more than that.So from that standpoint he could end up a minor disappointment.

        • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

          “Your right he could be a very effective mid-rotation SP.I think everyone including the Yankee brass is expecting more than that.”

          Pretty sure that’s false, I don’t think anyone with the Yankees will be disappointed if he’s not a #1.

          • kosmo

            If Hughes turns out to be nothing more than a 13-9 with a 4.25 ERA mid rotation type your actually going to believe NY would consider that a great success ? Given all the hype Hughes has received for the last 6 years.C´mon.

            • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

              If you think, today, that the Yankees will be disappointed if Hughes is a #3 starter for them for a bunch of years, then we just have to agree to disagree. I don’t think the people running the Yankees are that naive.

            • CS Yankee

              This is the NYY we are talking about…

              a mid rotation guy should be 18-7 with a 3.40 ERA, run a charity, have eye candy (or candies) hanging on his other arm, and win us some rings.


  • kosmo

    the Yanks had 3 quality prospects in IPK,Hughes and Joba.
    Joba and IPK shot thru the system in 2007.They all had great MILB careers.IF IPK had had a little more tact he might still be around.
    It´s funny how everyone dumps on IPK although he outpitched Hughes in 2010 in virtually every category.Everyone thinks it´s easier to pitch in the NL west than the AL east.I wish someone would do a little research to establish if that is true and by how much.It also shows once again you can be a good major league pitcher with a 89-92 mph fastball and decent offspeed pitches.
    One has to wonder if Hughes ceiling is any better than what he´s already shown???
    All Joba has to do is show consistency which seems to allude him from time to time.He´s still has great stuff .
    Before anyone breaks out the bubbly Banuelos,Brackman and Betances have a long way to go.I´m sure at least one of them will eventually break down .But IMO Betances and Banuelos could be phenomenal.Brackman I see as a reliever.

  • CS Yankee

    In all this bashing on how the original three (Phil, Joba, IPK) turned out, and that Hughes isn’t everything at age of 24…

    Does anyone think the Phillies are bummed that Cole Hamels is “only” their #4 SP?

    The same Cole Hamels that won the WS MVP in ’08 and has seen Lee, Doc, Oswalt and Lee Part 2 enter in as the leader(s) since their long sought championship? I would believe that they have aquired well and are set and happy going forward and having Cole as a #4 is a good problem to have.


    If the next three (the killer B’s) reach the same levels in three years as the previous doesn’t that mean that…
    1) we avoided the next Johan in Lee and he will be injured soon
    2) Jimenez (like CC) will be signed as a FA
    3) Manny (like Hughes) will win 17 big league games in 2013
    4) Brackman (like Joba) will be middle relief
    5) Betances (like IPK) will net our next starting CF’er

  • Ori

    When we stuck Hughes and Kennedy into the 2008 rotation, Moose was coming off an awful year, pavano started opening day, etc. The only pitcher who had good expectations was Wang. Maybe if we put brackman into the rotation he’ll benefit from less pressure because CC and Hughes are 2 reliable all-stars, rather than the garbage of 2008. (yes I know moose won 20 games, but honestly who saw that coming after 2007?)

  • bakekrukow412

    For people complaining Hughes was a disapointment, if he does go on to have a long successful career with the Yankees as a number 2 or 3 starter, isn’t that comparable to Andy Pettitte? Would you really be disapointed with another Andy? I wouldn’t. But thats irrelevant, because he’s only 24 and he will continiue to develop. He can only get better from here on (baring some horrible injury).

    • The Big City of Dreams

      I think the complaint that ppl have about Hughes is the hype that surrounds him. It seems like for yrs fans have heard how much ace potential he has and if he doesn’t reach it they’ll say yea he’s a solid pitcher but…

      Unfortunately that’s the way it is in NY