The Big Three, revisitedBy
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.