2011 Season Preview: Miscellaneous Relievers

Bullpen Injury Updates: Mitre, Joba, Feliciano, Logan
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Heading into spring training it appeared that the Yankees had the bullpen all figured out. Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, Pedro Feliciano, and one of the long man candidates potentially composed one of the best Opening Day bullpens the Yanks have had in years. But, as happens so often, some of them got hurt. While they all might be fine by Opening Day, they won’t remain that way all year. The Yankees will likely go through about a dozen relievers at various points. In today’s preview we’ll take a look at some of the ones near the top of the list.

Ryan Pope

(Charlie Neibergall/AP)

A move to the bullpen last year did Pope good. Before that he was a middling starter who appeared to have little hope of cracking the big league rotation. A move to the rotation might have revived his career with the Yankees. It impressed them enough that they added him to the 40-man roster. That status alone could put him atop the list for a bullpen call-up. He’s probably not a future setup man or anything along those lines, but with some progress this year he could turn into a serviceable middle reliever.

Romulo Sanchez

The recent spate of bullpen injuries could benefit Sanchez, who previously appeared the odd man out. He’s out of options, so if he doesn’t make the big league team they’ll have to place him on waivers. Since basically every team could use bullpen help, especially expected second division teams, it’s easy to envision someone taking a chance on him. The Yanks might avoid that situation if one of their relievers starts the season on the DL — and the team decides that Sanchez is a better overall option than Sergio Mitre.

I just wrote about Sanchez earlier this week, so for a more complete take check out that.

Sergio Mitre

The Yankees keep bringing back Mitre. Two years running they’ve non-tendered him, only to bring him back on a non-guaranteed contract. So apparently he likes it in New York, too. Unfortunately, he hasn’t proven much during his tenure with the team. In 2009 he was still recovering from Tommy John surgery, and last year he missed time with an oblique injury and otherwise wasn’t much used.

Since he has apparently gained the Yankees’ favor, I thought that he’d break camp as the long man. But as spring progresses we’ve seen indications that suggest otherwise. As we noted earlier this week, some scouts are convinced the Yanks will let Mitre go at the end of spring training. They do have a number of options for that last spot, and Mitre seems behind everyone in the competition. If he does make the team expect much of the same from 2010. That is, sparse usage in mop-up duty.

Mark Prior

The Yankees and Prior are on the same page, in that they both expect him to open the season at AAA to help him build up strength with an eye on a possible big league return. The most important aspect of Prior is that he’s none of the guys he has been in the past. That is, he’s not the phenom ace who led the Cubs to the 2003 ALCS. Nor is he the injury prone schlub who hasn’t pitched a big league game since 2006. He appears to be in decent health now, and his repertoire has necessarily changed.

If Prior stays healthy there’s a good chance he makes it back to the bigs in a relief role this year. It’s hard to say what he’ll do, because we don’t know what kind of pitcher he’ll become as he redevelops his game.

Steve Garrison

(David Goldman/AP)

Last September the Yankees claimed Garrison off waivers from the Padres, though it was too late for him to get into a minor league game. He’s not much of a prospect, but he is left-handed and on the 40-man, and therefore will get plenty of shots to crack the big league club, especially in relief. Mike wrote a profile of Garrison earlier this spring. An interesting note: if he starts the season at AA, he’ll be playing in front of his hometown crowd. He was born in Trenton, NJ.

Andrew Brackman

In the early days of camp Brackman seemingly impressed just as much as his fellow Bs. His groin injury cost him about a week, which is a big deal early in the spring. He pitched only 2.2 live innings before heading down to minor league camp, but that doesn’t necessarily say anything about his closeness to the bigs. At some point he could take some turns in the rotation, but later it’s also possible that he breaks into the majors as a reliever.

His current arsenal certainly profiles well out of the bullpen. He features a 93-95 mph fastball that he keeps low in the zone, and an above average curveball. Baseball America notes that he also added a “nascent slider that shows potential,” but he’ll probably need to develop his changeup, something he’s struggled with, if he’s going to find success in the rotation. Without that he might be ticketed for the bullpen in the long-term. He might be ticketed there in the short-term, too, though that might not come until later in the season.

It’s tantalizing to imagine him in the bullpen come August. That 93-95 mph fastball could reach the upper 90s, and his curve could prove a devastating knock-out pitch. While ideally he progresses throughout the season and enters the rotation at some point, Brackman the reliever could provide plenty of value on his own.

Bullpen Injury Updates: Mitre, Joba, Feliciano, Logan
RAB Live Chat
  • Ted Nelson

    Good round-up.

    Does Ayala have an opt-out if he doesn’t make the team?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      I would assume he has an opt-out, all of those veteran guys seem to have one.

      • Ted Nelson

        Then I guess the next question is whether he’ll use it…

  • AndrewYF

    They better not put Brackman in the bullpen if there is a need in the rotation. He has basically no innings limit (pitched 140 last year, so 175 seems to be the goal…and you can’t get there in the 5-month minor league season), and is going to have ample time in AAA by midseason. If he’s impressing, I would hope that they don’t stick to some iron-clad “has to go to the bullpen first” thing.

    Especially since the bullpen is basically one of the best and deepest in baseball. There’s just no need for any highly-touted prospect to be converted to a relief arm.

    • RL

      +1. Additionally, if there’s no need for him in the rotation and the ‘pen is doing its job, I hope they keep him in AAA and prepare him for next spring’s rotation competition. Don’t make him a reliever if he’s not going to add significant value there.

      • Ted Nelson

        That assumes starting in AAA is better preparation than relieving in MLB. I don’t think there’s any evidence that it is. If he gets called up late in the season he’d have pitched almost a full season or a full season in Scranton already anyway. He’s on the 40 man already, so you’re not burning an option.

        Whether or not he adds significant value as a reliever (and he might), it might be valuable for him to face MLB hitters in real games for the first time in his life.

        • AndrewYF

          I’m saying that he provides more value to the team as a starter than a reliever.

          • RL

            Agreed, but I think Ted’s point is that if he can enhance his long-term value as a starter by facing ML hitters in a relief role late in the season, then perhaps that’s the best path.

            • Ted Nelson

              Yeah, exactly. Wrote the below comment without refreshing and seeing this. I think there’s a very good chance Brackman’s going to get a shot at starting in MLB this season if he handles AAA well. I just also think that circumstances might be such that he and the team could benefit from him getting some relief work at the MLB level.

          • Ted Nelson

            Long-term I agree, provided he ends up having the stuff to be a MLB starter (long-term I think Joe is right that there’s a pretty good chance he tops out as a reliever… just the nature of prospects, and especially P prospects with incomplete repertoires). All I’m saying is that making a few relief appearances in 2011 doesn’t tell you much of anything about his career as a whole. Just to throw out one random example, Josh Johnson made 10 relief appearances his first couple MLB seasons and has gone on to be a pretty decent starter to say the least.

            In this specific case I agree there’s a high chance the Yankees will need to turn to him to start games at some point in 2011. Even with a strong rotation I think he’d get a shot due to injury, but with a questionable rotation he’s even more likely to get a chance.

            If they don’t need him to start in MLB or they give him a shot and he fails, then in late-ish 2011 it could be better for both Brackman and the Yankees for him to get some MLB relief work in than additional AAA starting work if he gets some innings at that level and handles them well.

        • NJYankeeFan

          I can see your point but I think your forgetting one important fact. Often what makes or breaks a starter is his ability to develop his secondary and tertiary pitches. As a reliever in the bigs, a pitcher typically will only use only his best 1 or 2 pitches because for an inning or two, he can get away with it and more importantly because the main objective is to win, not learn. As a starter in the minors, a pitcher can work on those pitches since the outcome of the games isn’t really important. In addition, only through starting can a pitcher learn to make adjustments to get the same batter out 3 and 4 times in the same game.
          Take Phil Hughes for example. While I believe his time as a reliever was valuable in building his confidence, I don’t think during that time he developed his secondary and tertiary pitches at all. He threw almost nothing but fastballs with an occassional curve and he’s still working on developing his change up .

    • Ted Nelson

      If he pitches well Brackman is probably pretty high on the line of replacement starters, so if the rotation is falling apart (and he’s not falling apart) I have to guess he’ll get a chance to stop the bleeding… Unless someone else stops it first I guess. Of course it’ll depend how they pitch, but since he and Noesi are on the 40 man (and are generally considered to have more potential) I’d speculate they get a shot before Phelps.

      “There’s just no need for any highly-touted prospect to be converted to a relief arm.”

      You can pitch a few innings out of the bullpen without being “converted to a relief arm.” It happens every season, and with prospects a lot more highly touted than Brackman.

  • Miami

    Have any starters beside Randy Johnson gotten by with only a fastball and a breaking ball?