It seems silly to talk about another starting pitcher when the Yankees already have six starters for five spots, but it’s pretty clear right now that Triple-A Scranton right-hander Adam Warren is next in line should they need someone from the minors. Brian Cashman called Warren “a legitimate starting choice for us right now” minutes after Sunday’s trade deadline, and he was on call last weekend in case Ivan Nova‘s ankle wasn’t healthy enough to start one game in Saturday’s doubleheader. Given his proximity to the big leagues, let’s look to see what he can offer to Yankees.
Warren turns 24 later this month, and everything you need to know about his background and decorated college career can be found in his prospect profile. He signed as a college senior out of a major program in UNC, so the Yankees had no problem sending him to High-A Tampa in his first full professional season in 2010. Warren made 15 strong starts with Tampa (2.72 FIP) before finishing the season with ten starts for Double-A Trenton (2.56 FIP). Between the regular season and playoffs, he threw 146.1 IP in 2010, which was actually down from 154.2 IP in 2009.
The Yankees bumped Warren up to Triple-A Scranton this season after just 54.1 IP with Trenton, a move I thought was a little aggressive. His early-season performance wasn’t all that great. Warren allowed three or more runs in seven of his first eight starts, or three fewer times that he did in 25 starts last year. His strikeout rate has fallen from 22.3% of batters faced in 2010 to just 15.5% this year while his walk rate climbed from 5.8% to 8.6%. According to StatCorner, his swinging strike rate this year 8.2%, which is just a touch above-average for a starting pitcher. Warren’s ground ball rate has gone from 55.1% with Tampa to 48.1% with Trenton to 38.8% with Scranton. All together, it adds up to a 3.95 FIP in 119.1 IP this season.
Baseball America ranked Warren as the team’s 12th best prospect before the season (I had him tenth), saying his fastball sits “90-94 mph with a high of 96″ and “late life.” They note that it’s a swing-and-miss pitch because of his command. A curveball, cutter/slider, and “fringe-average at best” changeup round out his repertoire. That last bit is important. Since Warren’s changeup isn’t a true weapon, he’s struggled against lefties. They’ve hit .280 off him with a 33-25 K/BB in 55 IP this year (righties are hitting .226/ with a 46-19 K/BB in 64.1 IP), a similar split to last season. That’s not to say he can’t improve the pitch, but it’s not there at the moment.
Right now, it’s the kind of arsenal that can work at the back of a big league rotation. Warren could be a serviceable option for the Yankees if needed, though he profiles better out of the bullpen, where he could focus on his two best offerings and scrap the miscellany. Perhaps that 90-94 touching 96 turns into 93-95 touching 97 in relief, who knows. Although Cashman referred to the Warren as a rotation candidate “right now” and the Yankees lined him up to start last Saturday if needed, it’s worth noting that David Phelps was ahead of him on the depth chart. Phelps was going to come up and start earlier in the season, but the Yankees (wisely) went with Brian Gordon for the two spot starts instead. Not long after that, Phelps went down with shoulder tendinitis and hasn’t been back since. Warren was next in line. He doesn’t have to be added to the 40-man roster until after next season, so there’s no urgency to get him on the 40-man roster. For now, he’s the seventh starter, but a good one compares to the other seventh starters around the league.