Branden Pinder | RHP
A Southern California kid born in Torrance and raised on Corona, Pinder lettered in baseball all four years at Centennial High School. He earned All-Division honors his final two years in school, was named league Pitcher of the Year as a junior, and helped the Huskies to the league title as a senior. Despite all that, Pinder wasn’t much of a pro prospect and he went undrafted after graduating in 2007. Oregon tried to woo him to their re-instated program, but he instead opted to attend Santa Ana College.
Pinder stepped right into the rotation as a freshman in 2008, going 8-2 with a 4.23 ERA in 17 starts. That earned him All-Orange Empire honors, and he helped the Dons to the league championship. Pinder got the nod on Opening Day as a sophomore, but his season ended after just four starts due to an unknown injury. He took a medical redshirt, allowing him to retain a year of college eligibility. Pinder was eligible to be drafted after both his freshman and sophomore seasons since Santa Ana is a two-year school, but no team bit. He instead transferred to Long Beach State.
The Dirtbags used Pinder as their primary Sunday starter in 2010, and he pitched to a 4.85 ERA in 85.1 IP. He was again draft-eligible after the season, but again went undrafted. Pinder posted a 5.29 ERA in 63 IP as a redshirt junior in 2011, making eleven starts and seven relief appearances. Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked him as the 68th best prospect in Southern California after the season, and the Yankees selected in the 16th round with the 509th overall pick. He signed quickly for an unknown bonus.
The Yankees assigned Pinder to Short Season Staten Island after signing, where he served as the Baby Bombers’ closer. He didn’t walk his first batter until his 14th appearance, and finished the year with an 11.03 K/9 (32.8 K%) and 1.45 BB/9 (4.3 BB%) in 31 IP. His 1.16 ERA and 1.94 FIP earned him a place on the All-Star Team, and contributed to Baseball America ranking him as the 19th best prospect in the circuit.
A starter with an 89-91 mph fastball and a sweepy, high-70’s slider when drafted, the Yankees shifted Pinder to the bullpen and streamlined both his delivery and his repertoire. Just like that, he started sitting 94-95 with his fastball and occasionally touched 97. He added some bite to his slider and at times it was a legitimate strikeout pitch, though the pitch needs work because it tends to flatten out on occasion. The fosh changeup he threw in college has been pushed aside thanks to his new role.
Big and strong at 6-foot-3 and 210 lbs., Pinder has a low arm slot and throws across his body a bit, so it remains to be seen if he can be as successful at limiting walks as he was with Staten Island long-term. Here are two clips of him from this past summer.
The Yankees figure to send Pinder to High-A Tampa to start the season since he was drafted as what amounts to a college senior thanks to the medical redshirt. He turns 23 in less than two weeks, and as a reliever they can be a little more aggressive with him.
The Yankees have done a fine job of turning late draft picks into viable relief options in recent years, and Pinder continues the tradition. I want to see him show that heavy fastball over a full season and gain some more consistency with the slider before I declare him the next great relief prospect, but he is off to a really awesome start. The big strong frame and deceptive delivery are pluses as well. Power relievers out of college should dominate the low minors, so we won’t know too much about Pinder’s long-term value until he gets to Double-A. If all goes right, that could happen in the second half of this coming season.