Right-hander Adam Warren will make his big league debut against the White Sox tonight, but he’s really Plan C for this start. Obviously the Yankees would prefer CC Sabathia to be healthy and able to make his regular turn, but when he hit the DL the plan was to pull Freddy Garcia out of the bullpen and let him start. When Garcia was needed in long relief of Andy Pettitte on Wednesday, the Bombers had little choice but to give the ball to Warren on regular rest.
The team’s fourth round pick back in 2009, the 24-year-old former North Carolina Tar Heel has steadily climbed the minor league ladder and came into this season as the ninth best prospect in the organization (in my opinion). Warren’s performance in Triple-A since the start of last season hasn’t been anything special — 3.70 ERA (3.84 FIP), 6.51 K/9 (16.6 K%), 3.02 BB/9 (7.8 BB%), and 41.6% grounders in 238.2 IP — but his last six starts have been pretty strong. He’s allowed zero runs in three of the six starts and two earned runs in another to go with a 24/11 K/BB in 37.1 IP. Warren thrice complete seven innings of work during the stretch.
“[Warren] came out with a lot of intensity,” said Triple-A Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor to Mark Hale, referring to his team’s loss to Warren this past Sunday. “Just the way he went about it. I was very impressed with that. He attacked us.”
When I wrote my Prospect Profile prior to 2010, I mentioned that Warren saw his velocity jump into the mid-90s after turning pro and that his best secondary pitch was a changeup. More than two years have passed though, so that info is a bit outdated. Warren now sits in the 89-93 range with his fastball and will still bump 95 on occasion, but his top offspeed pitch has become his slider according to Baseball America and their 2012 Prospect Handbook. Warren’s curveball and changeup lag behind the fastball-slider combination, but he will use four pitches. It’s a classic back-end starter repertoire, which has been his profile since his days at Chapel Hill.
The Yankees are probably hoping to get six solid innings out of Warren tonight, modest expectations for a kid making his big league debut. This is obviously a massive opportunity for him as he has a chance to pitch his way into the long-term mix with Pettitte shelved until September. Sabathia is scheduled to come back immediately after the All-Star break, but Warren can’t look at this as “I just have to out-pitch Garcia to keep the job.” The Yankees have D.J. Mitchell waiting in Triple-A and David Phelps getting stretched back out in High-A, and they won’t hesitate to stick one of them in the rotation if Warren isn’t getting the job done.
Competition is a great thing, especially when you’re talking about young players. These guys theoretically push each other to be better, and the odds are in favor of at least one of them proving to be a serviceable starter for the next two months. That’s the great thing about depth, you don’t have to rely on one guy. Whoever is the best out of Warren, Phelps, and Mitchell will get the chance to replace Pettitte and establish himself as a long-term pitching option, and Warren is getting the first chance simply because he lines up perfectly to pitch tonight. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.