Chase Whitley’s Big Chance

Stopper: Tanaka snaps four-game skid with 4-0 shutout of Mets
Manny Banuelos and the second half of 2014
(Ken Inness/
(Ken Inness/

It’s only Mid-May, but the Yankees have already used seven different starters — all of them have made multiple starts too — this season. They will use their eighth starter tonight, when right-hander Chase Whitley makes his big league debut in the Subway Series finale. It remains to be seen how the Yankees will make room for him on the 40-man roster (Bruce Billings to the 60-day DL?), but Joe Girardi already confirmed he will get the start. It’ll happen somehow.

If you had told me about a year ago the 24-year-old Whitley would make his Major League debut as a starting pitching pitcher, I would have thought you were nuts. He was a reliever all through college — Whitley was actually more highly regarded as a hitter at Southern Union State Community College before focusing on pitching full-time during his junior season at Troy — and 135 of his first 138 pro appearances came as a reliever. The three starts were just spot starts in doubleheaders, nothing fancy.

Whitley made five starts for Triple-A Scranton at the end of last season out of necessity; they simply had no one else to start due to injuries and call-ups late in the year. He managed a 1.64 ERA with 18 strikeouts and five walks in 22 innings in those five starts, and impressed enough that the Yankees gave him another chance to start in 2014. In six starts this year, Whitley has a 1.61 ERA with 28 strikeouts and six walks in 22.1 innings. That put him on the map for a call up.

The move into the rotation worked (at least so far) because Whitley was not your typical bullpen prospect. Guys like Mark Montgomery and Danny Burawa are two-pitch pitchers with nasty breaking balls. That’s not Whitley. I ranked him as the team’s 25th best prospect before last season and here’s part of what I wrote:

A three-pitch reliever who isn’t a blow-you-away type, Whitley lives in the low-90s with his fastball and backs it up with both a slider and changeup. His control is fine and his delivery creates some deception. He doesn’t offer the same kind of exciting, shutdown reliever potential as some other players on this list, but Whitley is a big and physical — listed at 6-foot-3 and 215 lbs. — right-hander who throws strikes  and works both sides of the plate. He’ll pitch in the big leagues at some point as long as he stays healthy, possibly before the All-Star break.

My timetable was off, but hey, Whitley is a big leaguer. Baseball America ranked him as the club’s 29th best prospect before the 2012 season and said “both his changeup and slider are plus pitches at their best” in their Prospect Handbook. Whitley has a weapon for righties (slider) and a weapon for lefties (changeup), plus there’s a little funk in his delivery. (He pitches from the stretch exclusively from what I understand.) Here’s some video from earlier this month in which you can see all three pitches in action:

Because he’s only been a starter for a few months, it’s really tough to know what to expect out of Whitley tonight. There’s no track record. I thought he was going to be a good middle reliever and now he’s in the rotation. It’s weird. Whitley was passed over in the Rule 5 Draft this past offseason, which is an indication of how the rest of the league views him. If he succeeds as a starter, even temporarily, it will be quite an accomplishment on his part and a big developmental win for the Yankees. We’re talking about a former 15th round pick here.

Yesterday we learned CC Sabathia has a “degenerative change” in his twice surgically repaired right knee and I don’t know what that means, but I know it sounds scary. He could be out longer than the minimum 15 days. Vidal Nuno has gotten roughed up in three of his five starts (and four of his last six appearances overall) and David Phelps has had one good start and one bad start so far. Hiroki Kuroda‘s been inconsistent at best and very ineffective at worst. The non-Masahiro Tanaka portion of the rotation is a mess right now.

That mess of a rotation is the opportunity of a lifetime for Whitley. The bar has been set quite low and he won’t have to do much to stick with the big league team. A good start tonight means he’ll get another one, almost guaranteed, and stringing a few good starts together means he’ll stick around for a while, even if it is only as a long reliever. The pitching staff is the land of opportunity right now. Whitley was in his third straight year at Triple-A and facing a stalled out career a few days ago. Now he has a change to help the Yankees win games and help himself secure a big league roster spot.

Stopper: Tanaka snaps four-game skid with 4-0 shutout of Mets
Manny Banuelos and the second half of 2014
  • YankeeGrunt

    The slider developed into a big-league pitch. He’s still not likely to be a big strikeout guy, but his bread and butter had been pitching mostly to contact with that change. The development of the third pitch made starting a realistic option for him. No guarantees, big league hitters are another species entirely, but all he has done at every level is get people out.

  • Yangeddard Solarte

    To me there’s no pressure on this kid because 4/5 of the starters have been so bad that he can’t do much worse. Tell the kid pitch to a 5.2 ERA and you’re pitching better than CC Sabathia. Nuno’s not a long term starter. BGDP is more of a long man in the pen. Who knows, maybe this kid will be the next Solarte.

    • ALZ

      Took you one start to get off the David Phelps bandwagon?

      • Masahiro Nakamura

        Don’t know why he joined it anyway.

  • Cuso

    Yuck. That’s not a particularly impressive video.

    • Yan Solo

      True, but have we concluded it’s an accurate representation of his complete body of work or how he looks when he’s at his best? Maybe there’s not much video and Mike went with what he can find that best fit his write up.

      • Cuso

        I’m not blaming Mike. Maybe it was the only video available. Maybe Mike didn’t even watch the video.

        I don’t know if you saw it, but id rather have seen no video, than that

        • Yan Solo

          I did see it. It wasn’t impressive. I think we would’ve probably written Solarte off on video if it was something that was other than stellar. Let’s see the kid pitch. I didn’t mean any offense, just that we should wait and see.

      • Cuso

        Also, I wouldn’t conclude one batter is an accurate representation of anything even if it was stellar. It just didn’t look particularly good for a guy with a reputation of having good control.

  • DF

    Man, that video didn’t really fill me with confidence for Whitley’s debut tonight

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    It’s an opportunity. Let’s see if he can seize it. This rotation needs all the help it can get right now.

    No clue whatsoever what to expect out of today’s game from either starter. Rare that this happens.

  • Mike HC

    Great write up, Mike. Sounds like he may have a shot of keeping his little starting hot streak going on the big league club.

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    Also, I remember the last time a guy named Chase got a chance at the big leagues for this team. Somewhere, Mike Lowell is still teeing off on him.

    • Yan Solo

      No doubt on that one. It was ugly.

    • viridiana

      You beat me to the punch, Jorge. Let’s hope he’s better than Chase Wright. At least he’s pitched in AAA. Wright came straight from AA ball, as I recall.

    • ALZ

      Aside from that one inning in Boston he was so-so. That inning ended his career.

      • Yan Solo

        If I remember correctly it was back-to-back-to-back-to back home runs that did him in that inning right. Man, that had to really hurt. Felt bad for the guy at the time. Real bad.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          And they were BOMBS. I mean, the boy got legally murdered out there by grown men.

      • Aims

        For what its worth, I though Adam Warren’s first start 2 years ago against the white sox would end his career

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          So did I. That fastball looked so damn hittable.

          I still don’t think he’d be anywhere near as good a starter as he is a reliever right now.

  • New Guy

    What I took from this article is that I have a shot of starting for the Yankees… sign me up Joe!

  • Bubba

    It would be nice to see another ray of sunshine out of the farm. I hope he takes advantage of his opportunity. Gotta give him credit for having a really good baseball name.

    • Mike HC

      Really? Because to me, his name sounds like he will be sent down after 3 starts with a 6.62 era.

  • Med Student

    It means his knee will continue to get worse. With most players you can keep them going with around the clock treatment, but even then dl appearances might be required with flare ups. Also Sabathias weight seems to fluctuate which doesn’t help his cause.

    • Chris In Maine

      Randy Johnson had knee issues (osteoarthritis and actually had a number of injections (hyaluronic acid) to keep the joint lubricated and allowed him to keep pitching for close to 10 additional years. I think (abviously we don’t have either set of records) that RJ’s condition at the time of treatment was likely more significant than CC’s at this juncture, as RJ’s joint was bone on bone.

      • Colin in NJ

        Ive had 3 injections of the synthetic lubricant(did absolutely nothing)It will take a miracle to get CC thru season.Im not buying it that RJ pitched for years bone on bone.If CC has bone on bone he will need a total knee replacement and his career will be over

  • Deep Thoughts

    Pitching at Citi Field is as close as you’ll get in MLB to AAA baseball so he should be pretty comfortable tonight.

    • ALZ

      Maybe they expect a lot of flyballs from him.

    • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

      That was pretty funny.

      My concern is not his pitching, but the fielding behind him…there’s a non-zero chance that he had better defense at AAA then he does tonight…

      • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

        …at AAA then he does tonight.

        Then he does tonight what?


        dammit…when are we going to get an edit button???

  • viridiana

    My understanding is it will “continue to get worse” over an extended period of time. Don’t think it means it’s going to get worse over next few weeks or months.

  • The Other Matt

    I’ll be watching keenly tonight for Whitley’s debut (and DeGrom as well, for that matter). I didn’t realize that he pitched so well towards the latter part of the season last year. Following the DotF daily, I had been impressed with the numbers he’d put up so far this season, to say the least. Hopefully, going up against another guy making his debut and him performing as well as he has gives him confidence going into this start. If he can put together a decent start tonight he should, and probably will, get another start, as Mike pointed out.

    I’m excited for tonight. Obviously, Whitley isn’t a top prospect or anything, but he has an opportunity to making an impression on the organization and fan base in a relatively “big stage”. His stuff doesn’t look to be overpowering by the looks of the video and according to the scouting reports. But, he must know how to pitch and be doing something right given his numbers.

  • LarryM Fl

    Yes, the video did not breathe fresh air of optimism in my lungs. He seemed to be keeping the pitches away from the lefty, IMHO. But I wish him well. He is wearing the correct uniform and maybe just maybe, he is the Solarte of the mound from AAA this year.

  • mt

    Beltran with a “degenerative knee” (is that the same thing as “bad knees” – sounds worse) and now an elbow potentially needing surgery – this 3 year contract may turn out to be one of Cashman’s worst.

    I have this theory that every time you do a transaction or enter into s deal with a known vulnerability that you hope does not blow up in your face it normally blows up in your face much quicker than you originally thought it might – it does not go away quietly. The reason I bring this up is CC whose contract extension after 2011 year included an option for 2017 that will only go away if he is on DL for a shoulder injury – when I saw that back then I said to myself “really, Yankeees? – you couldn’t negotiate so that his option would void for any significant time on the DL, not so specifically related to just one part of his arm. There were so many other teams that would have guaranteed him $122 million? I joked to myself (CC had knee problems before the extension) that with that type of contract CC would probably turn out to have some of the worst elbows and knees in history for a starter but of course would have an intact pristine shoulder. My joke may not be that far off from reality.

    Meanwhile John Lackey will play for free for one of his remaining years in his contract because he missed a year and Red Sox had negotiated that he would give them back a year for free if he lost significant time to DL.

    • mt

      My other question:

      Sabathia has a “degenerative knee” now – did he not have one in 2011 when he signed his extension?

      • Mike HC

        Don’t we all have “degenerative knee” to some extent?

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        Hard to know. It’s possible the answer is “no.”

        They counted on him to be highly durable. CC has been somewhat of a genetic freak throughout his career. They were optimistic.

        I figured the end of the contract would be spent in decline. All this has done is sped this up an extra couple of seasons for me. Not a small deal in the least, but I’m not focusing much on CC’s contract as sunk cost. It is what it is. I’d have signed him to it too.

        Not ready to write Beltran write off. Everyone, including Cashman, probably thinks this deal is one year too long. Hopefully, this is all about the bone spurs, and he continues to be productive. If not, I feel we can hide him a bit better on this roster than we could, say, hide an ineffective mark Teixeira.

        Just my two cents.

        • Mike HC

          Even a diminished Beltran should be able to hit mid 20’s homers if he is healthy enough to play.

        • Chip Rodriguez

          Agreed on Beltran. And bone spurs don’t magically appear overnight – if it’s there, he’s been hitting with it for a while. So I’m remaining optimistic.

          As far as CC, 2009 makes it all worth it still. That flag won’t stop flying. I’ll keep rooting for him.

    • Mike HC

      You bring up a good point about putting these DL clauses into pitcher contracts. With pitcher Armageddon going down right now, it will be interesting to see if teams start to push for these DL clauses more and more.

  • mick taylor

    maybe he will have to fill in for c.c.. how come when a pitcher like sabathia gets a shot of cortisone and stem cells into his knee to unnaturally help it heal, that is not cheating, but clemens or arod taking hgh is

  • Tom K

    My goodness….can we at least wait until he throws a big league pitcher before assuming he is going to be a failure based on one little video?

    Whitley is not, and never will be, a big prospect. If the Yankees were only dealing with a normal number of pitching injuries, he wouldn’t be on the mound tonight. But let us see what he can bring to the table. You don’t have to have dazzling stuff to be effective in the big leagues. He could very well turn in three or four capable starts, which could be enough for an offense that is actually scoring some runs right now.

    I am intrigued by this start because of what Whitley was supposed to be (middle reliever type) and what he has become (a potential 5th starter/swingman type). If it doesn’t work out, no big deal. If it does, he could be a Ramiro Mendoza type for a few years before his cost becomes higher than his true worth.

    • Chip Rodriguez

      Yup. And I don’t recall people talking up Phelps as a big prospect either, but he’s ranged from serviceable to solid. We’re not looking for an ace here.

    • Cuso

      I think you’re going overboard with reacting to the commentary on the video. Nobody screamed “DOOM.”

      Watch the video, THEN chastise everyone you perceive as bemoaning the video.

      It’s just common sense, you watch the video and expect to see close to the best the guy has to offer. Just watch the video…

  • will

    banuelos yet ?

  • ChrisGuitars

    Gardner needs to steal with Jete hitting 2nd. This is nothing new. This, from ESPN Aug 2010: t has been well documented, here and elsewhere, that Jeter hits the ball on the ground more than he hits it in the air. More often, in fact, than any other player in baseball this season. As we have seen all year, and especially Monday night, he has developed a disturbing penchant for hitting into the double play.

    So you don’t really want to bat him second — where, ironically, he has hit more often than anywhere else in his career — either, because what’s the point of the speedy Gardner leading off if the guy behind him is statistically likely to hit the ball on the ground?

  • http://riveravenueblues Mississippi doc

    Forget Banuelos. How about Chacon or Small. Anybody want Hughes or Joba back?

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      Sidney Ponson is on line three, Brian.

      • LarryM Fl

        Chad Caudin is on line four and is waiting,patiently.

  • mustang

    This is an all-time high level pessimism for RAB. The dude is done before hitting the field off a video??!!!

    Forget the fact that only 1.3% of players drafted in the 15th or later ever even make the show.

    Kid took a chance given to him in the minors and ran with it to the point of being the starting pitcher In Subway Series.

    Forget all that it’s over before it started. I would think that watching Solar would at least make people a little more opened minded.

    • mustang

      Jorge Steinbrenner says:
      May 15, 2014 at 10:13 am
      It’s an opportunity. Let’s see if he can seize it.


      Seize it like he alreay has to even manage to reach this point.

      • mustang