How Romulo Sanchez Fits

Attractive, Romulo. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Heading into spring training, the Yankees bullpen situation appeared relatively set. Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, and Pedro Feliciano constituted six out of the seven members. Sergio Mitre or Ivan Nova figured to be the last. But, as so often happens, guys got hurt. While Mitre appears ready for action again, the Yankees are taking a more cautious tack with Chamberlain. If he doesn’t respond to treatment for his oblique, his absence could open up an opportunity in the bullpen.

One pitcher who could benefit is Romulo Sanchez. Acquired from the Pirates in exchange for Eric Hacker, Sanchez entered his second Yankees camp with an ultimatum. Since he’s out of options, the Yankees must add him to the active roster or else expose him to waivers. Given his hard-throwing nature, there’s a strong chance that another team takes a chance. Previously Sanchez’s departure seemed a foregone conclusion. But now with a couple of injuries in camp he might have a chance.

When the Pirates traded Sanchez to the Yankees, he didn’t appear to have much potential. For the first two years of his minor league career he possessed the undesirable combination of low strikeout rate and high walk rate. But in 2007 he started mowing down more hitters and walking fewer, which led to his first big league call-up. That was a mostly unsuccessful 18 innings, but the promise was still there. But in 2008, in AAA, his strikeout rate dipped again. He did pitch 13.1 big league innings scattered throughout the year, but he wasn’t particularly impressive. That helps explain why the Pirates traded him for a low-potential pitcher such as Hacker.

Again in 2009 Sanchez saw his strikeout rate spike, this time to nearly a batter per inning in Scranton. His walk rate was still high, but that’s always easier to stomach with a high strikeout rate. In 2010 he showed that it was no fluke, as he struck out 8.3 per nine. Of course, he also walked 5.1 per nine. His lack of control was on display during his paltry 4.1 innings in the Bronx, most of which came during an early May appearance against the Red Sox. The potential remains, but the control issues are what holds Sanchez back.

This spring has seen more of the same. Sanchez has pitched in four games, totaling 4.1 innings, and has walked four batters. Yet he has struck out only one. Even still, as Ken Rosenthal reported yesterday, scouts have been impressed by Sanchez. That’s not too surprising, since spring stats, especially in such a minuscule sample, can be deceiving. If he really has looked impressive this spring, it would be a shame for the Yankees to lose him. With their current injuries, they might not have to.

If Chamberlain opens the season on the DL, I’m fairly certain that Sanchez would take his place. That would only last a week or so, but it would give Sanchez a big league audition before the Yankees make a decision on him. Perhaps that extra time will convince the Yankees that Sanchez is a suitable replacement for Sergio Mitre. But, chances are that it will just delay his inevitable placement on the waiver wire.

On a team with fewer options in the bullpen, Sanchez makes sense. Even on the Yankees he might provide a better option than Mitre in the seventh-man/long-man bullpen role. Still, the concerns about his wildness will probably prevent him from capturing a long-term spot on the team. Injuries to two relievers might open up a temporary opportunity, but Sanchez still likely won’t be a Yankee come May.

The time is not now for Banuelos

There is no more optimistic time of the year than Spring Training. The old cliche is that every team is in first place, and the reports of players adding a new pitch or refining their swing mechanics allow the optimistic part of our imagination run wild. Included in that is prospects, who we can watch flash the talent that makes them a prospect in the first place, and then somehow get lumped into the mix for a big league job. Just over two weeks away from the start of the regular season, Manny Banuelos finds himself in that spot.

The little lefty, who turned 20 this past Sunday, made his first start (and fourth appearance) of the Grapefruit League schedule Monday night, holding what figures to be the Red Sox’s Opening Day lineup (sans J.D. Drew) scoreless for 2.2 innings. Banuelos worked out of trouble in both the first and second innings, the latter with the bases loaded and one out. His night came to an end when Kevin Youkilis swung and missed at a 3-2 changeup, a pitch 20-year-olds aren’t supposed to throw. That’s a big league pitch. Overall, Banuelos has thrown 7.2 scoreless innings this spring, striking out ten while walking four and allowing that same number of hits. Sergio Mitre is the only other pitcher on the staff to have thrown at least five innings while allowing no runs.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

While he certainly looks ready when he’s out on the mound, we have to remember that Banuelos is just a kid, a kid with 15.1 Double-A innings to his credit. If you want to add in the playoffs, it’s 25 Double-A innings. If you want to be really generous and include his time in the Arizona Fall League after the season, then it’s 50 innings against Double-A caliber competition. Either way, it’s not a whole lot, which is why he isn’t/shouldn’t be in the mix for a big league job.

One reason I want to see Banuelos go back to the minors is because I want to see him get his ass handed to him. Struggles are good for development because a) a player learns to deal with failure, and b) the team gets to see how they react. Diamondbacks’ ace Ian Kennedy is a classic example of a pitcher that had to learn about failure in the show. That guy never struggled on a baseball field in his entire life, and all through high school and college and minors he was told he was the bomb and was going to make it. Then he gets to the bigs and finds out that hitters couldn’t care less about how good you were in the minors or how high you were drafted. A solid month of getting hit around by hitters isn’t necessarily bad for Banuelos’ development, but it’s bad for the team if he experiences that for the first time in the majors, in games that actually count. His poise has been universally praised, but I want to see it put to the test.

There’s also the innings issue. Counting the playoffs and AzFL, Banuelos threw just 99.1 IP last summer, a year after throwing 109 IP. He’s probably good for 150 this season, which will carry him through mid-August. If the team gets “creative,” maybe he lasts through September. Either way, we’ve seen Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain wilt down the stretch under career high workloads in the last two years, so let’s not make it three in a row. Plus Banuelos is so young remember, he’s still developing physically and his workload has to monitored carefully.

Trust me, I don’t want to see Freddy Garcia and/or Bartolo Colon making starts for the Yankees any more than you do. If it was up to me from a pure entertainment standpoint, Banuelos would be in the starting rotation along with Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman. However, it’s not like the team doesn’t have viable alternatives stashed away in Triple-A for Garcia’s and Colon’s inevitable flame-out, rushing Banuelos is just bad news. He clearly has the talent to be a long-term fixture for a championship-caliber team, and there’s no need to screw around with that for an extra win or two this year.

Open Thread: Redesigning the uniform

The Yankees have been wearing the same classic uniforms for basically ever. The white with blue pinstripes look at home is one of the most recognizable uni’s in all of sports, and the gray road get-ups are simple but effective. In the latest edition of ESPN The Magazine, New York-native Tommy Hilfiger redesigned four classic uniforms, including those of our beloved Bombers. I dig the old-timey collar and stirrups, but other than that … eh. I’m old school when it comes to this stuff though, so maybe it’s just me. A hat tip goes out to Andrew Testa for the heads up and graphic.

Here’s your open thread for the night. The Rangers are playing the Islanders, plus the Knicks are in action as well. Talk about whatever, go nuts.

March 15th Camp Notes

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The Yankees don’t have an official Grapefruit League game to play today, but some players still got their regularly scheduled work in. Let’s briefly recap…

  • CC Sabathia and Bartolo Colon faced off in a simulated game, pitching to a total of four minor leaguers (two righties, two lefties). CC threw 82 pitches (51 strikes) and struck out four with two walks in 6.1 “innings” while Colon threw 79 pitches (56 strikes) and struck out seven in six frames. Nothing crazy, just getting some work in and staying on schedule. (Yankees PR Dept.)
  • Joe Girardi said he expects Manny Banuelos, Andrew Brackman, and Dellin Betances to make at least one more pitching appearance each before being sent to minor league camp. Kyle Higashioka was sent down today. (Chad Jennings)
  • Mark Prior’s sick and will probably be away from the team for a day or two. Hopefully it’s not his arm that’s sick. (Jennings)

GQ profiles Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter has long been many things, chief among them a star-caliber baseball player and a private person. Can’t say I blame him since celebrities of his caliber are prone to (often fabricated) controversies. Jeter opened up just a bit for noted Red Sox fan Seth Mnookin, who profiled the Cap’n for GQ. I wouldn’t say there’s anything ground-breaking in there, but it’s interesting read that shows us the lengths Jeter goes to to keep his personal life private, as well as some stuff about his contract negotiations and what not. Give it a look.

Why would the Yankees release Mitre now?

(Gene J. Puskar/AP)

On his blog today, Joel Sherman discusses the pitching battles in camp. While the bulk of the post focuses on Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon, there is mention towards the bottom of Sergio Mitre. For the past two years the Yankees have staged a fifth starter battle in camp, and while Mitre has competed in both he seemed more a novelty than a serious candidate. But even though he probably won’t pitch out of the rotation, he appears ticketed for the long man role in the bullpen. At least, that’s the way it appears from the outside.

Leading off the final section of his post, Sherman writes, “There are scouts saying that they are convinced the Yankees are going to release Sergio Mitre.” The evidence: Mitre just happened to suffer a vague injury just before a spotlight start against the Red Sox, and was seeming fine just a day later to the point where he could pitch again on Thursday. I’m not sure what one has to do with the other. Maybe the Yankees really wanted to start Banuelos against the Sox, but I don’t see why that says anything about Mitre’s status.

While the Yankees lack bona fides for the fourth and fifth rotation spot, they do possess depth. If they break camp with Colon and Garcia in those spots, they have Ivan Nova a phone call away at Scranton. Andrew Brackman could be right behind him. Even though they were sent to minor league camp, Hector Noesi and David Phelps could be options with a little more AAA seasoning. And, as we’ve heard from numerous scouts and scouting types this winter, the Yankees could, if they were so inclined, call on Manny Banuelos. Even Mitre himself could make starts if the Yankees aren’t comfortable with any of their minor leaguers.

Given this rich depth, chances are Mitre won’t make it through the entire season on the 25-man roster. The team will pursue starting pitching as the season progresses, and they’ll look at relief options from the farm system. It’s likely that at some point in the season they’re comfortable with 12 pitchers who are better than Mitre. But things rarely work out as planned. Mitre is no one’s idea of a mid-rotation starter, or even a viable setup man. His value is that he’s a slightly above-replacement pitcher who can fill the long-man spot in the bullpen and make a spot start if necessary. I’m not sure why the Yankees would throw that away.

If the Yankees did take Colon, Garcia, and Nova to the Bronx, they’d be down one arm on the carousel. If Colon then gets bombed, or, more likely, gets hurt, they’d move Nova into the rotation and summon a bullpen arm from AAA. But whom? Wouldn’t it be better to have Nova in that spot? Mitre would remain in the bullpen while the Yankees made that quick swap. Then, if Garcia, or even Nova, falters, they could move onto Brackman. But without Mitre they’d have to add a long man and a starter. I don’t see how that helps the team.

Maybe the Yankees really do want Nova to start the season in the major league bullpen. The sentiment is certainly understandable. But I don’t see the sense if it means releasing a guy who can provide depth. Having Mitre around, especially in a low-level bullpen role, helps the Yankees hedge against injuries or ineffectiveness from Garcia and Colon. To remove him is to bump each pitcher up a rung, which means a quicker path to a, gulp, Sidney Ponson-type retread. That’s just not something the Yanks need right now. Depth is the name of their game, and Mitre provides just that for now.

Joba’s oblique strain “a little worse than expected”

Yesterday it didn’t appear to be that big a deal. After we learned that Sergio Mitre would miss his start with an oblique strain, we learned that Joba Chamberlain suffered a similar injury. Word was then that he would miss just a few days before getting back on the mound. Today Dan Barbarisi of The Wall Street Journal reports that Joba had an MRI yesterday, and that the results are a little worse than first indicated.

At this point we don’t know exactly how much time he’ll miss. He’s not scheduled for any kind of activity in the next few days, so it appears the Yankees will play it safe. The team does have some options in the bullpen, so if for some reason Joba needs to miss the start of the season they should still be in good shape.

Update: Zach Berman of the Star Ledger spoke to Girardi, who said that Joba is “functionally” fine. I’m not sure what that means, but it certainly makes the situation sound a bit better.