The Yankees and their young pitchers

(Warren by J. Meric/Getty; Phelps by Mark LoMoglio/MiLB.com; Mitchell by Martin Griff/The Times of Trenton)

Following the conclusion of the chapter about the Yankees in the 2012 Baseball Prospectus Annual — a tome edited by The Pinstriped Bible’s (and now Bleacher Report’s) Steven Goldman, and, given his expertise, presumably also featuring his contributions to the chapter devoted to the Bombers — I was inspired to do some research in response to the seemingly endless number of accusations leveled at the team regarding its supposed reluctance to deploy its young pitchers in favor of established veterans.

Now, anyone who reads Steve over at the Pinstriped Bible with any regularity — and lest this post come across as derisive, I’ve long been a big fan of Steve’s work, and have enjoyed his intellectual, verbose and witty take on the state of the Yankees at the Pinstriped Bible ever since I discovered the wonderful world of Yankee blogs back in 2004 — is no doubt familiar with this particular war cry, which seemed to come to a boiling point in the aftermath of Brian Cashman signing journeyman Brian Gordon to spot start against the Rangers on Thursday, June 16, instead of letting one of Hector Noesi, Adam Warren, David Phelps or D.J. Mitchell make their first career Major-League start (and in the case of the latter three, first Major-League appearance). Brien Jackson of IIATMS wrote an eloquent rebuttal at the time (and as also noted by our own Moshe, the Gordon decision was likely entirely driven by not wanting to add a player to the 40-man roster just to make  two starts), but in light of this favored Goldman criticism littering not only the team overview in the Annual, but basically the capsule for every pitcher in the Yankees’ system, I was curious to see just how much water it actually carried.

The below chart lists the number of starters Age 25 or below by team that made their Major League debuts in the last decade. This data was compiled utilizing Baseball-Reference’s Play Index.

As you can see, the Yankees, with nine hurlers, ostensibly fall in the middle of the pack when it comes to letting youngsters make their MLB debuts as starting pitchers. Toronto has debuted the most starting pitchers under 25 during this time frame, with 16, and Seattle the least, with five. The MLB average? 10, or just one more than the Yankees have. This means that, on average, an MLB team will debut one starter under age 25 per year.

There were also cries of despair a little over a month after the Gordon incident, when it looked like Adam Warren might get a shot to start the second game of a doubleheader against the Orioles, but that plan was ultimately scuttled when Ivan Nova — who to that point had already somewhat established himself as a viable, under-25-year-old pitcher — was deemed fit to start. Now I’m not trying to argue that Warren, Phelps, et. al. shouldn’t have been given the opportunity to start one of these games, but rather, in a historical context, Goldman was twice looking for the Yankees to do something — let an under-25 pitcher make his MLB debut as a starter — that many teams let happen maybe once a season.

Further expanding on that point, it seems to me that if the Yankees truly believed that if one of Phelps, Warren or Mitchell were indeed ready to toe the MLB rubber last June, then they would have had that happen. Not that I don’t want to see a young kid be given a chance to succeed, but on the flip side, no one knows these players better than the Yankees. There’s an assumption being made here that just because the AAA pitchers have youth on their side they are going to automatically perform as well or better than hypothetical alternatives.

As much as everyone’s been talking about the starting pitching depth the Yankees have, both at the Major League level and at AAA, it’s being conveniently overlooked that the Warrens, Phelps and Mitchells of the world have all continually been scouted and described as #4/#5-type starters at best. For all the hand-wringing the Brian Gordon decision seemed to result in last year, clearly Cash felt that particular move gave the Yankees a better chance to win at that moment in time than bringing up a kid with back-end starter potential. Gordon gave the Yankees two starts, and they went 1-1 in those contests. Could one of the kids done the same thing? Perhaps, but what happens to, say, Warren’s development if he comes up and pulls a Chase Wright, whose career essentially ended after he gave up four consecutive home runs to the Red Sox? The only reason they went to guys like Wright and Matt DeSalvo that season to begin with was because they had no choice, not because they were stud prospects lighting the world on fire at AAA and forcing their way into the MLB picture.

For all the talk about stalling development, it seems like Warren, Phelps and/or Mitchell would’ve been given a chance in the Majors by now if the team deemed them ready or felt like any of them had an opportunity to be a legitimate part of the future. Ivan Nova — who the team apparently thought so little of that he was actually left unprotected in the 2008 Rule 5 draft — turned his career around and impressed Yankee brass enough to deservedly get his shot. Even Hector Noesi — though many would have liked to have seen him start earlier in the season last year — got his shot in relief. There was a fair amount of statistical evidence that supported these promotions.

The Yankees have also given Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain every chance in the world to prove themselves at the MLB level — Joba for one has never been back to the minors — even if I haven’t always been a massive fan of the way the team has handled each pitcher’s development — underscoring that when the team believes it has elite, young, sub-25 talent on its hands that need to be in the Majors now, they will get their opportunities.

While there’s certainly value in back-of-the-rotation starters, that type of pitcher is less valuable to a team like the Yankees that typically requires frontline starters to compete in the gauntlet that is the American League East. I don’t think it would surprise anyone if any or all of the members of that triumvirate found success in the National League.

Here are the nine under-25 starters that have made their MLB debuts as a Yankee during the last decade:

Rk Gcar Player Age Date ? Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit GSc WPA
1 1 Ian Kennedy 22.256 2007-09-01 TBD W 9-6 GS-7 ,W 7.0 5 3 1 2 6 1 96 63 0.090
2 1 Tyler Clippard 22.095 2007-05-20 NYM W 6-2 GS-6 ,W 6.0 3 1 1 3 6 1 95 65 0.166
3 1 Phil Hughes 20.306 2007-04-26 TOR L 0-6 GS-5 ,L 4.1 7 4 4 1 5 0 91 37 -0.133
4 1 Chase Wright 24.068 2007-04-17 CLE W 10-3 GS-5 ,W 5.0 5 3 3 3 3 1 104 45 0.030
5 1 Jeff Karstens 23.332 2006-08-22 SEA L 5-6 GS-6 5.2 6 3 3 2 2 2 93 45 -0.027
6 1 Sean Henn 24.011 2005-05-04 TBD L 8-11 GS-3 ,L 2.1 7 6 5 2 0 0 72 19 -0.462
7 1 Chien-Ming Wang 25.030 2005-04-30 TOR W 4-3 GS-7 7.0 6 2 2 2 0 0 81 55 0.259
8 1 Brad Halsey 23.126 2004-06-19 LAD W 6-2 GS-6 ,W 5.2 5 2 2 1 3 1 108 53 0.125
9 1 Brandon Claussen 24.058 2003-06-28 (2) NYM W 9-8 GS-7 ,W 6.1 8 2 1 1 5 1 105 55 0.216
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/21/2012.

Outside of Ian Kennedy and Chien-Ming Wang, none of these players went on to anything approaching sustained success as a Major League starter.

The list unsurprisingly expands if you change the input to relievers under 25 making their MLB debuts, and if you take the list and add the pitchers who have since spent their careers starting or are expected to primarily start — Ross Ohlendorf, Nova, Noesi and Dellin Betances — the Yankees’ total rises from nine to 12. And I realize we can play that game with every other team, but the overarching point is that it’s simply not true that the Yankees are afraid to give their young pitchers a shot.

Rk Gcar Player Age Date ? Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit WPA
1 1 Andrew Brackman 25.292 2011-09-22 TBR L 8-15 6-7 1.1 1 0 0 1 0 0 32 0.000
2 1 Dellin Betances 23.183 2011-09-22 TBR L 8-15 8-8 0.2 0 2 2 4 0 0 27 -0.004
3 1 Steve Garrison 24.316 2011-07-25 SEA W 10-3 9-9f 0.2 0 0 0 0 0 0 9 0.000
4 1 Hector Noesi 24.112 2011-05-18 BAL W 4-1 12-15f,W 4.0 4 0 0 4 4 0 66 0.450
5 1 Ivan Nova 23.121 2010-05-13 DET L 0-6 7-8f 2.0 2 0 0 0 1 0 30 0.002
6 1 Michael Dunn 24.104 2009-09-04 TOR L 0-6 7-7 0.2 0 2 2 3 0 0 19 -0.002
7 1 Mark Melancon 24.029 2009-04-26 BOS L 1-4 7-8f 2.0 1 0 0 1 1 0 22 0.024
8 1 Anthony Claggett 24.277 2009-04-18 CLE L 4-22 2-3 1.2 9 8 8 2 2 2 60 -0.108
9 1 Humberto Sanchez 25.113 2008-09-18 CHW W 9-2 8-8 1.0 0 0 0 0 1 0 11 0.002
10 1 Alfredo Aceves 25.267 2008-08-31 TOR L 2-6 8-9f 2.0 0 0 0 0 3 0 19 0.014
11 1 David Robertson 23.081 2008-06-29 NYM L 1-3 6-7 2.0 4 1 1 0 1 0 33 -0.025
12 1 Ross Ohlendorf 25.034 2007-09-11 TOR W 9-2 9-9f 1.0 0 0 0 0 1 0 11 0.002
13 1 Joba Chamberlain 21.318 2007-08-07 TOR W 9-2 8-9f 2.0 1 0 0 2 2 0 33 0.006
14 1 Jose Veras 25.289 2006-08-05 BAL L 0-5 7-8f 2.0 0 0 0 1 0 0 24 0.005
15 1 T.J. Beam 25.293 2006-06-17 WSN L 9-11 6-7 ,H 1.1 3 2 2 0 1 1 33 -0.065
16 1 Jorge De Paula 24.299 2003-09-05 BOS L 3-9 8-9f 2.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 23 0.003
17 1 Jason Anderson 23.295 2003-03-31 TOR W 8-4 9-9 0.0 2 2 2 0 0 0 8 -0.015
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/21/2012.

Whether or not they merit that shot is clearly a different story. In the cases of Warren, Mitchell and Phelps, simply being young doesn’t necessarily mean “better,” especially if the Yankees ultimately don’t see these players fitting into their long-term plans.

There have also been some rumblings about how the return of the 40-year-old Andy Pettitte to the rotation will further impact the development of the AAA contingent (my pal Brad Vietrogoski has a typically well-thought-out response to that development), to which I say, great — hopefully the rotation crunch will motivate Warren, Phelps and Mitchell to pitch their butts off, throw to mid-2.00 ERAs in the International League, and absolutely force the Yankees to have no choice but to give them a chance. I’d love to see them make it to the Show, but make it because they absolutely deserved/earned it, not just because they’re young. We’ve seen the Yankees bring young guys up when they weren’t ready and after a couple of turns, the results were less-than-pretty and derailed careers. Maybe, just maybe, the team is learning from its mistakes.

Scout’s Notes via Josh Norris

You may have missed them over the holiday weekend, but Josh Norris published a series of short posts with quotes from scouts about various Yankees’ prospects. Among the players covered are system headliners Jesus Montero (“He might be Miguel Cabrera”), Manny Banuelos (“I think he’s the real deal”), Mason Williams (“an above-average major league center field profile”), and Dellin Betances (“he’s going to be a bullpen guy”). Corban Joseph, Angelo Gumbs, Cito Culver, Branden Pinder, and personal fave Bryan Mitchell were covered as well, and Norris also posted an interview with Adam Warren. They’re all quick reads and get RAB’s highest level of recommendation, so check ’em out.

Warren, Phelps, and Banuelos to join Yankees (kinda)

Via Josh Norris, the Yankees will bring Adam Warren, David Phelps, and Manny Banuelos to New York for the upcoming Red Sox series (Sept. 23rd-25th). They won’t be added to the roster though, instead they’ll just workout with the team and observe the series from the stands. The Yankees do this pretty much every year with their top non-40-man roster prospects, giving them a taste of the big league life without actually letting them live the big league life. The fact that Dellin Betances is not included suggests he might be getting a legit call-up soon, but that’s far from confirmed.

The Adam Warren Option

(Getty)

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.

Yankees were close to trading Cervelli to Pittsburgh

Via George King, the Yankees were close to trading backup backstop Frankie Cervelli to the Pirates for right-hander Brad Lincoln recently, presumably sometime over the weekend. “It was very close but [we] couldn’t agree on the value of the players,” said King’s source. The move would have freed up a roster spot for Jesus Montero, but alas, we’ll have to wait. Brian Cashman told King that it’s “possible” Montero could join the team before September call-ups, which I guess qualifies as “in the near future.” Adam Warren and George Kontos were also mentioned as “possible” call-up candidates.

Lincoln, 26, was the fourth overall pick in the 2006 draft, but injuries (specifically Tommy John surgery) have hindered his development. His big league career consists of a 5.25 FIP in 58.2 IP, though he’s performed quite well in Triple-A. Baseball America ranked him as the Pirates’ fourth best prospect prior to the 2010 season, saying he “has two plus  pitches, a 90-93 mph fastball that reaches 95 with good late life and a curveball that breaks big and late.”

The Yankees remaining pitching depth

In today’s game it is the rarest of feats for a team to last an entire season using only five starters. It’s not even common to see a team use only six. Pitching depth has become an important aspect for any contending team. That puts the Yankees in a tough position. They came into spring training with two open rotation spots and few arms to fill them. What would happen if someone didn’t work out? Worse, what would happen if someone got hurt?

The Yankees got the answer to the latter question pretty quickly. Phil Hughes hit the DL after three terrible starts. Thankfully, the Yankees did have a surprise replacement in Bartolo Colon. That has worked out well so far, as have the other two non-household names in the rotation: Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova. But sometimes it feels as though the Yankees’ rotation is held together by CC Sabathia and some duct tape. What will happen, then, when they need a seventh starter?

Yesterday one of the depth options, Kevin Millwood, left the fray. That doesn’t represent a huge loss, since the Yankees reportedly weren’t impressed with his stuff. Still, he was a veteran option who could have stepped in if the Yankees needed an extra starter. They’ll have to move onto the next guy. Here’s who we could see in the case that Garcia, Colon, Nova, or even Burnett becomes a problem down the line.

Carlos Silva

(Morry Gash/AP)

Signed to a minor league contract last month, Silva just threw his first extended spring training start on Saturday. He’s still a little ways off, which is fine. The rotation is going well right now, and barring injury they probably won’t need someone for at least another two or three turns through the rotation. Silva pitched well for the Cubs last season — under Larry Rothschild‘s tutelage — with a 4.22 ERA and 3.75 FIP. At this point in his career he’s not going to dazzle anyone, but he can definitely serve a purpose in the back of the rotation. As long as the Yankees don’t need another starter in the next two weeks, I presume he’s first in line when that need does arise.

David Phelps

He got some hype this winter as the Yankees tried to build the staff, but there was no realistic way he was making the Opening Day roster. A rough spring made that took away unrealistic chances. His 2011 season has been ho-hum so far, a 4.15 ERA in 30.1 innings. A couple of short outings at the start of the season depress his numbers a bit, but it’s not as though he’s been dominant since. His maturity as a prospect and his good control will probably put him next in line for a call-up.

Adam Warren

I was surprised to see Warren start with the AAA team, but he’s made a fair run of it his first five starts. That is, he’s experienced good results. The inputs — specifically his 17:13 K/BB ratio — haven’t been that encouraging. He’s also a fly ball guy, which makes him more of a liability at Yankee Stadium. Again, the stat sheet looks fine, but given his lack of experience (just 84.1 innings above A-ball), his current profile as a fly ball guy, and his spotty control, I’m not sure he’s taking the shuttle to the Bronx this year unless there is a major catastrophe.

Andrew Brackman

(Charlie Neibergall/AP)

At some point this season Brackman figures to make a Bronx appearance. Whether that’s as a starter or in relief remains the question. His first four starts at AAA haven’t been great, as he’s been a bit wild at times. The Yankees clearly want to get him more experience in the minors, so I assume he wouldn’t get the call until mid-June at the earliest. Even that might be stretching it. He’s in line for sure, but he doesn’t appear to be near the front.

Hector Noesi

Sitting in the bullpen rather than pitching didn’t help Noesi’s case. He’s on the 40-man roster and because of that he’ll always be near the front of the line. But he will probably need some more work if he’s going to take a spot in the rotation, even if temporarily. Clearly, he was an emergency-only option during his brief sting with the team earlier in the year.

D.J. Mitchell

I don’t think he’s much of an option, but he’s at AAA so he at least gets a mention. A two-pitch guy without much of an out pitch, he’s probably bullpen-bound anyway.

Schaeffer Hall, Craig Heyer, Manny Banuelos

They’re all off to good starts in AA, but I doubt they’re ahead of any of the AAA guys, except maybe Mitchell. Maybe later in the season they’ll move up a level and get a longer look, but until then I doubt the Yankees think about adding any of them to the 40-man and then the active roster.

Estimating 2011 Innings Limits

Photo evidence that Phil threw at least one changeup in 2006. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Innings limits and pitch counts and all that stuff have become a part of baseball whether you like it or not. Young pitchers are becoming more and more important in the game today, and teams are doing their best to protect those players, nevermind financial investments that often climb into the eight-figures. Yankees fans are sick of the Joba Rules by now and it’s no fun to watch Sergio Mitre make a start in place of Phil Hughes in the middle of the season, but it’s part of life.

The Yanks are going to have to rely on their young arms more than they’ve had to at any point in the last 10, 15, maybe even 20 years in 2011, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be cognizant of workload limitations. Let’s take a look at some of the young hurlers that will/might see big league time next season and figure out how many innings the team can get out of them. I did my best to include everything, from regular season to playoffs to winter ball, but it’s easier said than done.

Phil Hughes
St. Phil threw a total of 192 innings last season, regular season and playoffs, 46 more than his previous career high of 146, which came way back in 2006. It’s probably more like an increase of 30-36 innings since Hughes did make a few starts in the playoffs for Double-A Trenton that year. The problem is that he threw just 111.2 IP in 2009 and 69.2 IP in 2008, so it was a huge jump when you look year-to-year. If Hughes threw that many innings last year, there’s really no reason he can’t throw 200-210 innings this summer, but the real question is how will all those extra innings in 2010 effect him in 2011.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Ivan Nova
Like Hughes, Nova threw a career high number of innings last season, 187 in all. His innings total has climbed rather methodically over the last few seasons, going from 148.2 IP in 2008 to 165 IP in 2009 (regular season plus winter ball) and then to 187 IP last year. For all intents and purposes, Nova has no innings limit during the upcoming season. Two hundred innings should be no problem if needed.

David Phelps
He’s only been in the system for two full years, but Phelps has already proven himself to be a bonafide horse. He led the organization with 164.2 IP in 2010, which came a year after he threw 158.2 IP and two years after he threw 151 IP (college and pro). There are no concerns here whatsoever, Phelps is good for 180 innings next year at the very least.

Hector Noesi
Noesi’s gone from an injury prone guy to a workhorse starter over the last few seasons, finishing right behind Phelps with 163.2 IP last year. That comes after throwing 124 total innings in 2009, so it was a significant jump (39.2 IP). He did tire a bit late last season, putting 31 men on base and allowing 19 runs in his final 22 IP (four starts). He’s good for 175 IP next year, easy, maybe even as much as 190.

D.J. Mitchell
The Yankees had four minor leaguers throw at least 150 regular season innings last year, just the second time that’s happened since 2003. All four of them were actual prospects too, no filler. Mitchell was the low man on the totem pole at 155.2 IP, trailing Phelps, Noesi, and the since departed Lance Pendleton. That was a jump of just seven innings from his previous career high of 147.2 IP, set in 2009. He’s good for 175 innings next year, no problemo.

Lots of innings that year. (AP Photo/Eric Francis)

Adam Warren
As a four-year player at a major college program, Warren’s thrown plenty of innings in recent years. Last season he managed 146.1 between the regular season and playoffs, but that wasn’t even his career high. He set that the year before, when he threw 168 IP between the college regular season, the College World Series, and his pro debut. His 2008 season featured 122 total innings, so Warren is primed for a jump into the 160-170 range in 2011, if not more.

Andrew Brackman
The Brackmonster started his professional career my missing a full season due to Tommy John surgery, but he’s been healthy since (save for a cut on his hand in April 2010) and has thrown plenty of innings. He threw 106.2 IP in 2009 before jumping all the way up to 145.2 IP last season. Brackman’s (really) big and strong, he should be able to handle 160+ innings next year without an issue.

* * *

That pretty much sums it up, I’d be surprised if any other young hurlers from the system threw a significant amount of innings for the big league team next season. Heck, I’d be surprised if anyone above not named Phil or Ivan threw a significant amount of innings for the Yankees next season. Maybe Noesi, he’s the logical next-in-line since he’s on the 40-man and has Triple-A experience.

In case you’re wondering, both Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances are probably targeted for 120-140 innings next season after their injury-shorted campaigns in 2010. Their real coming out party is set for 2012. Luckily there are plenty of guys capable of throwing a ton of innings ahead of them, so the Yankees will have no reason to rush them.