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.

Baseball America’s Florida State League Top 20 Prospects

Baseball America posted their list of the top 20 prospects in the High-A Florida State League today, and four Yankees made the cut: Dellin Betances at #4, Adam Warren at #13, Melky Mesa at #19, and Andrew Brackman at #20. Matt Moore (Rays), Chris Archer (Cubs), and Jacob Turner (Tigers) were the only players ahead of Betances. Manny Banuelos didn’t have enough innings to qualify.

In the subscriber only scouting reports they noted that Betances’ delivery is improved but there are still some concerns because of a head jerk and a stiff landing. The latter is pretty easy correct and is not uncommon at all. As for his stuff, they call it a “93-95 mph fastball and a power curveball” and a work-in-progress changeup. BA lauded Warren’s deep repertoire, which features “heavy 90-93 mph fastball”, a slow curveball, and a cutter/slider kind of breaking pitch. They also mention that his 6-foot-1, 200 lb. frame is maxed out, and there’s a chance he’ll end up as more of a setup man than a starter.

Mesa was said to have the best set of tools in the league behind Phillie turned Astros turned Blue Jay Anthony Gose. He “showed true four-tool ability” because he has “excellent raw power that already makes its presence felt in games, runs well, covers a lot of ground in center field and owns a strong, accurate arm.” His ability to make consistent contact and handle breaking balls is, as it always was, a concern. Brackman “showed an 89-94 mph fastball and a power curveball … giving him a pair of plus pitches on his best days.” They note that he uses his height to his advantage and that his changeup is improved, but his command can still waver from time to time.

The Double-A Eastern League list comes out on Friday, and the Yankees should be well represented once again. Brackman is again eligible for that list, and you’ve also got Hector Noesi, Austin Romine, and even Brandon Laird. David Adams is a long shot given his injury, and if Banuelos didn’t have enough innings to qualify for the FSL list, he definitely won’t have enough for the EL. For shame.

Minor Matters: Cox, Warren Brackman

Your regularly scheduled DotF will be a little late tonight, so I’ll leave you some links to hold you over…

  • J.B. Cox is back. He struggled mightily after undergoing Tommy John surgery during the 2006-2007 offseason, and basically packed his bags and headed home to Texas last June to think about his future in baseball. Hopefully the time off rejuvenated his arm a bit and he can get back to being the strikeout/ground ball relief monster he was in 2006. It’s good to see J.B. back, he was always a personal fave.
  • Cox was assigned to High-A Tampa, taking the place of Adam Warren, who was placed on the 7-day disabled list. Apparently it’s nothing serious, more of an innings control kind of thing. He’s only scheduled to miss one start.
  • Andrew Brackman was reportedly sitting at 93 last night, touching 96 with his fastball. He’s also added a power slider to his repertoire, which registered as high as 87 yesterday. Kevin Goldstein backs those reports up (sub. req’d): “He’s been throwing an almost shocking number of strikes all season (7 BB in 55 IP), but his stuff is getting better and better, as the Yankees have put considerable work into nearly every aspect of his game and the results are finally showing up.  With a fastball suddenly getting up to 96 mph, two distinct breaking balls and a changeup, Brackman has allowed six runs over 29 innings in his last five starts while whiffing 34, and he’s back on the prospect map.”

The Yankees knew Brackman was going to be a long-term project when they drafted him in 2007, especially with Tommy John surgery on the immediate horizon. Now that he’s 20 or so months out from surgery, Brackman’s starting to come around and show everyone why he was so highly touted in the first place. It’s all about patience, people. If you don’t have any, don’t follow prospects.

Hi-A prospects: Tampa

This is the third installment of our four-part What’s going on with some of my favorite minor leaguers? series. Today, we head down south to Tampa, Florida, where the Hi-A Tampa Yankees might actually be the most popular baseball team in town, which is really actually kind of sad. (I know the Trop sucks and it’s a hassle to go to, but c’mon Tampa fans, please watch your team play baseball. They’re really good. /unrelated rant)

Tampa features the most intriguing pitching staff in the Yankee farm with Adam Warren, Andrew Brackman, Graham Stoneburner and fan-favorite Pat Venditte. Among hitters, only Bradley Suttle and Corban Joseph really stick out at you, although Melky Mesa is also a fairly well-known name. I know he’s a fun novelty item, but I just don’t see Venditte (or Mesa) as a real prospect, so the list will only include Warren, Brackman, Stoneburner, Suttle and Joseph. We’ll start with the hitters.

Hitters:

Bradley Suttle, 3B

Drafted as an above-slot bonus baby in the 4th round of the 2007 MLB draft, Suttle was known for two things – 1) He had a fantastic hit tool, maybe the best in that entire draft; and 2) he also happens to be this man in disguise:

Suttle, before practice in 2010.

Suttle has Type-1 diabetes. Since coming into the system, he’s been pretty up and down and his time has been largely marred by injury. In 2008 at Charleston he put up a line of .272/.345/.457. I wouldn’t call it a bad season, but it’s not eye-catching either. You’d ideally like a bit more out of a guy considered by many to be the best pure hitter in college coming out of the draft, but he didn’t totally struggle either. Still, it seems odd that a guy known for great plate discipline would notch 91 strikeouts and only 42 walks in 372 plate appearances.

But where Suttle really struggled was against southpaws – he hit .219/.323/.324 against them while at Charleston. For a guy without a great defensive reputation, with average power and mediocre athleticism, that sort of thing isn’t what moves you up the levels. Still, all things considered, Suttle had a fairly decent season.

But ut-oh! 2009 was entirely missed due to multiple shoulder injuries, including labrum surgery. Not great for a guy that might not have profiled as a 3B anyway. Arm strength is kind of critical. So we fast forward to 2010. On the year, Suttle is hitting .242/.306/.327. As you can see, he’s not hitting for any power but he’s also hitting 46% of balls into the ground. If you don’t have very good speed, you’re not going to see a lot of those fall in for hits. He’s also struck out 44 times in 165 AB’s and walked 16 times. That approach will get you nowhere if you don’t at least make solid contact when you do hit the ball. As I’ve said, he doesn’t. But there are some bright spots. He’s hitting left-handers better this year at .317/.344/.362 but that’s also aided by a BABip of .404. Considering his age at the level, the injury issues and the regression in on-base skills, it’s hard to see Suttle going much further. Hopefully he’s still feeling the ill-effects of surgery and will bounce back and at least show off great hitting skills.

2010 season at Hi-A: .242/.306/.327

Last ten games: .206/.293/.206

Corban Joseph, 2B:

Corban Joseph Multi-Pass was the Yankees’ fourth-round pick of the 2008 draft. Originally drafted as a shorstop, it seems most people didn’t believe he could stay there, including the Yankees, who moved him to second base. He also rated negatively (per Total Zone on B-Ref) at Charleston in a limited sample, but he it’s unlikely he’d develop the power to play at a corner, so 2nd would likely be a position he’ll have to pick up to move up and be a big-league player at some point. But he was solid at the hot corner, so maybe the team would direct him along the path of Kevin Russo. Who knows.

Now, that said, CoJo can hit. Last year in Charleston he was one of the more consistent hitters, throwing a line up of .300/.381/.418. He had a line drive rate of 25% and was pretty even with his strikeouts to walks ratio (61/49). He did have a crazy-high BABip over the last few months which made up for early season struggles, so it really was a tale of two seasons. So what has 2010 looked like for the Tennessee native?

He’s again one of the better hitters on the team and still a young player at 21. He’s hitting .303/.354/.415 and has two home runs on the year. I don’t know how his defense has been on the season, but his stick has again been very solid. He’s really the only hitter I can see on the Tampa team realistically continuing to move up with a real shot in the show. At this rate anyway. Still, the defense will have to really improve.

2010 season at Hi-A: .300/.381/.418

Last ten games: .343/.425/.371

Pitchers

Adam Warren, SP

What can I say about Adam Warren that hasn’t already been said? The dude has just been straight rolling though Hi-A hitters. It’s not even fair. Selected out of the University of North Carolina (go Heels!) in the 4th round of the 2009 draft, Warren should be a guy that advances quickly. He was a polished college senior, had an uptick of velocity (hitting 96) and has the potential to impact the big club possibly as early as 2011. Last year at Staten Island he ran over New York Penn League hitters, holding them with an ERA of 1.43 and solid peripherals.

In Tampa, he’s thrown 54 innings with just 14 walks and has registered 40 strikeouts. Batters are hitting .235 against him, which jumped considerably due to a poor outing on Friday. Per MILBSPLITS, Warren has gotten tons of groundballs (60%) and has kept the ball in the park (3% HR/FB ratio). I’m not sold that will look the same in Trenton, but there’s nothing it seems Warren needs to learn here at Hi-A. Expect to see him in lovely Trenton very shortly. If anyone knows how his velocity has been and the look of his secondary pitches this year, please let me know. As you can see by his last two starts, he finally ran into some trouble this year. Hey, it happens. He was lopped for 5 runs in less than three innings before exiting the game. No biggie. He’ll be fine.

2010 season at Hi-A: 54 IP, 2.67 ERA, 48 hits, 18 runs, 40 K, 14 BB, 2.43 GB/AA

Last two starts: 7.2 IP, 7.83 ERA, 8 hits, 6 Runs, 3 K, 0BB

Andrew Brackman.

Andrew Brackman, SP

Maybe one of the more hated prospects in the Yankee system, Andrew Brackman has had a strange season thus far. Signed as a classic bust/boom player as the Yankees’ 1st round pick in 2007, I don’t think anyone really expected what they saw out of him last year. Plagued with wildness and diminished stuff last season, he needed to show some positive signs of development this year. And he has. Brackmonster started the season off as we saw him in the throes of last year: 20 runs in 16.2 innings. Still, despite the crazy amount of runs, he walked one batter in that time frame. I can’t begin to tell you how unbelievable that is.

And check this out: he’s gotten much, much better since that bad stretch. Brackman has had only one start since then in which he’s given up more than one run. The walks are still minuscule at 5(!) in 38 innings and he’s notched 29 strikeouts this year. That’s pretty good. But the weird thing is it hasn’t fallen in with his scouting report. Kevin Goldstein reported that he’s been in the low-90’s (touching 94) with bad breaking balls. I don’t quite know how someone is able to put numbers up like this with two bad breaking balls and a fastball in the low 90’s, so I’m thinking maybe Goldstein saw him earlier in the season when he was getting bombed.

In May, which sandwiched a few rough starts with the rest of his good starts, Brackmonster has gotten hitters to ground out in 58% of at bats, his FIP is a crisp 3.24 and he wasn’t getting battered by a BABip of .455 like he did in April. Yeah, .455. Wow! I’m not going to say he pitched very well in April, but that’s an unbelievably high BABip, even in the minors. His FIP in April, after all, was only 4.20. He really wasn’t as bad as the box score would indicate.

The stuff is perhaps more important than the results. If Brackman is hitting 96 with his nasty hammer curve (two pitches that once hit 80 on the scale), I’d rather have that than weak stuff but solid results. Andrew Brackman just isn’t a prospect without a great fastball and breaking ball. At best he becomes John Rausch, who while a productive baseball player with similar size, relies on control. Andrew Brackman has never featured that. It’s totally possible he could, but I wonder how far he could get without great stuff. I’m hoping he’ll regain that velocity and feel for his curve. If Brackman does develop (a huge if), that’s easily the best pitcher in the system in terms of talent. Definitely my favorite guy to watch not named Jesus.

2010 Hi-A season:

38 IP, 5.92 ERA, 48 hits, 28 runs, 29 K, 5BB

Last two starts: 12 IP, 0.83 ERA, 9 hits, 1 run, 9 K, 2 BB

Graham Stoneburner, SP

One of the overslot signings of the 2009 draft, Stoneburner, featuring a plus-name and a lot of potential, has unequivocally been one of the best pitchers in the Yankee farm this season. You may remember he started the year in Charleston, where he stole batters’ lunch money and did donuts in the faculty parking lot. He brutalized them until being promoted in mid-May. How’s he looked in his promotion?

Well, there’s such a thing as a free lunch still in Tampa. Stoneburner, in 22 innings, has an ERA of 3.68 and has struck out 24. He does have 10 walks and had two very sharp starts and two rocky outings, so the consistency is not quite completely there at Tampa. In Charleston he was able to use his heavy sinking fastball to register a GB% of 55% and it’s particularly high against righties. Lefties seem to fare better against Stoneburner. In Tampa they’ve racked up 7 runs in 9.2 innings and 8 walks. That’ll need to improve but there’s a lot to like about Stoneburner’s hot start this year. He has a great arm and he continues to rack up strikeouts and limit walks. Spare a couple poor outings, Stoneburner’s been unreal this season. He might end up a reliever if his breaking balls don’t fully develop, but even in that role, he could be a good one. And one that rises quickly.

2010 Hi-A season:

22 IP, 3.68 ERA, 11 hits, 9 runs, 24 K, 10 BB

Last two starts: 12 IP, 2.50 ERA, 6 hits, 3 runs, 13 K, 4 BB

Ok folks, that’s all from Tampa. When I get back from vacation we’ll do Charleston. You can check out some of my other work at http://www.mystiqueandaura.com/

Prospect Profile: Adam Warren

Adam Warren | RHP

Background
Warren grew up in the Inner Banks region of North Carolina, in New Bern. He attended the high school of the same name, and starred for four years both on the mound and in the infield. A three-time participant in the North Carolina State Games, Warren earned All-State and All-Conference honors as a junior, and was also named the New Bern Sun Journal Player of the Year. He repeated as an All-Conference honoree as a senior, and was selected to the East Coast Professional Showcase Team. Warren graduated fifth in his class in 2005, and it was going to take big money to buy him away from the University of North Carolina and their powerhouse baseball program.

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