Update: Yanks recall Mitchell, send Garcia to ‘pen

Update (12:09pm): As expected, Eppley has been sent down to Triple-A to make room on the roster for Mitchell.

11:42am: Freddy Garcia has been bumped from the rotation and will pitch out of the bullpen for the first time in his career. Joe Girardi hinted at both Mitchell and David Phelps being candidates to fill the rotation void, probably depending on who is needed out of the bullpen the next few days.

10:48am:The Yankees have recalled D.J. Mitchell from Triple-A, the team announced. There’s no word on the corresponding roster move, but I suspect Cody Eppley will be sent down after throwing three innings and 37 pitches yesterday. No 40-man roster move is required.

Mitchell, 24, was scheduled to start for Triple-A Empire State today, so he’s fresh and available for a whole lot of innings. He had been the best starter on the club’s top minor league affiliate in the early going, pitching to a 3.13 ERA with 8.22 K/9 (24.1 K%), 2.74 BB/9 (8.1 BB%), and a 48% ground ball rate in 21 IP across four starts. I ranked him as the Yankees’ 16th best prospect before the season.

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Poll: The Long Man

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

No one likes to see a teammate get hurt, but it’s hard to imagine the Triple-A trio of David Phelps, Adam Warren, and D.J. Mitchell didn’t take the Michael Pineda shoulder tendinitis news as a personal positive. The injury freed up a bullpen spot and moved those three one step closer to the big leagues. There’s only one spot for three guys though, and the team is clearly looking to fill that spot with a traditional long man.

“Larry (Rothschild)’s done a really good job of getting them built up,” said Joe Girardi. “We kept them in camp a long time, and it was important they were built up for the season, and they are. But they’re built up to be a long man as well.”

What we’re talking about is the Hector Noesi role, which is fitting since Noesi was a Triple-A starter with seemingly little path to the big leagues at this time last year. As usual, these things have a way of working themselves out. The Yankees have to decide which of the three is best suited for the role and make the decision fairly soon since the Triple-A season starts in three days. Looking at Spring Training performance doesn’t really help one player stand out from the pack either…

G/GS IP TBF ERA K% BB% GB%
Mitchell 6/0 14.1 63 2.51 19.0% 12.7% 50.0%
Phelps 6/1 16.0 67 2.25 17.9% 6.0% 47.2%
Warren 5/2 15.0 63 4.80 12.7% 1.6% 60.0%

Not only are we talking about Spring Training numbers, but we’re talking about a small sample of Spring Training numbers. That’s like, the double whammy of baseball statistics. Maybe the two negatives cancel each other out and we should take these number seriously, but good luck deciding who’s performed the best.

I don’t think there’s a wrong answer here. I believe all three guys are capable of long relief work in the show right now, so there’s a chance the decision will come down to factors other than expected performance. Warren isn’t on the 40-man roster, so that might work against him. The Yankees reportedly view Mitchell as a reliever long-term, which could work in his favor. It could also work against Phelps, who might be sent to the minors so he remains fully stretched out for whenever a spot start is needed. We could come up with a million different scenarios supporting each guy.

The nice thing about this whole situation is the flexibility. Whatever decision the Yankees make isn’t permanent; they can swap these guys out as needed. If Phelps ends up throwing 80 pitches in extra innings or something, they could send him down and recall Mitchell for a fresh arm. If the guy they pick for Opening Day stinks, well there are two replacements ready to go. We say it every year but it is worth repeating: the bullpen at the start of the year is never the same as the bullpen at the end of the year.

Anyway, a situation like this calls for a poll. We’ve had quite a few of these lately, but so be it. It’s that time of the year.

Who should be the long man to open the season?
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Austin Romine and D.J. Mitchell win 2011 Kevin Lawn Awards

Via Mike Ashmore, Austin Romine and D.J. Mitchell have named the 2011 Kevin Lawn Award winners. That’s a fancy way of saying they were named the Yankees’ minor league hitter and pitcher of the year for last season. Romine produced a .332 wOBA in 85 Double-A games last year before brief promotions to Triple-A and the big leagues. He also won the award in 2009. Mitchell pitched to a 3.18 ERA (3.96 FIP) in a farm system-leading 161.1 IP for Triple-A Scranton last summer. Congrats to both.

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.

Phelps, Mitchell, Laird, and Kontos all optioned to Triple-A

Via Chad Jennings, the Yankees have officially optioned RHP David Phelps, RHP D.J. Mitchell, 1B/3B/LF Brandon Laird, and RHP George Kontos to Triple-A. All four can still appear in Spring Training games — Phelps will start Thursday’s game against the Red Sox — but they’ve been sent down to start the season. It’s just a procedural move, but it does make the final bullpen spot picture a little clearer. Here’s the first round of roster cuts from last week in case you missed them.

Yankees add five to 40-man roster

With the deadline to set the 40-man roster for next month’s Rule 5 Draft looming, the Yankees added RHP David Phelps, RHP D.J. Mitchell, OF Zoilo Almonte, IF Corban Joseph, and IF David Adams to the 40-man roster today. The first three guys are not surprising at all, as I explained yesterday.

Joseph, drafted out of high school in 2008, was eligible for this year’s Rule 5 Draft because he graduated at 19 years old, so he had to protected one year earlier than usual. Adams is somewhat surprising to me; he’s missed the majority of the last two seasons following a brutal ankle injury suffered last May. He’s played in just 29 games since, so the Yankees must feel pretty good about his health if they protected him.

There’s only spot on the 40-man roster left open now, so some guys will get the axe as the Yankees add players this offseason. Kevin Whelan is probably first in line to go, and something will have to give with the out-of-options trio of Greg Golson, Justin Maxwell, and Chris Dickerson.

Preparing for the Rule 5 Draft

It snuck up on me a bit this year, but tomorrow is the deadline for teams to set their 40-man roster for this year’s Rule 5 Draft. The deadline is usually sometime in the afternoon, 4-5pm ET, but that’s not terribly important. Anyone left unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft can be selected by another team, and if that player manages to stick on his new team’s big league roster all season in 2012, they officially become that team’s property. Not a ton of players will stick, but there’s always one or two a year.

Generally speaking, high school players drafted in 2007 (or earlier) and college players drafted in 2008 (or earlier) are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this year. It’s always tough to figure out who is eligible among the international signees since we don’t really know exactly when they signed, but I believe it’s anyone that signed in 2006 (again, or earlier) this year. The Yankees got a jump on things by calling up both Austin Romine and George Kontos in September, both of whom would have been eligible had they not been added to the 40-man roster.

The Yankees currently have six open spots on their 40-man roster, but that doesn’t mean they’ll use all six to protect prospects. Some of those spots will be used for a new starting pitcher or some bench players or another reliever, players that will contribute to the Major League team in 2012. The only two players that will definitely be added to the 40-man by tomorrow are D.J. Mitchell and David Phelps, two starters with a healthy amount of Triple-A innings under their belt. Guys like that are Rule 5 Draft gold, they wouldn’t last more than the first five picks.

The rest of the crop is pretty sketchy. There’s David Adams (can’t stay healthy), Bradley Suttle (hasn’t done anything worthy of being added), and Dan Brewer (hurt last year, was the Triple-A fourth outfielder on Opening Day). I suspect all three will be left unprotected, it’s hard to see any of them sticking on a 25-man roster all year in 2012. Pat Venditte will be an interesting case, he’s got the results and the ambidextrous thing gets him noticed, but there are serious questions about how his very fringy stuff will translate to the show. If the Yankees don’t protect him, which I don’t think they will, then some team will almost assuredly grab him just to see what he’s got in Spring Training. The novelty is too great to pass up.

Among international free agent signees, I do believe that Zoilo Almonte is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this winter, and I do think the Yankees will add him to the 40-man. The Greg Golson/Justin Maxwell/Chris Dickerson trio is out-of-options, and there’s a non-zero chance the Yankees could lose all three before the end of Spring Training. If that happens, the outfield depth is suddenly Colin Curtis and Melky Mesa. Not good. Almonte, a switch-hitting corner outfielder, had a fine season split between High-A and Double-A this year (.276/.345/.459 with 18 steals and 15 homers).

That’s three players (Mitchell, Phelps, Almonte) I expect to be added to the 40-man roster before tomorrow’s deadline, thought there’s always the possibility of a surprise or two, like Reegie Corona a few years ago. What the hell was that about? Anyway, I don’t see any locks to be selected other than Venditte, there are no Lance Pendleton/middle relief types worth a Spring Training look.