The Big Three, revisited

For a young baseball player, nothing can be worse than the spectre of expectations. Ask Rocco Badelli, now retired at 29 and long called the next Joe DiMaggio, how he feels about the label now. Ask every relief pitcher who gets tagged as the next Mariano. Ask young sluggers about the pressures of Albert Pujols or Miguel Cabrera comparisons.

Meanwhile, for those kids who come of age as a member of the Yankees, the expectations are even greater. Win today, win tomorrow, win yesterday. There’s no time for growth, development, mistakes or adjustments. If you can’t cut it from the get-go, you’re not tough enough. I shudder to think where Robinson Cano would be had he hit .229 instead of .289 over his first 50 games.

A few years ago, as Mike mentioned in tonight’s Open Thread, we hitched our wagon to Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. The Yanks had three top arms they had selected in the early rounds of the amateur draft, and these kids were working their way successfully through the organization when Johan Santana became available. The Twins wanted Kennedy and Hughes plus others, and we believed it would be a mistake to include two of them in a deal with Minnesota.

At the time, we didn’t expect all three of them to be top-flight Major League starters. It rarely works that way with young arms. But we expected them to be useful Major Leaguers or Major League pieces in the right deal, and that’s what happened. Phil Hughes has emerged as a legitimate middle-of-the-rotation arm; Joba Chamberlain is working himself back from a shoulder injury more serious than originally thought; and Kennedy has found success in the NL after helping net the Yanks Curtis Granderson. My personal views on Joba’s role notwithstanding, that’s a great tale of pitcher development.

Now we have our second generation of the Big Three, and they’re getting a lot of attention early on. We call the top arms in the Yanks’ rotation the Killer B’s. They are, after all, the next generation of hyped — or overhyped — pitchers. Andrew Brackman, 25, Dellin Betances, 22, and Manny Banuelos, 19, are names regular RAB readers know well and names with which Yankee fans will soon become familiar. Already, reporters are getting itchy.

With the Yankees’ rotation heavy with question marks and thin with top-flight starters, the kids are under the microscope. Enter Joel Sherman. In his blog post today, Sherman talks about other Yankees who unexpectedly forced themselves into the picture. Alfonso Soriano‘s killer Spring Training in 2001 made the Yanks play him. Robinson Cano came up ahead of schedule when Tony Womack just couldn’t cut it. Phil Hughes was pressed into service when the Yanks’ thin rotation started to fall apart. Can history repeat itself with one of the Killer B’s?

Sherman almost answers his own question in the negative. Brian Cashman told The Post that these kids — the potential future — won’t be rushed. “They shouldn’t be caught up in our major league problems,” he said. But Sherman, who may be speculating or may be doing more than reading tea leaves, can’t help but wonder:

No matter how short the rotation might be, it is not up to two inexperienced pitchers to solve the mess caused by Cliff Lee’s rejection and Andy Pettitte‘s continued defection. Banuelos and Betances have each made three career starts at Double-A, which is the highest level they have attained. Both had injuries last year that severely restricted their workload. So you can expect that the Yankees will institute an innings cap not much above 130 — if that high — this season. With that the case, it would be hard to begin or end the year with either Banuelos or Betances in the rotation. In addition, Cashman stressed that Banuelos is 19 (he turns 20 next month).

For now, Banuelos and Betances are ticketed for Double-A. But keep this in mind: Many members of the Yankees organization feel breaking young pitchers in via the bullpen is worthwhile, so it is possible that the last 20 or 30 innings of their work could be out of the major league pen. Also, don’t forget, Soriano was not supposed to be with the Yankees in 2001 nor was Hughes supposed to be with the team in 2007. So whatever the rules are in the chill of February, remember they are always subject to rewrite.

I don’t discount Sherman’s sourcing. He’s very well connected within the upper reaches of the Yanks’ braintrust. But if the recent past is any indication, the Yanks won’t rush prized arms. Banuelos and Betances have combined for 30 AA innings. Brackman threw 80 at that level and is very much a work in progress, and the Yanks like to let their works in progress arrive when ready. If any player is going to play themselves onto the Yanks during Spring Training, it will be Jesus Montero and not Brackman, Banuelos or Betances.

So we’ll wait out this second generation of the Big Three. We’ll give them their innings at AA and AAA, and we’ll see their names pop up in trade rumors all season. If they can approximate the success of the first Big League — a starter, a reliever and a trade chip — the Yankees can pat themselves on the back for a job well done. The road to that end is long yet, and there is no need to rush.

KLaw’s Top 100 Prospects

Keith Law’s top 100 prospects list came out today (1-25, 26-50, 51-75, 76-100), and unsurprisingly the Yankees are well represented (I believe all but the top 25 are Insider only). Jesus Montero comes in at number four, trailing only Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Domonic Brown. “[Montero’s] going to hit. And by that, I mean he’s going to hit for average, get on base and have huge power — the type of offensive profile that plays anywhere on the field and in the lineup,” said KLaw, though he adds the obvious caveat about his defense. “Montero could solve the Yankees’ DH problem for the next 10 years if they commit to it, a move they are unlikely to ever regret.”

Manny Banuelos wasn’t too far behind Montero at number 12, and according to KLaw he’s the fourth best pitching prospect in baseball behind Julio Teheran, Shelby Miller, and Zach Britton. “[He’s] a 19-year-old on the cusp of the majors with a three-pitch mix where all three pitches will at least flash above-average … he’s just a few refinements away from being able to help the big league club.” Law is probably the high man on Banuelos, I was surprised to see him ranked so far up there. Gary Sanchez is 68th (“youth and distance from the majors are the only things keeping him out of the top echelon of this list”), Dellin Betances is 73rd (“[there’s] No. 1 starter potential here, but the probability isn’t there yet”), and Andrew Brackman makes five Yankee farmhands at number 88 (“[he] may be a bullpen guy, but at least now that’s his floor”).

Austin Romine make Law’s list of ten prospects that just missed the top 100, and he notes that Romine “can throw and hit for power, but has struggled with basic receiving tasks every time I’ve seen him in the past six months.” His list of each organization’s top ten prospects came out as well, and the Yankee list is pretty standard with one exception: he’s got Graham Stoneburner all that way at number seven. Hooray for a strong farm system.

Mailbag: From Double-A to MLB

Not yet, Manny. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Jamie asks: First I’ll start off by saying I’m confident that the Yanks will sign or trade for another SP prior to Spring Training and this question becomes moot. However, if they don’t there’s been talk of using kids to fill the rotation out with names like Betances and Banuelos thrown out there. My question is, how often have teams’ top pitching prospects skipped AAA entirely and have there been many pitchers that have been successful in doing so? What’s the best/worst case scenario we could see out of ManBan or Dellin if either were the 5th starter?

I did some digging around and it turns out that quite a few top pitching prospects skipped the Triple-A level before jumping into the big leagues, including current Yankee ace CC Sabathia. He made ten High-A starts in 2000 before being promoted at midseason and making another 17 starts with Double-A, and the next year he made the Indians’ rotation as a 20-year-old right out of Spring Training. His lone career Triple-A start was a rehab outing in 2006. A.J. Burnett made the jump from Double-A to the majors in 1999, but he went back to the minors to start the 2000 season before resurfacing in June. He made all of one Triple-A start before sticking in the show.

Some of the other notable big leaguers that skipped Triple-A all together: Justin Verlander (just 20 minor league starts total, seven in Double-A), Mat Latos (nine Double-A starts), Clayton Kershaw (16 Double-A starts), Josh Beckett (13 Double-A starts), Scott Kazmir (eight Double-A starts), and former Yankee first round pick Eric Milton (14 Double-A starts). Tim Lincecum (five), Roy Oswalt (five), and Cole Hamels (three) all made a very limited number of Triple-A starts before sticking in the big leagues. The Tigers were aggressive with Verlander but he was a college draft pick; Rick Porcello was a high school kid that famously jumped from High-A to the big leagues in 2009. Half-a-decade earlier, the Tigers did the exact same thing with Jeremy Bonderman. Yeah, Detroit likes to be aggressive with their prospects. Johan Santana jumped from High-A to the big leagues as well, but he was a Rule 5 Draft pick, so his situation was a little different. I’m certain there are more examples out there, but these are just a few.

As for Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, we have to remember that if either guy started the 2011 season in the Yankees rotation, they wouldn’t be just skipping Triple-A, they’d essentially be skipping Double-A as well. Banuelos is still just 19 years old, and he has a total of three starts and 15.1 Double-A innings to his credit. Betances is older in age (22) but not in Double-A experience, his three starts at the level produced a total of 14.1 innings. Combined, the pair have faced 119 batters above the Single-A level. Throwing them to the AL East wolves with that little upper level experience is just asking for trouble. The chances of success are probably like, 5%, and the worst case scenario involves 50 or so innings with a 6+ ERA and a trip back to the minors with confidence at an all-time low.

Thankfully the Yankees have some arms in Triple-A they could turn to first. Hector Noesi and Andrew Brackman are already on the 40-man, and David Phelps can be added without a problem. We can even add Adam Warren to that mix as well. Those four can and should be given a rotation spot before turning to Banuelos or Betances. The time will come for those two, but 2011 is too soon.

Mailbag: The Killer B’s vs. The Big Three

Viva la The Big Three. (Cataffo, NY Daily News)

Dan asks: How excited should we be about the Killer B’s (Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman) in comparison to how we were a few years ago with the Big Three (Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy)? Also, when can we expect an impact at the major league level?

The first thing we have to remember is that we’re talking about a group of very different pitchers here, so it’s not exactly an apples to apples comparison. Just speaking in general terms, Brackman, Betances, and Joba are all pure stuff guys. Hughes and Banuelos are a combination of stuff and polish, while Kennedy is all polish. The Killer B’s have a higher collective ceiling only because IPK drags down The Big Three, not that he’s a bad pitcher or anything.

Another difference is health. Both Brackman and Betances have had major elbow surgery in the not too distance past, but none of The Big Three have gone under the knife. Well, Kennedy did for his aneurysm in 2009, but that was a non-baseball thing, like Banuelos’ appendix. Then there’s performance. Hughes, Kennedy, and Joba completely smoked the minors, not a single one ran into any kind of rough patch where they struggled for a month or so. Brackman, as well know, sucked in 2009, and Betances had been pretty inconsistent prior to the elbow. The track records are on opposite ends of the spectrum as far as I’m concerned.

If I had to pick between the two group of pitchers at their respective prospect status peaks, I’d take Hughes-Joba-Kennedy eight days a week and twice on Sunday. Hughes and Joba we simply the two best prospects of the six, and at his peak Kennedy was a better prospect than either Brackman or Betances. In terms of hype, which is really what the question boils down to, I don’t think there’s any doubt that the Big Three were more hyped and anticipated. Like I said, they all destroyed the minors, and that alone is enough to drum up some excitement. And remember, the Yankees were in a very different place a few years ago. The rotation was crap and here we had three young and exciting arms coming to save the day. That adds fuel to the fire as well.

As for when you can expect The Killer B’s to make an impact, I think Brackman’s the first one to debut, likely as a reliever in the second half of 2011. I suppose if he performs well enough and the Yankees have a need, he could come up as a starter, but there are a few guys ahead of him on the pecking order. Both Betances and Banuelos are 2012 guys at the absolute earliest. Neither has much experience at Double-A, so they still have to clear that hurdle and then deal with Triple-A. Banuelos will probably beat Betances just because he’s better and is more advanced as a pitcher, but Dellin has a 40-man roster spot to his name.

Best part of it all? The Yankees have five of these six guys, so no matter who you like best, we all still win. Developing not one, but two trios of pitching prospects like this within four years of each other is rather awesome if you ask me.

Minor Moves: Betances, Laird, Pope, Johnson

Don’t the Yankees know that 4pm ET on a Friday is no time to break news? After announcing that Larry Rothschild will be the new pitching coach, the following minor league news made the rounds…

  • Dellin Betances, Brandon Laird, and Ryan Pope were all added to the 40-man roster, protecting them from the upcoming Rule 5 Draft. I thought that George Kontos would get protected as well, but the Yankees must feel that he isn’t capable of sticking on a big league team’s 25-man roster for a full season yet. He, along with Craig Heyer and Lance Pendleton, are candidates to be selected.
  • The Yanks acquired minor league outfielder Cody Johnson from the Braves in exchange for cash considerations. Johnson, 22, was the 24th overall pick in the 2006 draft but it hasn’t clicked yet. He’s got big time power (career .233 ISO) but is a whiff machine (39.0% strikeout rate), and in fact 49.9% of his 1,813 career plate appearances have ended with a homer, walk, or strikeout. Three true outcomes FTW. Johnson is likely to begin 2011 with Double-A Trenton.

The Killer B’s: Who is coming first?

Thankfully the Yankees have the Killer B's, not Killer Bees

Bobby (NY)

What is a realistic path for Banuelos to the majors? He is still young for AA right?

Klaw
Yes, but I’ve talked to multiple scouts about him (and I think he’ll be here next week) and it sounds like he’s not very far off.

Picked up this question in Klaw’s chat at ESPN on Thursday and thought it was pretty interesting.  I look forward to seeing Law do an actual prospect profile on Banuelos next year.  He hasn’t seen him yet, but noted on twitter that several scouts told him Banuelos was the best pitcher they had seen all year. Considering Law says he’s not far off, could Banuelos be the first of the Killer B’s to make an impact in the Bronx?

Banuelos is by far the youngest of the three, as Betances has 3 years on him and Brackman has more than 5.  At the same time, both Brackman and Betances have struggled with injuries and neither have much more minor league experience than Banuelos does.  Brackman and Betances also are expected to take longer to develop due to their big frames.  While their length should give them an advantage down the road it can lead to struggles with repeating their deliveries and being consistent.  Banuelos on the other hand checks in at just 5’10”, which while concerning (not many sub 6 feet starters out there), also is helpful in his development as he has less to worry about in his delivery.  Without the extra length, it’s easier for him to be consistent.

Obviously Brackman has the biggest advantage in already being on the 40 man roster.  If he’s healthy and continues to progress, I would be very surprised if we didn’t see him in the bigs in 2011, even if he comes up in the pen (to be moved back the rotation, right?).  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Banuelos before Betances though.  Because the Yankees are always competing for the World Series, they often aren’t in a hurry to get young pitchers in the major leagues, and Banuelos will still be barely 20 on Opening Day next year.  If he dominates at AA (no sure thing) and Betances struggles or gets hurt, why wouldn’t Banuelos get the first crack at the majors, other than his age?  The biggest X factor in this is that they are all trade bait and there’s no guarantee any or all of them will ever throw a pitch for the Yankees, but I think it’s interesting that in the scouting community, Banuelos is closer than I would have expected.

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.