Depth Arms: Miscellaneous Non-40-Man Roster Pitchers [2015 Season Preview]

Yesterday afternoon we took at look at the Yankees’ pitching depth heading into the 2015 season, specifically the 40-man roster players expected to start the season in the minors with a chance to get called up at some point. Today we’re going to focus on non-40-man roster pitchers in the same position. Guys expected to report to the minors come Opening Day with a chance to see the Bronx at some point during the summer. Some are more likely to be called up than others, of course.

Bailey. (Bryan Hoch)
Bailey. (Bryan Hoch)

Andrew Bailey: The Ex-All Star

The Yankees signed Bailey last offseason knowing he was unlikely to pitch in 2014. Like Jon Lieber in 2003 or David Aardsma in 2011, the Yankees signed an injured established big leaguer with an eye on the following season. Lieber paid dividends in 2004, Aardsma didn’t in 2012. Such is life. Bailey rehabbed last year and instead of picking up his $2.5M club option for 2015, the Yankees signed him to a new minor league contract this offseason.

Bailey, 30, has finally returned to the mound this spring after needing close to 20 months to rehab from surgery to repair a torn shoulder capsule, a potential career-ender. He’s looked okay in camp — “rusty” is the word I would use — striking out four and allowing one unearned run on two hits and a walk in three innings. His fastball has been mostly 90-92 mph, which is encouraging, and his curveball is still a little loopy. All things considered, Bailey’s looked alright given the nature of his injury, though it’s clear he still needs some time to get ready for MLB action.

There’s only a week to go in Spring Training and it’s hard to see the Yankees taking Bailey north on Opening Day. He has yet to pitch with fewer than two days of rest between appearances and there simply isn’t enough time left in camp to get him to where he needs to be to be considered for the big league bullpen. That’s okay, that’s why he’s on a minor league contract. Bailey can go to the minors for a few weeks — I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts with High-A Tampa to stay close to the home base (and also avoid the cold weather) — and continue to work his way back.

It’s unfair to expect Bailey to return to his 2009-11 form, when he was the 2009 Rookie of the Year and a deserving two-time All-Star, but there’s at least now some hope he can help the big league bullpen. He’s fully rehabbed from his surgery and pitching in actual games, and he says he feels great too, which is important. Hopefully Bailey is able to come up at some point this summer and help the Yankees, even if he’s only a sixth or seventh inning middle reliever type. Getting that much out of him would be a win.

Baker. (Presswire)
Baker. (Presswire)

Scott Baker: Here For Use & Abuse

Baker is a good example of what Tommy John surgery can do to marginal big leaguers with okay stuff who rely on precise location to succeed. The 33-year-old returned from surgery with stuff and command that was down a grade or two across the board, hence his 5.47 ERA (4.78 FIP) in 80.2 innings for the Rangers last year. Baker is now three full years removed from Tommy John surgery, so perhaps his stuff will tick up a bit this year, but otherwise there’s very little reason to think he can contribute to the Yankees in a meaningful way in 2015. If he is on the big league roster at some point, he’ll probably be stuck working in a mop-up role until something better comes along. It’s harsh, though at this point of his career Baker’s the kind of guy the Yankees can run into the ground then designate for assignment when someone better comes along.

Nick Goody: 2015 Possible, 2016 More Likely

Goody is the first actual prospect/non-veteran retread in this post, though that’s only because I listed the players alphabetically. The 23-year-old Goody returned from Tommy John surgery at midseason last year and had a 4.60 ERA (3.63 FIP) with a 32.9 K% in 31.1 innings split between High-A and Double-A, though his walk rate (10.7%) was a bit high, which isn’t surprising for a guy coming off elbow reconstruction.

Goody was invited to big league camp and had a nice but brief Grapefruit League season before being sent to minor league camp (4.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K). He’s a classic low-90s fastball/mid-80s slider righty reliever and I think the team’s bullpen depth will push him back to Double-A to start 2015. Goody could get called up this year, but with so many bodies ahead of him, a 2016 debut seems more likely.

Jacob Lindgren: The Strikeout (& Ground Ball) Factory

Lindgren. (Presswire)
Lindgren. (Presswire)

We know all about Lindgren’s strikeout exploits by now, but I think my favorite fact is that he had a 79% ground ball rate in college and an 81% ground ball rate in pro ball last year. He’s an extreme strikeout pitcher and there’s reason to believe he’s an extreme ground ball pitcher too. His slider is that good.

As I said earlier this week, I believe the 22-year-old Lindgren is big league ready and belongs on the Opening Day roster. If the Yankees don’t agree, he’ll go to Triple-A Scranton for a few weeks before inevitably being called up. It would be a major upset if Lindgren does not make him MLB debut in 2015. He is by far the team’s best bullpen prospect and one of the very best in the game period.

James Pazos: Lefty With Velocity

When the Yankees let Matt Thornton go on trade waivers last August, Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman both mentioned Pazos by name when discussing the team’s lefty relief depth. The 23-year-old had a 2.42 ERA (2.38 FIP) with a very good strikeout rate (27.4%) and an okay walk rate (9.1%) in 67 innings between High-A and Double-A in 2014. Pazos has had a nice big league camp (4.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K) but he really stands out for his stuff, specifically his mid-90s fastball and low-80s slider. He could start the season at Triple-A Scranton, but with so many lefties on the depth chart ahead of him, Pazos may end up waiting for 2016 like Goody.

Nick Rumbelow: Unconventional Dominance

Fun fact: Rumbelow leads all Yankees pitchers with 12 strikeouts this spring. (Well, he’s tied with Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka, but they’ve thrown more innings.) The 23-year-old shot up the minor league ladder last summer, posting a 2.62 ERA (2.05 FIP) with outstanding strikeout (34.0%) and walk (7.4%) rates in 58.1 innings while climbing from Low-A Charleston to Triple-A Scranton. He was lights out.

Rumbelow is a relatively little guy at 6-foot-0 and 190 lbs., and he racked up all those strikeouts with a mid-90s fastball and big overhand curveball coming from an extremely high arm slot. It’s straight over the top and unconventional:

Nick Rumbelow

You don’t see many big leaguers with that arm angle — Josh Collmenter of the Diamondbacks comes to mind, but that’s it — so it’s an uncomfortable look for hitters. The Yankees seem to like Rumbelow a lot — he still has not been reassigned to minor league camp and he was invited to Captain’s Camp in January — and I can’t blame them. He’s got good stuff and has put up remarkable numbers since being a seventh round pick in 2013.

It would surprise me if Rumbelow made the Opening Day bullpen but I guess it’s not impossible. More than likely though he’ll return to Triple-A and wait for a call-up. Rumbelow is more like Lindgren than Goody or Pazos in that I expect him to make his MLB debut this season, probably in the second half. Once he gets there, he has the potential to stick around for a while.

Luis Severino: The Top Prospect

I decided to include Severino in this post rather than next week’s farm system preview because it sure seems like the Yankees have him on the fast track, which sets him up to make his MLB debut this summer. The just turned 21-year-old right-hander climbed three levels last year, going from Low-A to High-A to Double-A on the strength of a 2.46 ERA (2.40 FIP) with great strikeout (27.8%) and walk (5.9%) rates. In fact, Severino had the lowest FIP among the 551 minor league pitchers to throw at least 100 innings in 2014. That’s pretty awesome.

As good as the numbers are, Severino is not a finished product. Most 21-year-olds aren’t. His fastball is electric, sitting in the mid-90s and regularly bumping up into the high-90s, and his changeup is very advanced for a kid his age. Severino’s slider is still a work in progress though, and there are concerns about his delivery as well. They were easy to see during his brief Grapefruit League cameo; he doesn’t use his legs much and his arm does a lot of the work:

The slider and delivery are things Severino needs to work on before becoming a regular big league pitcher. The only question is whether the Yankees will give him the opportunity to work on those things in Double-A and/or Triple-A this year, or if they’ll continue to rush him up the ladder and call him up at some point. It’s easy to understand why they like him. It’s also easy to see he could benefit from some more development time in a place where results don’t matter. Severino is a big league option this year because the Yankees are treating him that way, not necessarily because he’s ready for it.

Tyler Webb: Lefty Without Velocity

Webb, 24, is another quick riser, pitching to a 3.80 ERA (2.71 FIP) with very good strikeout (32.2%) and walk (7.5%) rates in 68.2 innings last year while climbing from High-A Tampa to Triple-A Scranton. Unlike the other young guys in this post, Webb doesn’t have standout stuff, sitting mostly in the upper-80s and occasionally touching the low-90s with his fastball. He also throws a curveball and a changeup. Webb is a stats before scouting report guy, but when a southpaw puts up numbers like this, he’s tough to ignore. He’ll return to Triple-A to start the season, though the Yankees have a lot of lefties ahead of him on the depth chart. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pazos gets the call before Webb either.

Judge, Severino, Bird, Lindgren, Refsnyder headline Spring Training invitees list

Refsnyder. (MiLB.com)
Refsnyder. (MiLB.com)

Two weeks from tomorrow, pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa for the start of Spring Training 2015. Baseball’s getting closer, folks. On Thursday, the Yankees officially announced their list of Spring Training invitees, a list that runs 66 (!) players deep.

As a reminder, everyone on the 40-man roster automatically goes to big league Spring Training, because duh. Here’s the 40-man roster and here are the 26 non-40-man roster players who have been invited to big league camp, which include some of the Yankees’ top prospects:

POSITION PLAYERS
C Francisco Arcia
C Trent Garrison
C Juan Graterol
C Kyle Higashioka
C Eddy Rodriguez
1B Greg Bird
1B Kyle Roller
IF Cito Culver
IF Cole Figueroa
IF Jonathan Galvez
IF Nick Noonan
IF Rob Refsnyder
OF Jake Cave
OF Slade Heathcott
OF Aaron Judge

PITCHERS
RHP Andrew Bailey
RHP Scott Baker
RHP Jose Campos
RHP Nick Goody
LHP Jacob Lindgren
RHP Diego Moreno
LHP James Pazos
RHP Wilking Rodriguez
RHP Nick Rumbelow
RHP Luis Severino
LHP Tyler Webb

Obviously the biggest names here are Judge, Bird, Severino, Refsnyder, and Lindgren, five of the team’s very best prospects. Lindgren, the Yankees’ top pick in last year’s draft, has a legitimate chance to make the Opening Day roster. So does Refsnyder, but he has more bodies ahead of him on the depth chart. I can’t see any scenario in which Judge, Severino, or Bird make the roster out of camp.

Bailey has been rehabbing from shoulder capsule surgery for nearly two years now and appears to finally be healthy. Could he step in and close with Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller working as setup men? Bailey has closer experience, you know. Graterol, Figueroa, Galvez, Noonan, Baker, and the two Rodriguezes were added a minor league free agents for depth this winter. The rest are farm system products. Guys looking to put themselves on the map for a midseason call-up.

Teams always need extra catchers to help catch all those early-Spring Training bullpen sessions, which is why the Yankees are bringing five non-roster backstops to camp in addition to the four catchers already on the 40-man roster. The last bullpen spot is up for grabs — it could be more than one if Adam Warren and/or Esmil Rogers are needed to help the rotation — so camp is a big opportunity for these pitchers, especially guys like Rumbelow, Webb, Goody, and Pazos, who aren’t top prospects.

Bullpen prospect pipeline has changed drastically so far in 2014

Lindgren. (Martin Griff/The Times of Trenton)
Lindgren. (Martin Griff/The Times of Trenton)

Over the last six or seven years, basically the entire Joe Girardi era, the Yankees have done a nice job of building the bulk of their bullpen on the cheap. Oh sure, there still is the occasional Rafael Soriano or Matt Thornton signing, but the days of handing out big money multi-year contracts to (occasionally multiple) relievers every offseason are over. That has allowed the club to maintain some semblance of payroll and roster flexibility.

Low-profile pickups like Boone Logan, Luis Ayala, Cory Wade, Brian Bruney, and Shawn Kelley have contributed over the years, even if only for a short period of time — not everyone needs to be around forever to qualify as a success, getting 50-60 good innings out of a scrap heap pickup is a win — but for the most part the farm system has provided the bullpen core. David Robertson and Dellin Betances are the standouts, with others like Adam Warren, Preston Claiborne, Phil Coke, Joba Chamberlain, Edwar Ramirez, and Alfredo Aceves playing important roles at various times.

There are no indications the Yankees will stray from this approach, nor should they. They’ve been successful at cobbling together bullpens this way for several years, and it saves money to use elsewhere on the roster. They could have easily signed a veteran closer over the winter to replace Mariano Rivera, that would have been a very Yankees move, but no, they went with Robertson. (They were connected to Fernando Rodney and Grant Balfour at different points, though I think that was just due diligence.) It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Robertson is a free agent after the season.

Anyway, as I mentioned yesterday, bullpens have a way of getting overhauled during the course of the summer. Already this year we’ve seen Betances go from interesting wildcard to arguably the best reliever in the game. Warren went from long man to setup man and back to … something. His role is kinda undefined at this moment. Thornton was signed to be the primary lefty specialist but was literally given away for nothing. Robertson in the ninth inning has been the one constant, so in a sense this year has been no different than the last few, only with Robertson playing the role of Rivera.

Coming out of Spring Training, the Yankees had three young relievers who were slated to serve as depth in Triple-A in Mark Montgomery, Danny Burawa, and Fred Lewis. All three impressed in camp and put themselves in position to be called up if a need arose. Instead, all three pitched their way into demotions down the Double-A before the end of July. All three of them! Lewis almost made the team out of Spring Training and now he’s currently on the Double-A disabled list after pitching to a 6.89 ERA with the same number of walks as strikeouts (31) in 32.2 innings. We shouldn’t forget Jose Ramirez either. He was part of that next bullpen wave but has been alternately hurt and ineffective in 2014.

Rumbelow. (Robert Pimpsner)
Rumbelow. (Robert Pimpsner)

Such is the life of a reliever though, especially reliever prospects. They just start sucking without warning and sometimes for no apparent reason. That’s why you need a lot of them, which the Yankees have. As Lewis, Montgomery, Burawa, and Ramirez took steps back this year, other relievers have taken steps forward and put themselves on the big league map. Specifically, I’m talking about righty Nick Rumbelow and lefties Tyler Webb and Jacob Lindgren. Lindgren you all know by now. Rumbelow (seventh) and Webb (tenth) are both 2013 draftees who have climbed from Single-A to Triple-A this summer. Rumbelow started all the way down at Low-A Charleston, Webb with High-A Tampa.

The Yankees have emphasized one singular trait these last six or seven years while building their bullpen: the ability to miss bats. They don’t care how the guy does it — blow a fastball by hitters, nasty breaking ball, filthy changeup, whatever — but that is clearly their top priority out of the bullpen. In fact, the Yankees have the highest bullpen strikeout rate in baseball this year (26.7%) and the second highest since the start of the Girardi era in 2008 (23.0%). Only the Braves (23.3%) have been better. It makes sense, right? Late in the game you want to miss as many bats as possible. The other team can’t hurt you if they can’t put the ball in play, after all.

Lindgren, as you know, has a wipeout slider that has allowed him to pile up 41 strikeouts in only 20.2 pro innings (17.9 K/9 and 49.4 K%). Rumbelow has 72 strikeouts in 51.1 innings this year (12.6 K/9 and 35.0 K%) thanks to his big breaking curveball. Webb is another curveball guy. He’s struck out 89 in 64.1 innings (12.5 K/9 and 33.1 K%) during his meteoric rise this year. That’s the trademark right there. Strikeouts. The Yankees do as good a job as any team of digging up pitchers with present or future out pitches in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft, whether it be Rumbelow or Montgomery or Robertson. If you have one swing-and-miss pitch, you have a chance to help out of the bullpen. If you have two, you can dominate like Robertson and Betances.

“We’ve got some arms, no doubt about it,” said Brian Cashman to Nick Peruffo yesterday. “We had Webb here (at Double-A), and now he’s at Triple-A. Rumbelow is at Triple-A. These guys are pretty interesting characters in themselves, and we have some guys who could be moving up to Triple-A soon enough. I think a lot of the guys that you are seeing that have been here or are currently here, you have a chance to see as early as next year, and in some cases you can never rule anything out. We do have some left and right side arms that get asked a lot about, and that I’d certainly ask about a lot.”

Like the big league bullpen, the Yankees’ pool of minor league relief prospects has changed as the season as progressed. Montgomery and Ramirez in particular where expected to help at some point — Ramirez got a chance but it didn’t go well, it happens — while guys like Rumbelow and Webb were little more than interesting arms in Single-A back in April. I didn’t even know who Lindgren was in April and now he’s on the cusp of being a Yankee. Their rises combined with the fall of some upper level arms have given the Yankees a new-look crop of bullpen prospects these last four months.

2013 Draft: Yankees sign seventh round pick Nick Rumbelow

Via K. Levine-Flandrup: The Yankees have signed seventh round pick Nick Rumbelow to a $100k bonus. Slot money for the 224th overall pick was just under $161k, so the junior right-hander from LSU saves the team a little bit of draft pool space.

Rumbelow, 21, pitched to a 3.31 ERA with 36 strikeouts and 15 walks in 32.2 relief innings for the Tigers this spring. “He flashes a quick arm with 94-95 mph heat … his top secondary pitch is a curveball that is inconsistent but at times shows power and comes out of the same release point as his fastball,” wrote Baseball America (subs. req’d) before the draft. LSU was eliminated from the College World Series just a few days ago, so the Yankees and Rumbelow had to wait for that to happen before hammering out a deal.

Keep tabs on the team’s draft pool with our 2013 Draft Pool page. Sandwich rounder Fresno State OF Aaron Judge is the team’s only unsigned player from the top ten rounds. Slot is just over $1.67M and New York has $1.989M worth of draft pool space remaining.