Archive for Rafael DePaula
Finally, some help for the infield. The Yankees have acquired third baseman Chase Headley and cash from the Padres for utility man Yangervis Solarte and minor league pitching prospect Rafael DePaula, both teams announced. Jack Curry and Jon Heyman first reported the news and Chad Jennings says the Yankees hope he will be in town in time for tonight’s game. (The Padres are in Chicago.)
Headley, 30, is owed approximately $4.2M through the end of the season, and Heyman says the Yankees will receive about $1M from San Diego. Headley is due to become a free agent after the winter and because he was acquired at midseason, the team will not be able to make him a qualifying offer to recoup a draft pick in the offseason. This is a pure rental, obviously, though things could always go so well that they re-sign him.
Through 77 games and 307 plate appearances this year, the switch-hitting Headley is hitting .229/.296/.355 (88 wRC+) with seven homers and 12 doubles. He was dealing with some back issues a few weeks ago and has hit .298/.330/.405 (110 wRC+) in 21 games since receiving an epidural. As with all Padres’ position players, the hope is Headley will perform better away from spacious Petco Park. Here’s what I wrote in our recent Scouting The Market Post:
Petco Park is a notorious pitcher’s park, even after the walls were brought in last season. Headley is a career .286/.360/.444 (118 wRC+) hitter on the road (.243/.331/.371 (107 wRC+) at home), including a 154 wRC+ away from Petco Park in 2012 (97 wRC+ on the road from 2013-14). If the Yankees were to acquire Headley, he would be moving from one of the worst hitting parks in the game to one of the best. It would be damn near impossible for his numbers not to improve.
Headley’s offensive numbers might not improve, he might just stink as a hitter now, but there is no doubt he will improve New York’s dreadful infield defense. He has consistently graded out as above-average defender at third base and will be the team’s best hot corner gloveman since peak Alex Rodriguez. It would be awesome if Headley hits like he did in 2012 (145 wRC+), but being nothing more than a league-average bat with his defense would be a gigantic upgrade for the Yankees.
In exchange for Headley, the Yankees gave up a spare part in Solarte and a secondary pitching prospect. The team signed Solarte as a minor league free agent over the winter and he was awesome for the first two months of the season, but his production slipped in recent weeks and he was eventually shipped to the minors. The 27-year-old has hit .254/.337/.381 (100 wRC+) in 289 plate appearances this year. Hopefully he gets a chance to play everyday in San Diego. The Solarte Partay was a blast while it lasted.
DePaula, 23, has a 4.15 ERA (3.34 FIP) in 89 innings for High-A Tampa this season. I ranked him as the team’s 20th best prospect before the draft, mostly because of his high-end fastball velocity and promising slider. There are still questions about whether he is anything more than a reliever long-term. The Yankee signed DePaula for $500k out of Dominican Republic in 2010 but he did not make his pro debut until 2012 due to visa issues. He was suspended one year before signing for falsifying his identity.
It’s worth noting the Blue Jays were said to be pursuing Headley as well, so the Yankees essentially took him away from a division rival and direct competitor for a postseason spot. The Bombers have now added two rentals in Headley and Brandon McCarthy, and all they’ve given up is a good but not great pitching prospect and two players signed off the scrap heap. I mean, they turned Solarte and Vidal Nuno into half-seasons of Headley and McCarthy. That’s pretty awesome. DePaula, like most Single-A pitching prospects, was as tradeable as it gets. These moves might be not enough to put the Yankees over the top — they still need rotation help and a right fielder — but they were upgrades at minimal cost.
These last few years I’ve posted my annual Preseason Top 30 Prospects List the Friday before pitchers and catchers report, which would be this coming Friday. I’m going to be out of town these next few days though, so I’m going to push the Top 30 back to next Thursday, the day before pitchers and catchers are supposed to show up to Tampa. Here are some minor league notes to hold you over until then:
- Marc Hulet at FanGraphs posted his list of the top ten Yankees prospects today. C Gary Sanchez sits in the top spot (duh) and then the usual suspects fill out the next nine slots. I really feel like you could put those nine guys in almost any order and it would be defensible. There isn’t much separation there.
- Keith Law (Insider req’d) posted a list of ten players who just missed his top 100 list last week, and C J.R. Murphy is one of the ten. Law says he “looks like a solid-average everyday catcher, probably not more, but not a whole lot less. His game management skills are exceptional, from game-calling to reading hitters to understanding situations.”
- MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, meanwhile, posted some players who missed their top 100 list this year but could make the jump in the future. RHP Rafael DePaula is one of those guys, and Mayo says he “has the chance to have three average or better pitches and could start moving fast.”
- Baseball America’s Ben Balder reports that the Yankees spent $2.45M on international players during the 2013 calendar year, seventh lowest in baseball. That’s a function of the spending restrictions more than anything. Note that the $2.45M spans two signing periods (2012-13 and 2013-14), so it doesn’t tell us how close they are to their 2013-14 pool.
- In another FanGraphs piece, David Laurila interviewed Murphy about his development as a catcher. “I was not very good when I was drafted. I’ve come a long way,” he said. Murphy also talked about learning to call a game and his approach as a hitter.
- Danny Wild at MLB.com interviewed 3B Eric Jagielo, the first of the Yankees’ three first round picks in last summer’s draft. It’s a pretty generic Q&A, though Jagielo did talk about what he learned from a rehabbing Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez in Tampa last year.
- Here’s a fun Sporcle quiz: name every Yankees prospect to make Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list over the years. I got 72 of 93 and didn’t miss anyone obvious. Not sure I would have gotten the last 21 with unlimited time.
- And lastly, Triple-A Scranton is holding a fun promotion this summer. Donnie Collins says August 8th will be “What If Night,” when they will play as the Trolley Frogs instead of the RailRiders. Trolley Frogs inexcusably lost a fan vote to Railriders when the team was renamed prior to last season.
The offseason has yet to really get underway, but there has already been talk of the Yankees going on a big spending spree to address their many needs this winter. I’m not sure where that money is coming from after putting together my most recent payroll breakdown, but that’s besides the point. New York has been connected to a ton of free agents so far, both big names like Brian McCann and Shin-Soo Choo and secondary players like Eric Chavez and Omar Infante. Needless to say, they’re getting around.
Free agency is the easiest way to address needs but it’s not the only way. The Yankees could also explore the trade market, a trade market that will reportedly feature high-end starters like Max Scherzer and David Price, young middle infielders like Jurickson Profar and Elvis Andrus, and pretty much everything in between. The trade market is like free agency — there’s a solution for every roster problem available if you’re willing to meet the asking price.
Therein lies the rub: the Yankees can’t meet too many asking prices these days. Not won’t meet asking prices, can’t. They don’t have many tradeable commodities either on the big league roster or in the farm system, and last winter’s Justin Upton trade talks showed how that can handicap them. The Diamondbacks reportedly did not like the prospects New York had to offer, so the young, power-hitting outfielder signing to a reasonable contract went to the Braves instead.
“I just don’t see it,” said one rival executive to Andy McCullough when asked whether the Yankees had the prospect inventory to swing a major trade this offseason. “I’m not excited about any of them making an impact next year,” added another evaluator while discussing the team’s top prospects while describing them as “solid guys, but not stars.”
The Yankees do have limited trade commodities right now but they aren’t completely devoid of marketable players. Some are just more marketable than others, or, as Brian Cashman likes to say, no one is unavailable but some are more available that others. Here’s a highly subjective rundown of New York’s best trade chips. Remember, at the end of the day, a player’s trade value is only as great as the other team’s evaluation of him.
Best Chip: Ivan Nova
In my opinion, Nova is the team’s best trade chip at this point in time. He turns 27 in January and has shown flashes of brilliance over the last three years. Ivan has not yet put together a full, productive season from start to finish, but he’s had stretches that make you think he could be very good if things ever completely click. It’s also worth noting Nova has thrown at least 150 innings every year since 2010 and at least 130 innings every year since 2008. Teams do value the ability to take the ball every fifth day.
Nova’s trade value is not as great as it was a year or two ago because he’s entering his arbitration years and is no longer dirt cheap, like league minimum dirt cheap. His projected $2.8M salary in 2014 is still a relative bargain, but trading for a guy owed $15M or so over the next three years isn’t as desirable as trading for the same guy when he is owed $16M or so over five years. This isn’t Nova’s fault obviously and getting three cheap years of a durable right-hander is still pretty awesome, but his years of team control are ticking away and he’s yet to really establish himself as … anything. He’s still a question mark.
Rentals: Brett Gardner and David Robertson
Both Gardner and Robertson are due to become free agents next winter, meaning they’re just rental players. Both will earn reasonable salaries next year — Gardner is projected for $4M, Robertson for $5.5M — and they both have their limitations on the field. Gardner is a defense-first outfielder who doesn’t hit for power and doesn’t steal as many bases as people think he can. Robertson is a late-inning reliever, meaning you’re only get 65 or so innings out of him. He’s a very good late-inning reliever of course, but one year of a reliever usually doesn’t fetch a huge package in return. The Yankees could flip these two for solid prospects or a similar rental player, but they’re not going to get that elite prospect or young big leaguer with several years of control remaining.
Warm Bodies: David Phelps and Adam Warren (maybe Vidal Nuno)
There will always be a market for cheap and young pitching. Phelps and Warren have four and five years of team control remaining, respectively, and they’ve had varying levels of success in the show. They’re far from established but have shown they belong in some capacity, either as back-end starters or relievers. Nuno has six full years of control left but is basically a complete unknown at the big league level. He is as close to ready as a pitcher can get, however. Every team needs cheap young arms to fill out a staff, but these guys are okay second and good third pieces in a significant trade, not centerpieces. Far from it.
Prospects: Gary Sanchez, Slade Heathcott, J.R. Murphy and Rafael DePaula
Baseball has become a young player’s game these last five or six years or so, but I think we’ve reached the point where prospects and (especially) draft picks are being overvalued. Don’t get me wrong, they’re important and you need them to succeed, but they’re being valued higher than established big leaguers and that isn’t always the case. Not even close.
Anyway, Sanchez and Murphy are probably the Yankees’ two best prospect trade chips because a) Sanchez is their very best prospect, and b) Murphy is a big league ready-ish catcher. Quality young catchers are very hard to find and teams have consistently shown they will overpay — either in trades or by reaching in the draft — to get their hands on one. DePaula is the team’s best pitching prospect but he’s still in Single-A ball. Heathcott had an up-and-down season in Double-A but has a lengthy injury history. High ceiling but also high risk. Sanchez and Murphy could headline a package for a non-star player, but Heathcott and DePaula are closer to throw-ins in the grand scheme of things.
Suspects: Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, and Jose Ramirez
Injury of ineffectiveness — Austin, Williams, and Ramirez all had down 2013 seasons for one of those two reasons. Sometimes both. They’re basically buy low candidates, prospects with considerable ceilings who either need to get healthy or fix their mechanics or have their attitude adjusted. If I was another club and talking trade with the Yankees, these are the guys I would be asking for as the final piece in a trade package. Take a shot on one without the deal hinging on their success. There are too many question marks for any of them to be the top guy in a deal for an established big leaguer at this point. I just don’t see how another club would go for that.
Baseball America’s journey through the various minor leagues continued today with a look at the top 20 prospects in the Low-A South Atlantic League (no subs. req’d). Two high-end pitching prospects — RHP Eddie Butler (Rockies) and RHP Tyler Glasnow (Pirates) — topped the list and deservedly so. The Yankees only had one player make the top 20: RHP Rafael DePaula at #17.
“DePaula has premium velocity with a 91-93 mph fastball that frequently touched 96-97. When his delivery was in sync, he also showed a potentially average breaking ball and fringy changeup. But more often than not, delivery issues would make it hard for him to develop consistent feel for his breaking ball,” they said in the subscriber-only scouting report. One scout dubbed him a future reliever. The 22-year-old DePaula had a 2.94 ERA And 2.03 FIP in 64.1 innings for Low-A Charleston before being promoted.
1B Greg Bird did not make the top 20 and that surprised me because Baseball America can be very performance-driven at times, and Bird absolutely mashed this year (170 wRC+). The bar is really high for first base prospects though. The Yankees had six players make the Rookie Gulf Coast League and one player make the Short Season NY-Penn League lists. The High-A Florida State League will be posted Monday and C Gary Sanchez will surely make an appearance. OF Mason Williams, C/3B Peter O’Brien, and RHP Bryan Mitchell also have a shot.
Right-hander Rafael DePaula has emerged as the Yankees top pitching prospect in his first stateside season, and on Sunday afternoon he threw a scoreless inning for the World Team in the 2013 Futures Game. He struck out the first batter he faced — Twins OF Byron Buxton, the consensus top prospect in all the land — with a 94 mph fastball on the outside corner, as you can see above.
DePaula, 22, allowed a soft line drive single up the middle on a 94 mph fastball to Cardinals 2B Kolten Wong, and he also hit Astros OF George Springer with a 79 mph breaking ball that didn’t break. He threw ten of 16 pitches for strikes, including two swings and misses. He even threw a (not good) changeup. A few more .GIFs after the jump.
Baseball America published their midseason list of baseball’s top 50 prospects today (no subs. req’d), a list that is topped by Twins OF Byron Buxton. The second overall pick in last year’s draft has taken over as the game’s consensus top prospect with Jurickson Profar now a big leaguer. Cardinals OF Oscar Taveras and Twins 3B Miguel Sano round out the top three. Yeah, Minnesota has two of the three best prospects in the game.
The Yankees placed two players on the top 50: C Gary Sanchez (#34) and RHP Rafael DePaula (#45). “Reports are more optimistic that he could stay behind the plate long-term.,” they said about Sanchez, who climbed from #57 on the preseason list. It’s not surprising that none of the team’s top three outfield prospects made the list, especially since only one (Mason Williams at #32) was in the top 50 of the preseason list. None of the three has done anything to improve their stock this year. Sanchez and DePaula definitely have though.
RHP Rafael DePaula will represent the Yankees at the 2013 Futures Game during All-Star Weekend next month. He is the team’s only prospect named to the event, however OF Tyler Austin is part of the fan vote for the final roster spot. Click the link and give him some support. Here are the full rosters: World Team and Team USA.
DePaula, 22, has pitched to a 2.73 ERA (~2.03 FIP) in 69.1 innings this year, almost all for Low-A Charleston. His 102 strikeouts (13.2 K/9 and 37.0 K%) are the third most in the minor leagues, but he has thrown significantly fewer innings than the two guys ahead of him. The Yankees originally signed DePaula for $500k back in November 2010, but he was unable to come stateside until this year due to lengthy visa issues. At this point he is pretty clearly the best pitching prospect in the organization.
Six questions and five answers this week. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us mailbag questions or anything else at any time.
Nick asks: Could the Yankees target Chris Perez as a trade candidate? A deal similar to the Joel Hanrahan trade?
My first thought was no way, but my first thought is often wrong. Not only is Mariano Rivera retiring after this season, but Joba Chamberlain is likely to leave as a free agent too. David Robertson is awesome, but I think the Yankees should add some kind of Proven Veteran™ backup plan to the Shawn Kelleys and Preston Claibornes of the world. My preferred choice as of today is impending free agent Grant Balfour, but that is subject to change.
Perez, 27, owns a 2.25 ERA and 5.72 FIP in 16 innings this year. He’s run into some serious homer problems of late, serving up three to the last eight batters he’s faced. Since getting the closer’s job outright in 2010, Perez has pitched to a 2.80 ERA (3.88 FIP) with a strong strikeout (8.11 K/9 and 21.6 K%) rate but mediocre walk (3.53 BB/9 and 9.4 BB%) and ground ball (34.7%) numbers. He managed to cut his walk rate to 2.50 BB/9 (6.6 BB%) last year, but that hasn’t stuck so far. I think we can say Perez is what he is at this point.
The Hanrahan comparison is perfect. Perez will be a free agent after the 2014 season, so acquiring him this winter means you’d be getting one year of a two-time All-Star, Capital-C Closer like the Red Sox got with Hanrahan. Would the Indians take a package of four spare parts like the Pirates did? Who knows. The Yankees could slap together a package of Dellin Betances, Zoilo Almonte, Eduardo Nunez … guys like that if the Indians will take quantity over quality. Perez has had some run-ins with the Indians brass over the years and could be available, but I want to see how he performs the rest of the season before going all-in.
Johnny asks: How would you handicap the chances of Yankees trading Phil Hughes before deadline?
I think they’re very, very small. This team lives and dies with its pitching as presently constructed, so I don’t see them giving up a rotation arm even if Hughes will be a free agent (and likely leaving) after the season. Maybe if Michael Pineda comes back strong, Ivan Nova figures things out in Triple-A, Vidal Nuno continues to impress in the show … maybe. I’d want a bat in return, preferably at shortstop or catcher. Someone who can help the team today, not prospects. Prospects suck.
Alex asks: Do you think that the Yankees’ preference for bat-first catchers has hindered the development of their minor league pitchers? The Yanks have seemed to be notoriously poor at bringing pitchers up to reach their ceiling for the past decade-plus.
It could be a factor, but I don’t think it’s a big one. Most minor league catchers stink at defense, and it’s not like Gary Sanchez and J.R. Murphy — the teams’ two most notable bat-first catchers — are atrocious defenders. Reports over the last 18 months or so have been very positive about their defensive improvement. Jesus Montero was a miserable defender though, and he did work with most of the team’s top young arms over the years.
I suppose having no confidence in the catcher blocking a breaking ball in the dirt or throwing out base-stealers could alter pitch selection, but pitchers are usually given a set number of pitches to throw per game. A team will tell their guy he needs to throw 25 curveballs or whatever per start as part of his development. Maybe bad defensive catchers have contributed to the team’s lack of success with starting pitching prospects, but I feel like it would be just a small part of the problem.
Mike asks: Is it time for some promotions in the minor league system? I know Dietrich Enns is 22 already, but he is blowing away the competition in A-ball (along with Rafael DePaula). These guys, along with Murphy and Sanchez, need to go up a level. Right?
Shep asks: Given his early success in Low-A and his “age,” how quickly do you think DePaula will climb the ladder? What is your prediction for his MLB debut?
Gonna lump these two together. We’re starting to approach promotion season, which usually takes place from mid-June through July, when the draft provides some new players to fill roster spots. Enns has been awesome — lefty with a 0.71 ERA (1.34 FIP) and 43/11 K/BB in 25.1 innings for Low-A Charleston — and I expect him to get bumped up to High-A Tampa at midseason. Murphy and Sanchez are repeating levels and have performed plenty well enough to earn midseason promotions. Some other obvious promotion candidates include (stats don’t include last night’s games):
- C Peter O’Brien: His defense is awful, but he’s hitting .328/.392/.586 (165 wRC+) with five homers for Low-A Charleston.
- 2B Rob Refsnyder: Hitting .335/.440/.451 (~158 wRC+) and has already been promoted once. Bumping him up to Double-A Trenton allows Angelo Gumbs to play second everyday with High-A Tampa as well.
- RHP Tommy Kahnle: 1.77 ERA (3.50 FIP) with 23 strikeouts and 13 walks in 20.1 innings. Another few weeks of that and he should be ready for Triple-A Scranton.
- RHP Shane Greene: Repeating High-A Tampa with a 3.07 ERA (2.36 FIP) and a 53/8 K/BB in 55.2 innings. Get this man to Double-A Trenton.
DePaula is another animal entirely. The numbers — 2.38 ERA (1.96 FIP) with a 74/19 K/BB in 45.1 innings — are outstanding for Low-A Charleston, but he’s also short on pitching experience because of his various layoffs (suspension, visa) despite being 22 years old. VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman told Chad Jennings a promotion isn’t imminent because he’s “got to develop secondary pitches. He hasn’t pitched that much competitively.”
I do think DePaula will get moved up to High-A Tampa at midseason, but he might spend another four or six weeks with the River Dogs first. Let’s see what happens when the league gets a second and third look at him, how he holds up physically under the workload, stuff like that. DePaula is on a weird development schedule and I’m generally not a fan of promoting starters after 50 or so dominant innings. As for his big league debut … second half of 2015 at the absolute earliest? DePaula will get promoted eventually, there’s no rush.
Travis asks: With the upcoming roster crunch (when DL players start coming back), is there going to come a point where is may make sense to bring Manny Banuelos up from the Triple-A DL to put him on the 60-day DL for MLB? I know they didn’t want to lose a year of control, but at the halfway point, would it be a lost year?
The Super Two date is sometime in early-June, so yeah, there’s a definitely a point where calling him up to clear a roster spot makes sense. Banuelos’ free agency has already been pushed back and they’re only two or three weeks from avoiding Super Two. They might actually be passed that date already since he’s not going to be in the big leagues on Opening Day next year.
There’s still some dead weight on the 40-man roster that can be trimmed — Ben Francisco, Reid Brignac, Melky Mesa, Francisco Rondon, etc. — but the Yankees have six guys expected to come off the 60-day DL in the next two months. Letting Banuelos accrue just a few weeks of service time would be no big deal under the circumstances.
After nearly two years in visa purgatory, right-hander Rafael DePaula finally made his stateside debut yesterday. He struck out eleven in 4.1 innings with the Low-A Charleston River Dogs, throwing a ton of fastballs, a handful of sliders, and just a few changeups. Forty-nine of this 71 pitches were strikes and there were a ton of swings and misses, like the one you see above. I didn’t count, but it was easily over ten whiffs and probably closer to 20.
Baseball America ranked the 22-year-old DePaula as the Yankees tenth best prospect a few weeks ago, calling him “the biggest X-factor in the system” while saying his “ceiling is as high as any Yankees minor league pitcher.” New York desperately needs some young impact pitching to emerge, so it sure would be nice if DePaula builds off yesterday’s start and climbs the ladder in a hurry. More .GIFs after the jump.
Our season preview series continues this week with the starting rotation, though the format will change just slightly. Since there’s no clear starter/backup/depth lineage when it comes to starting pitchers, we’ll instead look at each type of pitcher — ace, number two, back-end, etc. — at different levels.
The term “ace” gets thrown around far too liberally these days. Technically every team has an ace in the sense that someone has to start Opening Day, but very few pitchers are true, bonafide number one starters. Those are the guys who provide both quality and quantity — they take the ball every five days and pitch deep into the game. Just as importantly, they do it every single year. It’s possible for a pitcher to have an ace-like year in any given season (coughEstebanLoiazacough), but the guys who do it year after year stand out from the pack. Those are the true aces.
CC Sabathia is a true ace. Despite two DL stints — including the first arm injury of his career — the 32-year-old still rattled off his sixth consecutive year of 200+ innings with a sub-3.40 ERA in 2012. The number of other big leaguers who have done that: zero. Raise the bar to a sub-3.60 ERA and it’s still zero. Sabathia was the difference in the ALDS against the Orioles, allowing just three runs in an LDS round record 17.2 innings. That’s an 8.2-inning start in Game One and a complete-game in Game Five. The Yankees and Orioles played five very tight games, but the difference was Sabathia shoving it in the first and last games of the series.
Going into 2013, CC is more of a question mark than he has been at any other point as a Yankee. He had surgery to remove a bone spur from his left elbow in late-October, which slowed his pace in Spring Training ever so slightly. The good news is Sabathia has been throwing with no complications or pain or even unexpected soreness in recent weeks, so he remains on target to start Opening Day. That said, his fastball velocity did drop more than one mile an hour from 2012 to 2013. It’s a concern because of his age and all the mileage on his arm, if nothing else.
Despite the DL stints and reduced fastball, Sabathia was excellent last season — 3.38 ERA and 3.31 FIP — so excellent that his strikeout (8.87 K/9 and 23.7 K%) and walk (1.98 BB/9 and 5.3 BB%) rates were the second best of his career behind his monster 2008 campaign with the Indians and Brewers. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild came to New York with a reputation for increasing strikeout rates and reducing walk rates, and sure enough Sabathia has posted a 8.79 K/9 (23.5 K%) and a 2.16 BB/9 (5.8 BB%) during his two years under Rothschild after managing a 7.59 K/9 (20.6 K%) and 2.71 BB/9 (7.4 BB%) during his first two years in pinstripes. One year is a fluke but two years are a trend, as they say.
The Yankees have internally discussed scaling back Sabathia’s workload going forward in an effort to keep him healthy and just fresher late into the season. That could mean treating him as a 200-inning pitcher rather than a 230-inning pitcher — one fewer inning per start, basically — but that’s much easier said than done. Sabathia is, by his own admission, a rhythm pitcher who is at his best with more work, not less. Finding the balance between lightening the overall workload and remaining super-effective will be difficult.
Either way, Sabathia is a benefit of the doubt guy. I assume he’ll remain a workhorse of the first order and highly effective until he isn’t. The elbow surgery and reduced velocity are red flags, but they have yet to manifest themselves in a meaningful way. I still expect CC to strike out a ton of batters in his 200-something innings while keeping his ERA under 3.50. He’s been doing it nearly a decade now and I’m not going to doubt him. At some point Sabathia will decline, but I don’t expect it to happen just yet.
Knocking on the Door
There are only a handful of minor league prospects who project as future aces — don’t confuse ace stuff with being a projected ace — and the Yankees don’t have any of them, especially not at the Triple-A level. The only pitcher who is slated to open the season in the Triple-A Scranton rotation with ace-caliber stuff is Dellin Betances, who lacks everything else a pitcher needs to be an ace: command, durability, etc. Brian Cashman already acknowledged the club will start the 24-year-old Betances in the Triple-A rotation despite his miserable season a year ago, but this is his final minor league option year and I don’t think the Yankees would hesitate to move the big right-hander into the bullpen if he doesn’t show improvement within the first few weeks of the season.
The Top Prospect
The Bombers have a farm system that is top heavy in position players — the top five prospects on my preseason top 30 list were all position players — especially since their best pitching prospects all seem to be coming off injury. The best combination of ace-caliber stuff and command in the system belongs to 22-year-old Manny Banuelos, who will miss the season due to Tommy John surgery. His command started to waver in 2011 though, maybe due to the elbow problem.
Right-hander Jose Campos lacks a defined breaking ball while right-hander Ty Hensley lacks command in addition to having basically zero professional experience. Righty Bryan Mitchell has nasty stuff, missing bats with a mid-90s fastballs and a knockout curveball, but he lacks command as well. Perhaps the best current ace package in the system belongs to 23-year-old Jose Ramirez, who is organization’s consistently hardest thrower with a swing-and-miss changeup and a promising slider. That said, he’s battled arm injuries and command throughout his five-year career. The Yankees don’t have a minor league pitcher who clear projects as an ace, but Ramirez is probably the closest. He’s a long way from that ceiling, however. A very long way.
The Deep Sleeper
The Yankees were very, very patient when it came to signing soon-to-be 22-year-old Rafael DePaula. They originally agreed to sign him for $500k back in November 2010, but it wasn’t until March 2012 that the right-hander was approved for a visa and the contract became official. Because he wasn’t allowed to play in actual games while waiting for his visa, DePaula lost a lot of crucial development time these last two years. With command of a mid-90s fastball and low-80s curveball, he’s the best bet in the organization to emerge with the “future ace” label over the next 12 months. DePaula figures to start with High-A Tampa this year, but the Yankees could opt to hold him back with Low-A Charleston given the lack of experience.
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Sabathia is one of the game’s ten best pitchers and pretty clearly the second most important Yankee heading into the 2013 season. He’s truly irreplaceable. The Bombers don’t have any clear-cut ace-caliber pitching prospects in the minors — just a collection of guys with good stuff or good command or good health, but not all three. It’s a problem going going forward given the team’s plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014 (and beyond), so they’ll have to get creative to pull it off. Either that or hope for good luck.