Bullpen hopefuls: Mark Melancon

With just a couple of weeks before Spring Training begins there is not much news to report. So, I figured I would start a little series I have been wanting to get to, looking individually at some of the many candidates for spots in the New York Yankee bullpen.

Thought I would start with Mark Melancon, the highly-touted soon-to-be 25-year-old who got his first taste of the big leagues with a handful of appearances in 2009.

Truth be told, there are not that many spots open in the bullpen. In fact, on a 12-man pitching staff there might jut be one.

If everyone is healthy Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte, Vazquez, Chamberlain, Hughes, Rivera, Marte, Robertson, Aceves and Gaudin are all locks for the staff in my opinion. That is 11, meaning a slew of guys are going to be competing for one spot.

Truth be told, Melancon is the guy I would love to see step forward during the exhibition games and win the spot. The Yankees have been hyping the young right-hander as a potential future closer, or at least an important late-inning bullpen guy, for at least three seasons now.

If Melancon is going to justify all the hype, and begin to translate his minor league dominance into big-league production, it is time for him to start forcing his way into Joe Girardi's bullpen plans.

What I am hoping is that Melancon will pitch well enough to make the team out of Spring Training, then have a David Robertson-like ascension into an important place in the Yankee bullpen. As I said, if he is going to be the pitcher the Yankees think he can be, the time for that to start is now.

Melancon was only so-so in his baker's dozen appearances with the big club last season. He compiled a 3.86 ERA, showed a good curveball and a fastball that probably topped off around 94-95 mph. His control was an issue, though, as he walked 10 batters and hit four in 16.1 innings.

That lack of control, though, was atypical of the work Melancon has done in the minors. In 155.2 dominant minor-league innings over three seasons Melancon walked just 35 batters and hit six.

I have to hope that Melancon's lack of control last season at the big-league level was due simply to his surroundings, to a guy getting his feet wet in the majors and needing to gain the belief that he belonged.

If Melancon can do that, I truly believe he has more upside than any of the other candidates for that final spot in Girardi's bullpen. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

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