Yankees' Initial Cuts Pare Down Rotation Candidates

David Phelps (right) was unsurprisingly among the first players cut from Yankee camp on Sunday. (AP)

The Yankees made their first cuts of the spring Sunday morning, removing seven pitchers from major league camp. Of those seven, six are non-roster players signed to minor league contracts. The exception is Hector Noesi, who is on the 40-man roster and was the most surprising of the seven cuts. The other six men sent to minor league camp were relievers Brian Anderson, Andy Sisco, and Buddy Carlyle, and starters David Phelps, Adam Warren, and D.J. Mitchell.

Anderson and Sisco are projects—Anderson was converted from the outfield last April; Sisco has pitched just one season at Double-A since his April 2008 Tommy John surgery—and both have a lot to prove in the minors before they can be serious candidates for the major league roster. Anderson appeared in just two games this spring, giving up four runs on seven hits and a hit batsman without striking out a batter. Sisco made four appearances and held his competition hitless for 3 1/3 innings, but walked four against just one strikeout.

Carlyle is filler, a 33-year-old swing man returned from his second, non-consecutive season in Japan. He made just one game appearance and gave up two runs. He's in the organization to eat minor league innings, nothing else.

Far more significant are the demotions of Phelps, Warren, Mitchell, and especially Noesi. The battle for the rotation spots entering camp broke down this way:

Frontrunners: Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Sergio Mitre
Killer Bs: Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos
Second-tier prospects: Hector Noesi, David Phelps, Adam Warren, D.J. Mitchell, Steve Garrison

In one foul swoop, the Yankees have eliminated the entire third category (Garrison remains, but now seems to be viewed more as bullpen depth than a starting option). Throw in the fact that Betances and Banuelos, both of whom have impressed, were declared non-candidates coming in to camp by Brian Cashman, in large part because the innings limits they'll be saddled with this season prevents them from being viable for the major league rotation for a full season, and the Yankee rotation battle, the primary concern of this year's camp, is already down to five men: Nova, Garcia, Colon, Mitre, and Brackman. Brackman, an underdog to start, has a lot of ground to make up having thrown just one exhibition inning before today's game.

As for the departed candidates. David Phelps, who has the most experience at Triple-A of the four, was just plain bad this spring, giving up 11 runs (seven earned) on 16 hits and four walks in a mere six spring innings. The other three pitched well in general, but Mitchell and Warren never really got stretched out, Mitchell getting just five innings of work, Warren 5 2/3. Given that they are second-tier prospects who have combined for just three Triple-A starts (all belonging to Mitchell, the lesser of the two), one suspects the Yankees didn't take their candidacies terribly seriously this spring.

That leaves Noesi, whose demotion comes as a surprise. Noesi had thrown nine innings, tied with Nova, Colon, Phil Hughes, and A.J. Burnett and just two outs shy of CC Sabathia's camp-leading total, and pitched well in his first three outings before giving up three runs in three frames, two of them on solo home runs, on Saturday. Noesi walked just one man and struck out seven in his nine spring frames, but that lone hiccup seemed to be enough to eliminate him from the competition, despite the fact that he is already on the 40-man roster (something that's not true of Garcia or Colon), and the Yankees had to use up one of his options to send him to minor league camp.

I'm not a huge advocate of Noesi's as I think his fly ball tendencies could prove disastrous in the new Yankee Stadium. Of course, Garcia and Colon are fly ball pitchers as well (Garcia especially), as is Phil Hughes (in stark contrast to his tendencies as a minor leaguer), who has matched Noesi by giving up a camp-leading three home runs. I'd like to think Noesi did enough to push his name toward the front of the list of potential in-season replacements, but his early demotion makes me wonder.

The caveat here is that the three incumbent starters and the four remaining frontrunner candidates are starting to go deeper into games (Sabathia pitched five innings in his last start), so there are fewer innings to be had in major league camp. The Yankees may have simply decided that Noesi needed to continue to stretch out and that his odds of winning a rotation job were long enough that it wasn't worth inhibiting his work in camp. Given that he's a team-controlled player with options, he's only a phone call away at any point this season should be be needed. Still, the first cut in camp is rarely this interesting.

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