I bet you didn’t think I would finish before May. In past years, that wouldn’t have been so bad; at times, clubs were allowed to carry oversized rosters out of spring training, then faced a regular-season cut-down day. Some of these fellows might have gotten into a few games that way. It’s all pitchers from here to the end of the line.
Ryan Pope, a right-handed reliever, has been in the Yankees system since 2007, which feels like the beginning of time. A third-round pick, Pope finally reached Triple-A last year. Results have been mixed at best; this is what usually happens when you draft players out of schools like the Savannah College of Art and Design—they just haven’t faced a high level of competition, so you’re going on scouting more than results. Often the scouts get it right, but sometimes they don’t. Pope has good command and his strikeout rate tipped up after moving to the bullpen in 2010, but he’s 25 and will have to pitch a lot better to get consideration even as a trash-time reliever. For variety’s sake, I hope he’s a descendant of Alexander Pope and can quote him extensively after a bad outing, lashing back at "the mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease."
Lefty Mike O’Connor, 31, was briefly a start for the Nationals six years ago, performed unimpressively given that he had barely pitched above High-A, then was set back by elbow surgery. He’s made a few big-league cameos since, spending most of his time in the Padres, Royals, and Mets systems. His peripherals at Buffalo the last two seasons have been far better than his mixed results: 131 innings pitched, 36 walks, 136 strikeouts. Last year he held left-handed hitters to .087/.207/.266 (18-for-87, one home run). Sure, O’Connor is a journeyman with a capital J and right-handers hit .333 with six home runs in 153 at-bats, but that’s worth looking at.
Brett Marshall is an actual prospect, a soon-to-be 22-year-old right-hander who was a sixth-round pick in 2008. He hasn’t pitched above High-A Tampa, so he probably won’t be any closer than Double-A Trenton. A Tommy John survivor, Marshall isn’t a big fastball guy but gets by on movement and offspeed pitches. I find his strikeout rate a bit deflating, but that’s just me, always skeptical of the kids who aren’t striking out a million per nine. Conversely, I always look at a woman’s face before I scrutinize her body. If I don’t dig the former, I don’t even think about the latter.
Matt Daley used to be mayor of Chicago. The Mayor underwent rotator cuff surgery in August, so he seems unlikely to be ready to start the season. The right-handed Queens native is going on 30 and has a 4.71 ERA in 92 major-league games with the Rockies (home 4.82 ERA, road 4.54). In 90 career games at Triple-A Colorado Springs, he has struck out 10 batters per nine innings while walking about four. His ERA there was 4.40, but you can take that with a grain of salt because of the elevation. What kind of stuff a post-surgical Daley has remains to be seen, so most of the foregoing may not be at all relevant.
Kevin Whelan is a simple story. The last vestige of the trade that sent Gary Sheffield to the Tigers, Whelan has always thrown hard but had trouble keeping the ball in the same zip code as home plate. He actually licked that problem this year—in the minors. In the majors he walked five in 1.2 innings and that was that, and probably will remain that.
Adam Warren, 24-year-old righty, is another real prospect, one who probably should have been up at some point last season. He has a real fastball, but his (wait for it) lack of strikeouts suggests that what scouts have said about a lack of strong secondary pitches remains true. Ivan Nova survived with that kind of repertoire last year (we’ll see about this one), but Warren might find his best destiny in the bullpen.
Chase Whitley is a age-23 right-hander. By the 15th round of the draft, teams are doing a lot of dart-throwing, but sometimes those darts land. The Yankees hit their target with the last pick of the round in 2010, picking reliever Whitley out of Troy University in Alabama. Whitley has made it to Double-A with a 2.17 ERA in 128.1 career innings. The Yankees were looking for his velocity to jump this season, the first in which he didn’t also play the infield, and it did. Whitley put up a 1.62 ERA in 16.2 innings in the Arizona Fall League. He also has a plus change. He’s someone you could see later this year or next year, depending on need.
The last NRI on the list is Daniel Burawa, the team’s 2010 12th-rounder out of St. John’s. John Manuel of Baseball America recently described the right-handed reliever thus: "We've gotten some 96-97 velo readings on him and he has a good slider but a cringe-inducing delivery with a slinger's arm stroke." Last year, in a season split between Tampa and Charleston, he had a 3.64 ERA in 39 games, then recorded a 1-4 record and 7.53 ERA… which means exactly nothing; it’s a tough league for pitchers.