On Monday, Preston Claiborne was once again called up to the major league squad, rejoining the Yankees for the final month of the season as one of the prospects New York brought up for September. Claiborne got his first chance in the majors earlier this season in May and he stayed with the Yankees up until late August when he was called up and sent down numerous times as a result of various roster adjustments (Mark Reynolds joining the team, Jayson Nix getting injured, Derek Jeter returning, etc.). Now, he's back again, but what will we see from Claiborne as the Yankees make their final run at a once-improbable postseason berth?
Claiborne was drafted by the Yankees in 2010 out of Tulane University and began his career with the Short Season-A Staten Island Yankees before being promoted to the Single-A Tampa Yankees after just two months in the minors. In 2011, his first full season with Tampa, Claiborne became a dependable reliever, displaying excellent command and a knack for strikeouts as he finished the season with a 3.11 ERA and a 1.272 WHIP, with ratios of 8.3 K/9, and just 3.3 BB/9. His success led to a promotion to Double-A Trenton in 2012, where he continued to impress (he had an ERA of 2.22 and a WHIP only 1.171 in 48.2 IP with the team).
After only a few months in Trenton, Claiborne found himself on the move again, sent up this time to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. While he initially struggled against Triple-A competition (his ERA over the rest of the 2012 season was just 4.05), Claiborne continued to show good command and strike out hitters, as he whiffed 29 in only 33.1 innings. He remained with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for the first month of the 2013 season, where he showed some modest improvement by giving up four runs and striking out 10 in just 10 innings of work. Apparently, it was enough improvement for the Yankees, because on May 5, when Joba Chamberlain went down with an oblique injury, Claiborne was brought up to the Bronx.
Claiborne pitched extremely well upon arriving in the majors in May, as he struck out 11 while walking none and giving up just one earned run in 14.2 IP in the month. However, Claiborne's ERA increased every month after May; he posted a 2.70 in June, a 3.48 in July, and an ugly 5.23 in August. These stats are somewhat skewed, though, as his ERA was marred mainly by one or two bad outings in relatively small sample sizes, particularly in August, when he gave up four of the six runs he gave up all month in just one inning of work against the league-leading Detroit lineup. Since he only pitched 10.1 innings in August, that one outing in particular raised his ERA dramatically. Still, his stats on the season remain impressive: a 2.74 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, and a .229 opposing BA.
So while he struggles occasionally (as all pitchers do, and as he did last night against the Boston Red Sox), for much of the year he's been a consistent reliever that is more than capable of throwing an inning of scoreless work and setting the stage for the David Robertson/Mariano Rivera eighth and ninth.
What should we expect down the stretch? More of the same. Claiborne obviously won't single-handedly save the Yankees' season, but he will be a good alternative (if Joe Girardi will use him, that is) to the extremely unreliable Joba Chamberlain. As he showed on Tuesday against the White Sox, Claiborne can be a small, but key, piece in limiting any damage and successfully bridging the gap from starter to Rivera. If nothing else, he gives Girardi another option in the bullpen (and Girardi certainly loves options) and should gain valuable experience that could make him a key contributor to the Yankee bullpen in 2014. Together with Shawn Kelley, Dellin Betances, and now-reliever Phil Hughes, Claiborne will give the Yankees a good set of right-handed middle relievers to maintain the success New York's bullpen has had for most of the season.