Michael Pineda was supposed to be the young pitcher with an ace ceiling when the Yankees traded their best prospect in Jesus Montero for him before the 2012 season. That promise was nearly lost completely when Pineda tore his labrum in a spring training game that would require surgery that has thrown more than one pitcher's career completely off the tracks. It's been a long road back for Pineda, but he's finally healthy and ready to compete for the fifth starter spot in spring training. He'll need to find a way to show that his two year absence was only a blip on the radar of what everyone hopes to be a productive career for the 25-year-old.
Since pitchers and catchers have reported to camp in Tampa, reports have seemingly trickled out daily that the coaching staff has been impressed with what they've seen out of Pineda so far. ESPN's Buster Olney cites improved velocity as a reason why the Yankees are "quietly encouraged and excited" about where Pineda is currently at. Velocity, of course, was the cause of much hand-wringing when Pineda showed up to camp in 2012 with a fastball that seemed to struggle to hit 93 mph. Pineda says he doesn't know how hard he's been throwing so far this spring, and right now that doesn't matter, but Joe Girardi says that reports had Pineda at 93-94 mph during his rehab last season. It's not the 98 mph that will light up the radar gun, but it's something Pineda can live with. Even a couple ticks higher would go a long way, and Pineda says he feels powerful. Girardi says the ball is coming out of Pineda's hand with ease. These are all positives for a pitcher that underwent surgery that could have easily had him up their tossing 85 mph.
Hearing that Pineda feels 100% and that the coaching staff has liked what they see out of him is as encouraging as news can get. Acquiring Masahiro Tanaka took some pressure off the group of pitchers battling it out for the final spot in the rotation, but it's reasonable to assume that the Yankees would prefer that spot to be Pineda's. It may not happen in April, but it would be really disappointing for Pineda to be a non-factor for the big league club again in 2014. A strong showing in spring training would likely give Pineda the necessary bump to beat out the likes of David Phelps or Vidal Nuno for the final spot, even considering the fact that he will almost certainly be on some sort of innings limit until his body adjusts back to throwing 100 pitches every five days.
The Montero/Pineda trade has been nothing short of disaster for both teams so far. Montero was sent to Triple-A, suspended for steroid use, and showed up to camp needing to go on a diet immediately. Pineda was hit with a DUI, hasn't thrown a pitch as a Yankee, and may never be able to recapture the brilliance that made him an All-Star and Rookie of the Year candidate in his first season with Seattle. The good news is that all the news about Pineda coming out of Tampa is positive. Seeing how he performs in Grapefruit League games will be the next step toward hopefully getting Pineda on a mound in the Bronx for the first time. Things are looking up on this side of the trade, and that's about as good of news as anyone could hope for right now.