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The most to prove in 2010: Pitcher's Edition

We all know the story of Javy Vazquez: it took two top prospects to pry him away from Montreal in late 2003 (Nick Johnson and Juan Rivera), but he didn't live up to his lofty expectations in one season with the Yanks. Despite an excellent first half (119 ip, 3.56 ERA, 95 K, 32 BB), he was traded after the season because of a terrible second half and postseason, including an infamous first-pitch grand-slam to then-Red Sock Johnny Damon (that one pitch was most responsible for him being traded away).

In the five years since, he's accrued a respectable 4.09 ERA with the D-Backs, White Sox and Braves. His career-best year occurred last season with Atlanta (219 ip, 2.87 ERA, 143 ERA+, 6.6 WAR, 238 K, 44 B), so in a sense, he has more pressure than any Yankee (especially considering his '04 meltdown). In his favor is that he'll probably be the fourth starter; but while some claim he should be the #2 starter, I have my doubts: he vastly disappointed in his one Yankee season, he's coming off a career year (how many repeat it?), and he's not necessarily better than Burnett or Pettitte.

We also know well the story of Joba Chamberlain, the heralded youngster who blew away hitters in a 24-inning stint in 2007 (with the best ERA+ ever among pitchers with at least 20 innings). Unfortunately, that caused many a fan and media member to view him only as a reliever, despite having started his entire college and pro career before a few relief appearances in Triple-A (due to an innings cap).

The famous quote about him is: 'His ceiling is Roger Clemens and his floor is Jon Broxton.' That's quite a scouting report. We again saw him excel in 2008 when he started 12 times and relieved 30. But 2009 was Joba's toughest year to date: he threw all but one inning as a starter and struggled, posting a 4.76 ERA. Joba did not measure up to other young'ns like Jon Lester, Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum and Rick Porcello, so in addition to playing in the pressure cooker known as The Bronx, he gets compared, rightly or wrongly, to his peers. Without any restrictions on his innings cap, everyone is waiting to see if that will be the switch that makes Joba to excel as a starter. If he doesn't, he may be a reliever the rest of his career. So add that to the top of the pressure pile.

One of those peers is Phil Hughes, who's had a similar career path to Joba's; but in 2009, Joba became the disappointing starter while Hughes was the phenomenal set-up man. In fact, Hughes had the best ERA last year of any reliever with at least 40 innings (1.50).

What can we expect from the former first-round pick in 2010? We're reasonably assured of either him or Joba winning the fifth starter spot out of Spring Training; frankly, whoever wins the job will feel significantly more pressure than the other. We know they can both succeed as relievers, but we have yet to see sustained success as a starter from either. Hughes is seen by some as the more viable long-term starting option because of his calm demeanor and near-flawless mechanics. So if he doesn't win the fifth starter's job, it will be seen as a disappointment. And if he's a reliever again, he won't top 80 innings, pushing his starting career back possibly three seasons: going from 80 to 150 innings is a huge jump, and 150 to 200+ is another big jump. Both youngsters have a ton of pressure. It's very tough for pitching prospect to succeed with the Yankees. If they don't succeed right away, people call for their heads.