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It's Spring Again: Yankee Campers Pt. 2, the Pitchers

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Joe Girardi has some tough decisions to make about his pitching staff this spring. (AP)

Having profiled the hitters vying for the three open bench spots on Monday, I turn my attention today to the pitchers vying for what are likely three more open spots, two at the back of the rotation and one in the bullpen. They Yankees have predominantly gone with a four-man bench and a seven-man bullpen in recent years, so I'm assuming that won't change this spring. Though the top six in the Yankee pen are very strong, the week underbelly of the rotation will require a long men out of the pen to help consume those middle innings that will likely too often be passed to the bullpen. Once again, these are the pitchers who enter camp with jobs:

Rotation:

L – CC Sabathia
R – Phil Hughes
R – A.J. Burnett

Bullpen:

R – Mariano Rivera
R – Rafael Soriano
L – Pedro Feliciano
R – Joba Chamberlain
R – David Robertson
L – Boone Logan

That leaves these twenty four men to compete for those last three spots:

STARTING PITCHERS

40-man Roster:

R - Sergio Mitre

When Sergio Mitre was first called up by the Yankees in July 2009, I defended him against those who wrote him off as a proven major league failure along the lines of Sidney Ponson. My argument then was that because he was jerked between starting and relieving and the minors and majors while with the Cubs in his early twenties and developed arm trouble in both of his seasons with the Marlins, one of which was quite successful prior to the elbow injury that led to his Tommy John surgery, Mitre was still more of an unknown than a proven mediocrity. I chose, instead, to focus on his strong 16-start run under Joe Girardi in early 2007, when he posted a 2.82 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and a 3.1 K/9. A year and a half of spot-starts and garbage-time relief work later, it seems Mitre is a special pitcher: he's a groundballer who gives up a ton of home runs.

Mitre, who turns 30 today, has the typical high-contact (read: low walks and low strikeouts) stuff of a groundball pitcher, and he does get more than his share of groundballs. He also gets less than his share of infield pop-ups, meaning when batters get the ball in the air, they're giving it a ride to the tune of 17 home runs in 105 2/3 innings as a Yankee, or 1.4 per nine innings (against a league average just shy of one homer per nine innings). Mitre will be among the pitchers fighting for one of those last two rotation spots, but he has made just 12 major league starts in his two seasons in the Bronx and has gone 3-5 with a 6.86 ERA, 1.68 WHIP, 5.5 K/9, and 1.7 HR/9 in those starts. In 48 relief innings over the same period, he has posted a 2.81 ERA and 0.96 WHIP and allowed just 1.1 homers per nine (albeit with an even lower strikeout rate). Those aren't huge samples, but they're a good indication of which role works best for him. If Mitre offers any value to the Yankees, it's as a mop-up innings eater in the pen who can come in and get a double play or make the odd emergency start. Part of his value in that role is keeping one of the team's starting prospects out of it, thereby insuring that a live young arm won't lose development time while sitting unused for weeks at a time, as will often happen to that last man in the pen. However, if it appears that Mitre is going to get regular work out of that role, the Yankees would be well-advised to swap him out for one of their Triple-A starters.

R - Ivan Nova

Nova made a strong showing in his Triple-A debut at age 23 last year, upping his strikeout rate, dropping his walks, posting full-season bests in K/BB (2.40), K/9 (7.1), WHIP (1.26), and ERA (2.86) and a solid groundball rate of 1.66 groundouts for every fly out. He then acquitted himself well in a late-season look in the majors, at least the first two times through the opposing order. Nova’s major league opponents hit just .222/.270/.368 against him in their first two plate appearances of a game while he posted a 3.14 K/BB, but thereafter they hit .383/.491/.447 while he struck out just four men against ten walks. There’s hope and projection in that performance and his solid mix of a low-90s fastball on which he can reach back for more (albeit at the cost of his command), strong curve, and solid changeup, though he's likely to max out as a mid-rotation or worse innings eater, and there will be growing pains on the way. Still, Brian Cashman has repeatedly said that he'd welcome having Nova in the rotation, so it seems Nova's primary job in camp will be simply not to lose the spot that is very likely his coming in.

R - Hector Noesi

Noesi is, with fellow Dominican righty Nova, who is just two weeks his senior, in the second tier of Yankee rotation prospects behind the Killer Bs (see below). Noesi pitched across three levels in 2010, but spent most of the year doing solid work for Double-A Trenton (3.10 ERA, 4.78 K/9). He has a low-90s fastball that can get up to 96, a solid changeup, and excellent control (1.6 BB/9 in his minor league career with a matching figure last year). The trick is that Noesi is one of the few fly-ball pitchers among the Yankees upper-level starting prospects, and Trenton, in stark contrast to the new Yankee Stadium, is a place that's quite forgiving of fly-ball pitchers. That means the Yankees will likely want Noesi to show them something at Triple-A before they're willing to sub him into the major league rotation. Noesi made just three starts at Triple-A last year, only one of which was quality, then got lit-up in a playoff start against the Columbus Clippers, who are now the Indians' top affiliate. Another strike against Noesi is that he's being held up in his native Dominican Republic due to visa issues. He's a longshot to make the rotation to start with, being behind the rest of the pitchers could guarantee that he starts the season in Triple-A.

R - Andrew Brackman

Brackman has taken an unusual journey to this point. The 6-foot-10 Ohio native threw just 149 innings in his three years at North Carolina State due to injury and basketball commitments, and he wasn't exactly dominating in those 149 frames, largely due to a lack of controll. Still, the Yankees took him with the 30th overall pick in 2007, despite the fact that he likely needed Tommy John surgery (he did), gave him a major league contract, then waited a year for him to make his pro debut. When Brackman finally got on a mound in the Sally League in 2009, he was a mess. He walked 6.4 men per nine innings and finished the season with a 2-12 record, 5.91 ERA, and 1.71 WHIP. Last year, he opened the season with High-A Tampa at age 24 having never pitched like a first-round draft pick. Brackman posted a 5.10 ERA in 12 starts for Tampa, but more importantly, he walked just 1.4 men per nine while striking out 8.4 (an outstanding 6.22 K/BB), then continued to pitch well for Double-A Tampa. Indeed, Brackman just seemed to get better as the year went along. His mid-90s heat came free and easy with nice late movement aided by the leverage and reach provided by his height. His potentially devastating curve became more consistent, and he worked his changeup in effectively. His limited experience means he still has a lot of learning to do about pitching itself, but he seems to finally be healthy and mechanically sound and, after making 14 Double-A starts last year, could open 2011 in Triple-A and force his way into the major league rotation mid-season based simply on pure stuff.

R - Dellin Betances

Brooklyn native Dellin Betances resembles Brackman in that he's tall (6-foot-8), had his progress slowed by Tommy John surgery (performed in August 2009), and has a similar repertoir of a mid-90s fastball, plus curve, and changeup. Betances, however, is more than two year's younger than Brackman, has a fuller build, and his stuff is actually better than Brackman's. His heater hits 97 miles per hour with regularity and he uses it to blow hitters away up in the zone. His curveball has a wicked 12-to-6 drop, and his changeup is above average. More importantly, Betances has a confidence on the mound and a sense of how to set up a batter that Brackman has yet to develop. Betances, who was taken in the eighth round of the Yankees' outstanding 2006 draft, has legitimate ace potential. The keys for him are keeping his mechanics sound and his arm healthy. He finished 2010 with just three starts at Double-A and should return to Trenton to star the year, but the combination of his ability and the Yankees' rotation deficiencies could very well see him make his major league debut before the season is out.

L - Steve Garrison

Trenton, New Jersey native Steve Garrison was claimed off waivers from the Padres in September on the suggestion of former Padres general manager Kevin Towers, who was then consulting for Brian Cashman and has since taken over the reins of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Garrison is a 24-year-old groundballing lefty of little distinction who was hit hard in five starts in his Triple-A debut last year and seems headed for the Scranton bullpen this year. At best, he could prove to be a younger replacement for Sergio Mitre in the mop-up role. More likely, he'll be designated for assignment when the Yankees need room on the 40-man for a real prospect.

Non-roster Invitees:

R - Freddy Garcia

Once a highly-sought-after workhorse who averaged 220 innings per season with a 111 ERA+ from 2001 to 2006, Garcia had the misfortune to require labrum and rotator cuff surgery on the eve of his free agency after the 2007 season. Over the next two seasons, Garcia made just 12 starts for the Tigers and White Sox, albeit with solid results (109 ERA+, 2.72 K/BB). After having to pitch his was back to the majors each of those seasons, he finally had a rotation job for a full season with the White Sox last year, but wasn’t nearly as effective (or lucky) and was hit hard and often, giving up too many fly balls which turned into too many home runs. He wasn’t bad enough to get booted from the Chicago rotaiton, but he posted a 94 ERA+ and averaged shy of 5 2/3 innings per start. Most likely, Garcia’s 2010 performance is the pitcher he is now heading into his age-36 season, which makes him a particularly poor fit for the new Yankee Stadium, but he's nonetheless a leading candidate for one of the final two spots in the Yankee rotation this spring.

R - Bartolo Colon

Once the ace of the Cleveland Indians, Bartolo Colon led the American League in wins as the Angels ace in 2005, but that October he blew out his rotator cuff in a playoff start against the Yankees, and since then he's been either hurt, awful or both. From 2006 to 2009, Colon posted a 5.18 ERA in 257 innings (an average of 64 a year) while allowing 1.5 home runs per nine innings for the Angels, Red Sox, and White Sox. His healthiest season during that stretch, 2007 in which he made 18 starts and threw 99 1/3 innings, was his worst (6.34 ERA). Last year, he sat out the entire season, largely because no one was desperate enough to call him. This year, the Yankees are desperate enough. Having seen Colon throwing in the low-90s in winter ball, they've brought the soon-to-be-38 year old into camp, but I wouldn't trust him as far as I can throw him (and I doubt I could even lift him). The reasons to stay away from Colon are legion. The reasons to give him a chance over any of the other arms, young or old, in camp, are non-existent. To put it simply, though he was once a far superior pitcher, at this point in his career, if you can still call it that, Colon is Sidney Ponson but older and with a lengthy injury history. Pass.

More on Colon from Jay.

R - David Phelps

Not to be confused with the Christian Pop star, though he was drafted out of Notre Dame, a Catholic University, 24-year-old righty David Phelps is a groundballer with good control (2.0 BB/9 career) of a low-90s sinker that he compliments with a slider and a changeup. He's not a top prospect, but he's in that second-tier and might be the home grown product most ready for the majors after Nova. Phelps posted a 3.07 ERA and 4.38 K/BB in 11 starts and one relief appearance in his Triple-A debut last year and should very much be a part of the competition for the final two starts in the rotation.

R - D.J. Mitchell

A tenth-round pick out of Clemson in 2008, D.J. Mitchell shot through the Yankee system in just two professional seasons, opening in the Sally League in 2009 and finishing with three solid starts at Triple-A at the end of last season. A slight, right-handed groundballer, Mitchell, who will be 24 in May, features a sinker that sits around 90 miles per hour, can add a few extra ticks when he goes to his four-seamer, and compliments those pitches with an excellent changeup, but he lacks a proper third pitch, and his walk and strikeout rates have been converging as he has headed up the ladder (in 150 2/3 Double-A innings last year he had a 1.75 K/9). The Yankees will give him a chance to show improvement in the Triple-A rotation to start the year, but with the Killer Bs coming up behind him, he could be forced into the bullpen or traded before the year is out.

L - Manny Banuelos

The third of the Killer Bs, Banuelos doesn't resemble Brackman or Betances at all. Whereas those two are giant American right-handers, Banuelos is a tiny Mexican lefty. He's officially listed at 5-foot-10, which is also what Brett Gardner is listed at. I've stood next to Brett Gardner, and I'd categorize that 5-10 as generous and imagine that is the case here as well. Whatever his height, Banuelos, who won't turn 20 for another month, started to fill out his small frame last year and saw his velocity jump into the mid-90s in turn, which is almost unheard of for a short lefty not named Billy Wagner. Like Brackman and Betances, Banuelos compliments that fastball with a curve and changeup, but where as his fellow Bs feature the curve and show the change, Banuelos's bread and butter is his changeup, which sits in the high 70s, nearly 20 miles per hour below his best fastball, and has what scout Frankie Piliere calls a "dead fish drop." That makes his curve, still a plus pitch, his third-best, and helps make Banuelos another front-of-the-rotation prospect. Like Betances, he made just three starts for Double-A Trenton last year and should return there to start the year. He could advance quickly, but he's a rawer product than Betances, in part due to his age, in part due to the fact that his stuff was still developing just last year.

R - Adam Warren

Not to be confused with racy comic book artist, this Adam Warren is another UNC product, albeit one built on a human scale. Drafted in the fourth round of the 2009 draft, Warren made his full-season debut at High-A last year, and finished with ten strong starts at Double-A. Like the rest of the Yankees' second-tier starting prospects, save Noesi, he's a groundballer, but one closer to Nova's profile in that he can get his fastball up to the mid-90s, has a deep repertoire that includes that four-seamer, his two-seam sinker, and a cutter, which he compliments with a changeup and curve, and projects as a mid-rotation starter. Just 23, Warren, posted a 3.15 ERA and 3.69 K/BB in Trenton last year and should open the season in the Triple-A rotation, but could stay in the hunt for the back of the big league rotation right up through the end of March.

Outlook: Nova and Garcia are the favorites for the final two spots in the rotation heading into camp, but Phelps, Warren, and Betances should make things interesting and any one of those three could represent an in-season upgrade if either Nova or Garcia falters. Banuelos and Brackman are, of course, the team's other two top prospects after Betances, and all three Killer Bs are within striking distance of the majors, but the Yankees have become notoriously careful with their starting prospects, so I'd be surprised to see aggressive promotions with any of those three unless their readiness is undeniable. The rest are long-man fodder, save for Colon, who is cannon fodder.

RELIEF PITCHERS

40-man Roster:

R - Romulo Sanchez

A big, hard-throwing swing man, Sanchez, who will be 27 in April, has control problems (5.1 BB/9 last year), and is out of options, which means if he doesn't beat out Mitre for the long-man role, which is not a total impossibility, he'll likely be in another organization by April.

R - Ryan Pope

Not to be confused with the drummer from the Get Up Kids, this Ryan Pope was a third-round pick out of college in 2007, worked his way up to Double-A by 2009, but struggled a bit there and was converted to relief in a repeat of the level last year. That move to the bullpen boosted his velocity and his peripherals in turn as he struck out 9.7 men per nine innings with a 4.43 K/BB and became Trenton's closer, saving 17 games. After a solid showing in the Arizona Fall League, Pope, who turns 25 in May, should open the year in the Triple-A bullpen where he'll be charged with repeating the feat in order to become an option for the major league pen.

L - Robert Fish

Taken from the Angels in December's Rule 5 draft, Fish is a 23-year-old lefty with a mid-90s heater. Like Pope, he was moved from the rotation to the bullpen last year. Fish briefly dominated the High-A California League in his new role (1.12 ERA, 14.1 K/9, 0 HR) before making the jump to Double-A, where he was done in by a ludicrous .457 BABIP, but still succeeded around the zone, striking out 10.2 men per nine innings against a not-disastrous 3.8 walks per nine. It was a bit of a stretch to envision Fish as a viable second-lefty behind Boone Logan, but having reeled in Pedro Feliciano, the Yankees now seem sure to throw Fish back.

R - Daniel Turpen

Sixteen teams opted not to make a pick in the Rule 5 draft before the Yankees took Turpen, who proved to be the last player taken in the major league portion of the draft. Some speculated that the Yankees drafted Turpen out of the Red Sox's system just to deplete with the pool of players Boston had available to offer to the Padres in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, but a closer look at Turpen reveals that he's hardly a player worth messing with. Not to be confused with the DC comics character Lieutenant Inspector Dan Turpin, Turpen was a College World Series star for Oregon State who was drafted by the Giants in 2007 and traded to the Red Sox at last year’s trading deadline for former Yankee farmhand Ramon Ramirez. Now 24, Turpin is a career reliever who has never started a game as a professional and spent all of 2010 in Double-A with decidedly ordinary results (4.30 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 2.14 K/BB) and didn't raise his stock with a 5.40 ERA in the Arizona Fall League. Turpen throws from a low arm-angle which has the usual effects of making him hard on right-handers but easy pray for lefties and is sure to be returned well before camp is over.

More on the Yankees involvement in December's Rule 5 draft, including notes on righties George Kontos and Lance Pendleton, who could well be returned to the Yankees by the Padres and Astros, respectively.

Non-roster Invitees:

R - Mark Prior

Everyone is rooting for Mark Prior, the former second-overall pick (behind Joe Mauer) in the 2001 amateur draft and former 18-game winner for the ill-fated 2003 Cubs. Prior looked like he was on his way to a Hall of Fame career in 2003, but the injury bug began to bite the very next season. Prior hasn’t thrown a major league pitch since 2006 due to chronic arm problems and has pitched just one inning for an affiliated minor league team since then. As I wrote when the Yankees signed him, Prior's attempt to come back from a trio of shoulder surgeries after a four-year absence from professional ball is completely unprecedented. Of course, that's why it would make it a great story and why everyone is rooting for him. Unfortunately, it's more likely that Prior, now 30 years old, is even more done than Eric Chavez.

L - Neal Cotts

Lefties get countless chances, and relievers who post sub-2.00 ERAs for World Series winning ballclubs do, as well. Cotts is both of those, but his 1.94 ERA for the 2005 White Sox is utterly unique in his pitching record, which is otherwise exclusively composed of ERAs over 4.00 and problematic walk and home-run rates. Cott’s one great season was the result of luck on balls in play (.237 BABIP) and fly balls staying in the park (just 1.5 percent turning into homers against a league average of 12 percent). Since 2005, he has posted a 5.06 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 4.2 BB/9, and an alarming 1.8 HR/9. He now joins the Yankees coming off Tommy John surgery and heading into his age-31 season with fellow LOOGYs Pedro Feliciano, Boone Logan already in place on the major league roster.

R - Luis Ayala

Luis Ayala, is a 33-year-old righty reliever from Mexico who had three strong seasons for the Natspos prior to having Tommy John surgery in March 2006. He missed that entire season and hasn’t really been the same since. Prior to the surgery, Ayala posted a 2.75 ERA in 214 relief appearances thanks in part to excellent control (his 1.6 walks per nine innings produced a handsome 3.55 K/BB despite a below-average strikeout rate). Since returning, he has posted a 5.01 ERA in 163 relief appearances for four teams while walking 2.8 men per nine innings, not a lot, but enough to make him thoroughly unexceptional, particularly in combination with a decrease in his groundball rate.  Last year, Ayala went to camp with the Dodgers, but failed to make the team, instead taking a tour of the Pacific Coast League that saw him pitch in Albuquerque (Dodgers), Reno (Diamondbacks), and Colorado Springs (Rockies). Along the way, he posted a 6.42 ERA, 3.4 BB/9, and managed to pick up 10 losses in just 36 relief outings.

R - Warner Madrigal

As my former Bronx Banter colleague and anagram enthusiast, Diane Firstman has pointed out, "Warner Madrigal" anagrams to "Marginal Reward," which is about right. A converted outfielder who hit .369/.394/.581 as a 19-year-old in rookie ball back in 2003, Madrigal took up pitching in 2006 while still in the Angels system and eventually made his major league debut with the Rangers in 2008. That debut came against the Yankees in Arlington and saw Madrigal face seven batters, retiring just one, while the other six (three doubles, two singles, and a walk) all came around to score. Taking that lone outing out of his 2008 major league line drops his ERA by nearly a run and a half. In 2009, he threw 3 1/3 innings against the Yankees across three outings and gave up another five runs. It's no wonder he decided to sign with the Bombers. If you can't beat 'em . . . Madrigal is a fairly conventional converted reliever who relies on a fastball/slider combo but mixes in a changeup and will cut his fastball on occasion. He's also a fly-ball pitcher and his strikeout rate in his two major league seasons has been barely more than half his minor league mark and accompanied by a fair bit of wildness. He'll be 27 next month and seems likely to remain filler for the Triple-A pen.

R - Brian Anderson

A more recently-converted outfielder, Anderson was supposed to be the White Sox's center fielder for the second half of the last decade. After the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, they traded Aaron Rowand to the Phillies to make room for Anderson in center, but the former first-round pick never did figure out major league pitching. After hitting .225/.288/.364 in parts of five seasons for the Pale Hose, he was sent to the Crimson kind for Mark Kotsay and became a late-season defensive replacement. Last year, he signed with Royals as a free agent and was put on the Tony Peña Jr. plan. Anderson only threw 17 1/3 innings in actual game action in his first season as a full-time pitcher, and 10 1/3 of those frames came in the low minors, but he struck out 17 men against five walks and no homers in those innings and acquitted himself well in six Triple-A outings, five of which were scoreless and three of which were perfect, in the hitting-friendly Pacific Coast League. He’ll be 29 next month and is really a completely unknown quantity as a pitcher right now, but his fastball sits in the mid-90s and can hit 97, and he compliments that heat with an average slider and good control. He’s certainly worth sticking in the Triple-A pen on the off chance that there’s something there, even if that something just turns out to be a solid throw-in for a deadline trade.

L - Andy Sisco

Believe it or not, Andrew Brackman and Dellin Betances are not the biggest men in camp. That distinction is held by the 6-foot-10, 270-pound Sisco, a hard-throwing left-hander who can make CC Sabathia look small. “Sisquatch” was swiped from the Cubs by the Royals in the 2004 Rule 5 draft and turned in a solid season of set-up work as a 22-year-old rookie in 2005, but that season interrupted his development and that caught up with him in his miserable sophomore year. The White Sox tried to fix him in 2007, having acquired him for Ross Gload, but had no success, and April 2008 Tommy John surgery froze things there. Sisco returned to action with the Giants’ Double-A team last year and showed his old velocity but also his old wildness and posted a 4.32 ERA as a 27-year-old former major leaguer in Double-A. That’s not promising, but it’s hard to blame the Yankees for wanting to take a look at a pitcher who fits his description.

R - Buddy Carlyle

This 33-year-old righty swing man is the definition of a journeyman. He now joins his eighth domestic organization coming off his second stint in Japan, that’s 12 teams total, only three of which have given him the ball in the major leagues, and only one of which, the Braves in 2007 and 2008, gave him an extended opportunity in the bigs. Diagnosed with diabetes in early 2009, Carlyle’s determination and endurance is admirable, but his pitching isn’t.

R - Eric Wordekemper

Never mind Mark Prior, Eric Wordekemper is one of the better stories in camp. The 1,391st overall pick in the 2005 draft (that's the 46th round), Wordekemper has made cameo appearances on split-squad teams in previous springs, but this is his first proper invite to major league camp. Now entering his sixth full (and seventh overall) season in the Yankees' system, the 27-year-old Creighton University product split 2010 between Double- and Triple-A posting solid peripherals on both levels. He doesn't have great stuff, and he's not even particularly young, but I'd rather have another Eric Wordekemper over Buddy Carlyle any day.

Outlook: Most of these guys are headed for minor league bullpens, save perhaps for the ones who are simply going to be cut loose. Of course, for Mark Prior, just being able to pitch with some regularity on any level will be a huge step.

Note that Brian Schlitter was designated for assignement to make room on the 40-man roster for Andruw Jones and claimed off waivers by the Phillies. Luis Vizcaino, meanwhile, ruptured his Achillies tendon in winter ball and had his contract voided.

Finally, for those curious about what I wrote about the Yankee campers in previous years, here are my previous seven campers posts, warts and all:

2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010