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Q&A with Donnie Collins, Yanks AAA Beat Writer: Part Two

Donnie Collins is the Scranton Times-Tribune beat writer for the Yankees' Triple-A affiliate, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. Here is a link to his twitter account, and a link to his blog. Here's part two of our Q&A.

Frank: David Phelps has been very good over his last few starts. Is he ready for the big leagues? What's his upside?

Donnie: I am a bigger David Phelps fan than practically anybody, it seems. I see people saying he's no better than a No. 4 or 5 starter in the big leagues, and I just shake my head because there's a lot of good things to talk about with him. First and foremost, his demeanor and approach is unmatched. He's as focused on the mound as any pitcher the Yankees have moved through Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the last two years. We're also talking about a guy with four pitches that he uses effectively. The two arguments I've heard against him are that he doesn't throw particularly hard and that he doesn't have an "out pitch." But I've seen him sit between 91 and 93, which seems decent when you're attacking the corners like he does. And his slider has been a pretty good out pitch for him throughout his career. I think the key for him is using his change-up more often, which will help him develop the feel he needs to get it to the proper location more consistently. But I definitely see him developing into a very serviceable, if not overwhelming, starter in the big leagues down the road. Is he ready now? I think he's worth a look now. In fact, he'd be the guy I called up to fill Joba Chamberlain's roster spot.

 Frank: Adam Warren, same question.

Donnie: It's interesting that you ask the same question, because they're probably about the same pitcher. Warren can dial it up another mile per hour or two on his fastball, and he probably has a more polished change-up right now. But all Phelps has that Warren doesn't is Triple-A experience. I don't know whether it was the weather or what, but Warren got off to a pretty slow start this season. Not only weren't the results there, but the stuff wasn't, either. The stuff has definitely come around, and two of his last three starts have been his two best of the season. He gave the Yankees their first complete game of the season Thursday night, and he was both overpowering and economical. I like Warren as much as I like Phelps, and the more I think about it, the more I believe Warren would be a more intriguing option as a one-inning reliever this season than anybody else on the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre staff this season. He has the look of a short reliever, though his stuff in undeniably starter material. The fact that this is his first season in Triple-A, though, would lead me to think that he should stay and get some more experience. He's not quite consistent enough yet to show he doesn't need it.

Frank: Are there any players that have surprised you this season?

Donnie: Of course, Kevin Whelan is at the top of the list. Now, nobody ever said this guy didn't have great stuff. He probably had the best pure stuff coming out of the bullpen last season. But he could never harness it, could never throw consistent strikes, and I honestly had him written off as a lost cause coming into the season. I wasn't sure he would make the Triple-A roster until the very end, quite frankly. But he has been beyond dominant this year. He is actually very close to the pace Jonathan Albaladejo set last season when he broke the International League's single-season saves record. If you told me Kevin Whelan would have a 1.67 ERA and a 30-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio on June 10, I'd have thought you were crazy. But that's what he has. He's just a great story.

I've also been a bit surprised Dan Brewer has been as good as he has been. Again, he needs way more time than two months and two weeks in Triple-A to become the player he can become. He still strikes out a lot more than he should, and he clearly is trying to learn the pitchers and the patterns in this league. But this guy can hit and, when he's going good, can really grind out an at-bat. I see him and think he's a very, very young Chuck Knoblauch. I know his on-base percentage (.347 this season and .364 in his career) isn't what Knoblauch's used to be. But Brewer has never spent more than one season at a level. Once he gets some time in, I think his strike zone discipline and bat control will improve, and we're looking at a guy who can be a top of the order hitter in the big leagues down the road. I really, really think that. Now, we're probably talking the middle of 2013 before we can discuss that more. But I like Brewer that much. I didn't think he'd be a guy I like quite as much as I do.

Frank: Who has the best chance at making an impact at the major league level down the stretch?

Donnie: On Thursday morning, I'd have said Tim Norton. But he came down with a shoulder problem and is on the DL now. He had a great season for Trenton and was probably going to be Whelan's set-up man here.

This is a tough question, because the Yankees' biggest need area is a dominant seventh or eighth-inning guy, and there's nobody here who fits that bill to me. I guess with the spotlight on, I'd still have to say that the SWB player who could give New York the biggest boost would still be Jesus Montero. I think he could be plugged into that DH spot and do OK. He'll provide some energy with the fans, and if you look at last season, he was much better once July started. Is there no risk at all with Montero? I won't go that far. He took some time to adjust to Triple-A pitching, and if he needs as much time to adjust to big league pitching, he won't provide much of a return this season. But as crazy as this sounds, I think the Yankees need a bat as much as they do a middle reliever if they want to contend.

Again, special thanks to Donnie for conducting this interview. His Twitter account and blog are linked above. 

Question for the readers. Do you like these types of posts? Should I try to reach out to one of the AA beat writers for a similar interview?