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Can Bryan Mitchell be an elite reliever?

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Bryan Mitchell has recently been one of the most frustrating prospects in the Yankees farm system. Despite frequent command issues, his stuff has resembled one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The 2009 draft ended up being a valuable for the Yankees. With the second, fourth, and 15th round picks, Brian Cashman essentially snagged Aaron Hicks, Starlin Castro, and Didi Gregorius, using those picks to select John Ryan Murphy, Adam Warren, and Shane Greene, respectively.

With the 495th overall pick in 2009, the Yankees selected Bryan Mitchell, a right-handed high school pitcher from North Carolina. Six years later, Mitchell has forced his way to the big leagues. However, he has allowed more than his fair share of walks at every level of pro ball. He finally hit what appears to be insurmountable wall at the Major League level.

In 15 starts for Triple-A Scranton Wilkesbarre, Mitchell had 4.44 BB/9. As a general rule, a pitcher with that many walks won't get called up to the show without good reason. That reason, in Mitchell's case, was his downright filthy stuff. In fact, when looking at his pitch repertoire, an extremely encouraging comparison comes to mind: Kansas City Royals closer Wade Davis. Here are their pitches, with Pitch F/X data courtesy of Brooks Baseball:

Pitch % Usage Avg. Velo H-Movement V-Movement
Mitchell Fastball 50.2% 96.7 mph -5.88 in. 8.97 in.
Davis Fastball 51.8% 96.5 mph -2.18 in. 10.51 in.
Mitchell Cutter 20.0% 92.2 mph 1.35 in. 4.46 in.
Davis Cutter 29.3% 93.3 mph 2.28 in. 5.36 in.
Mitchell Knuckle Curve 27.0% 83.0 mph 6.99 in. -6.86 in.
Davis Knuckle Curve 18.5% 85.1 mph 3.05 in. -4.91 in.

In terms of effectiveness, the biggest difference between the two pitchers comes from their fastballs. According to MLB.com's Statcast data, Wade Davis averaged 2390 rotations per minute on his four-seam fastball last season, which is above league average. The late life on his fastball helped him rack up strikeout after strikeout. Against Davis's fastballs which were in the strike zone, hitters had a contact rate of just 77.7%, according to Pitch F/X data at Fangraphs. Last season, hitters had a Z-Contact% of 86.7% against all pitches.

Mitchell's fastball features more tailing action, which can lead to him getting burned when he leaves his heater up in the zone. In fact, according to Baseball Savant, the four home runs he surrendered this year were all against high fastballs:

When the Yankees traded Justin Wilson and Adam Warren, the general assumption was that Brian Cashman was not quite finished dealing. But if the relief market is looking dry, Bryan Mitchell will have the chance to make a difference out of the Yankees bullpen. It is important to remember that up to this point, Mitchell has been used exclusively as a starter. Fully committing to a relief role will occasionally help pitchers with their command, as they can simplify their delivery or stop worrying about developing new pitches.

Of course, the Yankees aren't exactly teeming with starting pitching depth, either. Brian Cashman has probably instructed Mitchell to report to Spring Training ready to start if necessary. But at just 24 years old, Mitchell has plenty of time to transition to a full time bullpen role if he can't hack it as a starter. For now, enjoy a gif of his cutter, which has shown signs of being a downright unfair pitch:

*Data is courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball Savant, and Brooks Baseball.