Michael Pineda was hot stuff in 2011. After making a mockery of the minors in the previous three years, the 22-year-old broke camp with the Seattle Mariners and never looked back, posting a 3.74 ERA and 3.36 SIERA over 28 starts. He showcased a mid-to-high-90's fastball and complimented it with a pretty nasty slider. Although his performance tailed off a bit in the second half, it was looking like Pineda would develop into a star pitcher in the near future. The following winter, the Yankees acquired Pineda for top prospect Jesus Montero. They thought they had a young, cost-controlled pitcher who could slot into their rotation immediately and stay there for the next half-decade.
Now, two years later, Pineda's still trying to make it back from the shoulder surgery he had in April of 2012. He still hasn't thrown a pitch for the Yankees and it's not entirely clear when (or even if) he will. After nearly two years of rest and rehab, Pineda's supposedly healthy at long last. We've heard that before though -- Pineda made 10 starts in the minors last year before being shut down due to shoulder stiffness.
Although a labral tear isn't the kiss of death it once was for a pitcher, pitchers who have suffered torn labrums in the past haven't fared all too well in their comeback attempts. Jay Jaffe found that, of the 67 pitchers to suffer a labral tear between 2002 and 2011, more than half never pitched more than 50 major-league innings following the surgery. He comped Pineda's injury to those suffered by Anibal Sanchez, Jose Valverde, and Wade Miller. Sanchez and Valverde made it back, but Miller was never quite the same.
The fact that Pineda's rehab has taken as long as it has raises a bit of a red flag. The typical recovery time from a labrum surgery is about a year for a pitcher, but Pineda had to be shut down 15 months post op. Obviously, every case is different, but he'll be two years removed from his surgery this May. If he's still not right in in spring training, it might just be that his shoulder is no longer up to the task of throwing a baseball.
Pineda's upside is clear. When fully healthy, he's a great pitcher, capable of blowing away hitters with a high-90's fastball. It's just hard to say if a healthy Pineda is even a realistic possibility at this point. He was supposedly throwing in the mid-90's in his rehab games this year, but I won't be convinced until he shows he can throw the ball well with some sort of consistency -- something he hasn't done in over two and a half years now. Pineda will compete with David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Vidal Nuno for a spot in the Yankees' rotation this spring. He certainly has the most upside of that group, but at this point, we don't have much reason to think he'll be able to tap into that upside. A strong and healthy spring training could change that though.