It's been a long, winding road for rookie reliever Dellin Betances. Although he has less big league experience than players drafted five years after him, like Michael Wacha and Kevin Gausman, it feels like he's a prospect who has been around forever. Not many players drafted in 2006 still count as prospects, but Dellin is a rare bird indeed.
The 6'8" Brooklyn native has always had talent, evidenced by top-notch evaluators immediately placing him on the Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus Top 100 Prospects list in 2007, but like many tremendously tall pitchers, it has been a challenge helping him harness his skills. After a few more times on the Top 100 and a little over seven years of trying to mold him into a legitimate starting rotation, Betances's problems with control proved to be too great to overcome. So on May 10, 2013, the 25-year-old Betances took the mound for Triple-A Scranton as a full-time reliever for the first time. From then on, he was absolutely lights-out.
In 32 games and 60 innings out of the 'pen, Betances pitched to a 1.35 ERA, cut his walk rate down to 3.9 BB/9, gave up just one homer, and struck out an eye-popping 12.5 men per nine innings (83 overall). Opposing batters hit a mere .163 against him, and Betances impressed the Yankees enough to earn a couple promotions to the Bronx. The numbers in the pros weren't pretty, but that can just be chalked up to two bad games out of six overall. It's not a big enough sample size to truly evaluate Betances, anyway. He completely dominated International League hitters, leaving him with not much left to prove in Triple-A. In his first four games of spring training this year, Betances has picked up right where he ended 2013, retiring all but four batters in 6 1/3 innings of scoreless ball.
So far in spring training, Betances has demonstrated some of the changes that propelled his turnaround in 2013. LoHud's Chad Jennings talked to Betances and catcher John Ryan Murphy about his tinkering, which was on display Sunday afternoon against the Rays. Desmond Jennings hit a one-out double on a Betances fastball, the 95 mph heat that has always been his best pitch. Murphy then gradually called for six breaking balls in a row, a sequence that Murphy said he probably could not have asked of Betances just a couple years ago. Yet with those six pitches, he struck out Matt Joyce and induced a ground ball double play from Wil Myers, both of whom are legitimate big league hitters, not just random International Leaguers. All of those six pitches were variations on a new pitch for Betances--a very curvalicious slider:
Late in 2012, Betances was looking for an alternative to his inconsistent curveball, and he began experimenting with a slider. A Double-A teammate that year, Mikey O’Brien, taught Betances to tilt his wrist a little bit, and that seemed to make all the difference. The slider comes out pretty slurvy — in fact, Joe Girardi still calls it a curveball — but it’s consistent, and Betances can throw a smaller one for a strike or a harder one for a swing-and-miss. That slider/slurve has replaced his curveball, and that’s the pitch he threw six times in a row to strand the go-ahead run against a pair of dangerous big league power hitters. - LoHud
Whatever the pitch is, it has definitely produced results for Betances. There's also a fairly noticeable difference in his mechanics. Being 6'8" makes mastering his motion a challenge, but he seems to have better control of his body on the mound:
After noting "holy crap, YES has higher quality spring training video available now," it's quite evident that Betances's delivery is less busy than it was before. In 2012, he was all over the place. He used to stay down in the follow-through to his motion, whereas now he gradually brings himself back up. A smoother motion is better for his back, controlling his long arms, and for getting him in a good fielding position as well. With all the craziness going on in his 2012 motion, his 6.8 BB/9 in the minors that year is not surprising.
Now equipped with better mechanics, a devastating new breaking ball, and a solid season of bullpen success in the minors, the soon-to-be-26-year-old Betances appears to finally be ready to join the Yankees on Opening Day, barring injury or collapse. During the off-season, Brian Cashman revealed that Betances actually has a fourth optionleft, but that shouldn't influence the Yankees' decision of whether or not to take him north. As Derek recently outlined, there should be spots available in the Yankees' bullpen.
Assuming a normal 12-man pitching staff, there are 11 arms who are either locks or near-locks to make the team, again barring injury or collapse: CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Adam Warren, Preston Claiborne, Matt Thornton, Shawn Kelley, and David Robertson. The 12th spot is likely up for grabs between Betances, LOOGY Cesar Cabral, lefty Vidal Nuno, and NRI Matt Daley. Betances's potential is higher than any of these players and his results indicate that the Yankees should give him a try. We can only hope that 2014 is, at long last, Dellin's time to shine.