The 2015 Yankees rotation seems to be taking shape, but it's the Triple-A pitching that could bring about the most questions. Last year the organization brought in veteran castoffs like Brian Gordon and Chris Leroux to fill the rotation in Scranton, and though they'll likely do the same thing again this year, it's important to inventory what they have and what they have lost first.
Shane Greene is gone, though even if he wasn't traded away he likely would have been given a shot on the major league team. Jose Ramirez is no longer a starter, so despite his likelihood of ending up back in Scranton to begin the year, it won't be as a member of the starting rotation. Chase Whitley is probably the favorite for the longman role in the major league bullpen, though there remains an outside shot he could end up in the Scranton rotation. With these three out of the way, the RailRiders only have so many options to provide them with quality starters before the organization has to reach out for outside help.
Bryan Mitchell made his major league debut in 2014, but he probably won't be staying with the big league club just yet. This year he'll have an opportunity to pitch regularly out of the rotation and prove his worth before he finally moves up to stay. The 23-year-old right-hander needs to work on his command, which he's kept under 4.0 BB/9 over the last two seasons. He also needs to figure out a way to minimize damage because he's been approaching 10 H/9 over the last two years and hasn't managed an ERA under 4.00 since 2010. As we keep hearing about him, Mitchell possesses the stuff to be successful, but he has yet to harness it in-game. At the very least, it would be nice if he could turn into a league-average innings eater, but if his 2014 season is any indication, averaging less than five innings a start is not going to cut it. He's still young, so hopefully the Yankees can give him the time he needs to figure things out.
The hope is that Manny Banuelos is finally healthy after battling into and out of elbow surgery over the last three seasons. This will be his third attempt at the Triple-A level since first reaching Scranton in 2012 and again in a short stint just last year. Despite all the setbacks, ManBan is still a prospect at just 23 and won't be used as minor league depth. That means the Yankees are going to monitor his innings and could limit his playing time if they think he is being overworked. Depending on how his season goes, the lefty could find his way to the majors, but it's probably safer to bet on him remaining in Triple-A for most of the year, at least until there's a reason to make a move.
Those two seem to be the only definite options in Triple-A, however, there are several other pitchers who could end up making the team as well. Zach Nuding spent the 2014 season being shuffled between Scranton and Trenton. In his first five starts he impressed enough to earn a promotion, however, once there, he struggled immensely with a 6.25 ERA in eight appearances. He figured things out again when he was sent back down, pitching to a 2.81 ERA in 53.1 innings and got a call up back to the RailRiders in August where he pitched well to end the season. At the age of 25, it's probably time to see if he can sink or swim in Triple-A because even though he's unlikely to ever become a major league option, the Yankees youth movement could make him a surprise injury replacement at some point.
That leaves minor league fodder like Caleb Cotham and Joel De La Cruz to fill out the rest of the rotation. The 27-year-old Cotham had a pretty miserable, injury-plagued 2015, but if he's healthy it's probably time to just let him pitch where they need him, even if he's fated to struggle. His first chance at Triple-A proved to be disappointing when he pitched to a 5.48 ERA in 95.1 innings in 2013. The righty is one year away from minor league free agency, so the Yankees might as well give him a chance to see if he's worth re-signing. On the flip side, the 25-year-old De La Cruz was just re-signed to a new minor league deal after he became a free agent this offseason. He was a nondescript reliever before the right-hander was turned into a starter these last two seasons and somehow his control greatly improved, creating a pitcher that is actually of some use to the RailRiders. After throwing 121.2 innings, he might be considered one of the team's best innings eater.
These five options do not, of course, count Double-A prospects that are likely to make it to Scranton at some point during the year. That means that on top of those options, the RailRiders could also expect reinforcements from Dan Camarena and Jaron Long. While neither are exactly top prospects, both have made solid reputations for themselves inside the organization. Just 22, Camarena performed well in High-A Tampa, pitching to a 2.35 ERA in 88 innings before being promoted to Double-A Trenton where a 5.07 ERA in 55 innings ended his 2014 on a low note. His peripherals suggest that he may have been unlucky, so hopefully another go in Trenton will help him. Long, 23, has seen none of the struggles in his young professional career that Camarena has seen. The 2014 season was really his first full year and he succeeded at every level he visited. He finished with a 2.18 ERA and good peripherals in 144.1 innings as a promising ground ball pitcher. It could be too soon to consider Long for the Scranton rotation, but the organization seemed to trust him enough to move him up three levels in one year, so if he shows the results they'll reward him before long.
If those internal options don't all come together like we want them to, the Yankees will have to go hunting for some free agent pitchers to store in Triple-A. They could target players returning from injuries, like Chad Billingsley, Scott Baker, and Brandon Beachy, to fill in while they rehab or useful innings eaters like Kevin Correia, Paul Maholm, and Bruce Chen. Considering the current MLB rotation, it might be worthwhile for them to spend a little more on some actual brand names, though they will probably end up just finding a few randoms to fill out the roster and invite to spring training instead.