One of the more interesting stories in the minors this season will be the Triple-A starting rotation.
David Phelps, Adam Warren, DJ Mitchell, Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances all could begin the year as starters. Manny and Dellin represent high ceiling talents still a year or so away from contributing to the major league team. Phelps, Warren, and Mitchell are already considered major league ready, but have lower ceilings than their counterparts. It’s looking like one of those three will end up as the long reliever for the New York Yankees this season. In their place, Andy Pettitte will likely start off in Triple-A. Andy is a known quantity so I won’t talk about him today. The three of them all profile as back end starters who are already close to reaching that ceiling, or else they will have a chance to contribute as bullpen arms.
David Phelps, RHP: The 6-foot-2, 200-pound, 25 year old has already proven all he can prove in the minors. He started in Staten Island in 2008 and moved up two levels every season since then. Now he’s spent considerable time in Triple-A, where he owns a miniscule 3.14 ERA and has struck out 147 batters in 177.2 IP. He’s only walked 39 during that time.
Phelps is undoubtedly a control pitcher, with a low 90′s sinking fastball and a four-seamer that can reach 95 mph. His best pitch is his power slider, which is mid-80′s with solid break. He also has a decent curveball which has developed over time. His best tool is his aggressiveness. He projects as back end starter. While he doesn’t possess overpowering stuff, he definitely has what it takes to succeed in that role.
Adam Warren, RHP: He’s a very similar pitcher to Phelps. At 6-foot-2, 225-pounds, he’s had a similar course, except that he skipped over Charleston after Short Season-A and is only 24. He has one season under his belt in Triple-A, where he posted a 3.6 ERA over 152.1 IP. His SO/9 was a career low 6.6, and his BB/9 was a career high 3.1, but he had a successful first season. At one point last season, he was next in line for a promotion.
Another control pitcher with a sinking fastball in the low 90′s and a four seamer that reaches 96 mph, Warren is a gamer who really goes after hitters. He has more pitches than Phelps. He throws a power slider, a curve ball, and a changeup, all of which he locates in any count. The projection may sound familiar, a back end starter who has the tools to kill it in that role, but could end up in the bullpen.
DJ Mitchell, RHP: Mitchell will be 25 for most of 2012, as he shares my birthday on May 13, exactly one year younger. He’s listed at just 6-foot-0, and 160-pounds, but he’s been as effective as anyone in Triple-A so far. Last season he pitched to a 3.18 ERA, with an SO/9 of just 6.2, but a BB/9 of just 1.78. He had 13 wins on the season, and was the most consistent pitcher at this level.
As you can tell by the low BB/9, Mitchell is a control pitcher. Velocity is not Mitchell’s strong suit, as he stays close to 90 mph with his fastball. He is so effective at such low velocity because the movement is stellar. It breaks in on righties and away from lefties, keeping their eye off the ball. Mitchell really excels with his secondary offerings. He throws a changeup that is devastating to hitters, and a 12-6 curve ball that is also a strikeout pitch. The ceiling is similar to Phelps and Warren. He is more likely than the aforementioned to go to the bullpen. There have been comparisons to Cory Wade, which may end up being pretty accurate.
Manny Banuelos, LHP: At 5-foot-11, ManBan is the shortest starter. Normally that would predispose a player to injury, but Banuelos’ solid 200-pound frame and easy motion make it unlikely. In 2011, the stats were not as impressive as hoped. He struggled with control, and Banuelos ended up with a 3.75 ERA over two levels (Double-A and Triple-A). His SO/9 (8.7) also declined from 2010, but not by much. For a 20 year old in Triple-A, that’s not too bad. His BB/9 was 4.9, which is too high, but there is hope that he can regain that control and improve his performance.
Widely seen as the best prospect in the system, Banuelos has the ceiling of a future number one or two. His velocity increased to mid-90′s (toppin out at 97 mph) during the 2010 season. The same increase that saw his prospect status skyrocket also caused his once pinpoint control to falter. His best pitch is probably his changeup. The delivery is the same as the fastball, and the fade is good enough to strike major league hitters out already. He throws an excellent curve ball that is another strikeout pitch. The big news out of camp this year is that he has started using a cutter. Maybe Andy Pettitte can teach him a thing or two while he’s in the minors this year.
Dellin Betances, RHP: Betances is the biggest and tallest player on this list, at 6-foot-8, 260-pounds. Betances is seen as the second best prospect in the system by some. He has yet to shake the belief that he may end up a late inning reliever, mostly because of control issues. He sported a 3.7 ERA last season, but struggled mightily during a short stint in Triple-A (5.14 ERA in 21 IP). His SO/9 remained impressive at 10.1, but his BB/9 rose to 5.0.
Betances throws a mid to upper 90s fastball with great extension that misses tons of bats. He throws a good changeup and curve ball, but has struggled to control them. Despite this, he still has as high of a ceiling as anyone. If he can learn to locate, he is a front end starter. If not, he could easily end up in a relief role, or worse.
It would be difficult to find a Triple-A rotation as talented as the Empire State Yankees. They have high ceiling talent, polish, and experience. All five potential starters have abilities that could bring them to a major league rotation someday. Given the depth at pitching for the Yankees this season, it will be interesting to see what the front office decides to do with these five players.
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