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Saturday, March 5, 2011

A look at the Yankees by position: Starting pitchers

With Spring Training underway the Yankees biggest question throughout the spring season is their starting pitching. Basically after CC Sabathia there are question marks, some big and some small. Today I'll be previewing the Yankees starters and potential starters from ace CC Sabathia to prospects like Manny Banuelos and Andrew Brackman.

CC Sabathia: The hefty lefty had another big season for the Bombers last year, winning a career high 21 games while pitching to an ERA a dash above 3.0 in 237.2 innings pitched. For Sabathia, that is his fourth consecutive season pitching at least 230 innings, so clearly he has plenty of miles under his belt. Some wonder if that amount of workload over the years could lead to him slowing down a bit. So, to answer the critics CC slimmed down by losing 30 pounds in the offseason. Essentially, the question for the big man is; how will he handle the weight loss, and will he be able to continue his streak of 230 innings pitched? It will be key this year for the Yankees due to their lack of depth in the pitching rotation. Expect CC to reach the 230 inning mark and win around 17-21 games again, they need it. And not to mention, this spring Sabathia pitched two scoreless innings against the Detroit Tigers, the same team he'll face opening day at Yankee Stadium.

Phil Hughes: After a season in the bullpen Phil Hughes was given the opportunity to prove that he could pitch in the starting rotation. He entered into camp in 2009 battling with Joba Chamberlain, Sergio Mitre, and Alfredo Aceves for the fifth spot. He won that battle, and as they say; the rest is history. In the 2010 season Hughes won 18 games while earning a solid 4.19 ERA, and earning his first career All Star selection. However, despite the good season for Hughes he did have some troubles in the second half, going 7-6 with an elevated 4.90 ERA. The 24 year old also struggled in the ALCS against the Texas Rangers going 0-2 with a bloated 11.42 ERA in just 8.2 innings in two starts. In the second half of last year Hughes pretty much abandoned his changeup, which was a very effective pitch for him. I believe Hughes will have to stick with his changeup the entire season if he wants to build on his performance from 2010.This spring Hughes pitched two scoreless innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates, throwing three changeups in his outing. So, the question for Hughes is; will he be able to grow as a pitcher? Being the number two starter behind CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes will have to be a three or four pitch pitcher if he wants to be a solid number two starter. Hughes also throws a changeup and a cutter to go along with his hard fastball and his curveball. Not to mention, given his impressive first season he is going to have higher expectations set on him. Hughes is coming off a season where he logged 176 innings, this probably means he can reach the 200 inning mark without any special rules to skip his starts, another reason why he may have slowed down in the second half.

A.J. Burnett: A.J. Burnett's 2010 season can be summarized in one word: terrible. A.J. had the worst season of probably any pitcher in the major leagues, and one of the worst single seasons ever by a Yankee. The big right hander went 10-15 with a horrific 5.26 ERA in 33 starts. In addition, Burnett pitched only 186.2 innings while allowing 204 hits and 27 home runs. Burnett needs to take all the memories from that season and just throw them out the window. Although that’s easier said than done it will have to be done if he wants to rebound. So, how does AJ rebound? There is one guy the Yankees added that could help him and that is pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Rothschild is the former Chicago Cubs pitching coach from 2002-2010 that came over following the unexpected firing of last year’s pitching coach Dave Eiland. On Wednesday, Burnett faced the Houston Astros, and in two innings the right hander allowed two hits and no runs in two innings of work. So, this warrants the question; will A.J. Burnett be able to bounce back following last season’s struggles? Maybe Burnett just needs another voice? Or could it be because Burnett supposedly went through a very ugly divorce? According to ESPN's Colin Cowherd; he did have to go through an ugly divorce. But, Burnett's agent, Darek Braunecker, denied the report. We'll never really know for sure. But what we do know is that the Yankees need A.J. Burnett more than ever. Can he put everything behind him and rise to the occasion?

Ivan Nova: The young Nova got called up last year in the heat of a pennant race in place of an injured Andy Pettitte, and he pitched well. The young right hander pitched in 10 games, seven starts, and posted a solid 4.50 ERA. But he has one major Achilles heel that he'll need to fix, which is pitching to batters the third time around. After batters saw Nova twice, he allowed opponents to hit .400 against him, compared to .196 in the first time around, and .246 the second time around. This spring training he hasn't allowed an earned run in five innings, so clearly he's off to a strong start, especially being part of a battle for the number four and five spots in the starting rotation. There are two questions for Nova; will he be able to win the four or five spot in the Yankee rotation? So far he has, it could be his spot to lose. And the second queston is; if he does crack the rotation how will he do the third time around? Like I mentioned before Nova is very good the first two times around, but the third time around he seems to get knocked around. Being a pitcher of his age, 24 years, it could just be something he'll learn as he gets more experience.

Freddy Garcia: "The Chief" signed a minor league contract during the offseason to join in the battle for the fourth or fifth spot in the starting rotation. He made his Grapefruit League debut on Thursday against the Tampa Bay Rays, and he pitched well. In two innings he pitched two shut out innings with one strikeout. The problem for Garcia is that he will give up hits and runs and he hasn't had a season in which his ERA was under 4.20 since the 2005 season with the White Sox. He has missed a lot of time since then, but last year he was healthy and made 28 starts with a 4.64 ERA. In 157 innings the big right hander allowed 171 hits and struck out just 89 batters, so we know he's a contact guy and if he pitches with the Yankees he'll have to keep the ball on the ground in order to survive. Last season with the White Sox Garcia had just a 0.72 ground ball/ fly ball ratio, he'll have to improve on this or else we could see a lot of homers leaving the ball park at the new house. So, the questions for Garcia are; if he makes the rotation, will he be able to stay healthy? Will he be able to keep the ball on the ground? His changeup will be a key pitch for him that could get him a lot of ground balls and double play balls as well.
Sergio Mitre: Of all the Yankees over the years I think Sergio Mitre is one of the more hated ones. This guy keeps on getting knocked around by fans and the media left and right. However, he has a pretty good arm. Last season Mitre pitched to a solid 3.33 ERA in 27 games, 24 of those were in relief appearances. But in the postseason he did get knocked around, in the 2010 ALCS against the Texas Rangers he allowed two homers in a little more than two innings, thus pitching to a 10.13 ERA, mostly in mop up relief. Now I know this is the starting pitcher preview, but because he is competing for a starting spot, he cracks the starting pitcher preview. But either way, I believe he is a better fit in the bullpen. Mitre is a sinker/slider guy who pitches to contact. In a deep bullpen he would be a nice fit in the long relief role, so he can come in when someone has a poor outing. The question for Mitre is; will he carry his good regular season last season into this season? Remember, he had a 3.33 ERA in 54 innings, so he's proven he can pitch for the Yankees, and he can pitch in the new Yankee Stadium. Plus, I’m sure he wants to prove the Yankee fans and media wrong too.
Bartolo Colon: Like his counterpart Freddy Garcia, Colon signed a minor league deal to get a shot in the rotation. This spring he made the first start for the Yankees by allowing one run in two innings against the Phillies. Colon even touched 93 mph in his first game and he showed a nice changeup too. But, Colon does have a weight issue. Colon says he's about 25 pounds overweight, but some might argue he has even more weight to lose even though he is very tall. The question for Colon is; will he be able to drop his weight during spring training while being effective on the mound? It will be tough for Colon to trim 25 plus pounds off during camp. He's had issues with injuries, 19 starts in two years, excluding 2010 where he didn't pitch so maybe his weight has something to do with that.

Prospects: Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, Andrew Brackman, Hector Noesi, David Phelps, and Adam Warren are currently minor leaguers for the Yankees who haven't pitched in the major league yet. All of them have potential in the show, especially with Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos catching a lot of attention. Betances is just 22 years old but he has great stuff. He possesses a fastball near 94-97 mph with a sharp breaking ball and a tough changeup. When scouting minor league players, scouts use a scale from 20-70, 20 being bad and 70 being great. All three of Betances' pitches are in the 60 range so, Betances has plenty of potential. On the other side lefty Manny Banuelos is just 19 years old, yet like Betances, he has a pitching repertoire that is ready for the big leagues. Banuelos has a fast ball around 93-94 mph with a sharp breaking curve, and a nasty changeup. Banuelos has plenty of talent, and like Betances he'll be highly coveted in a possible trade for an elite starting pitcher for the Yankees. Don't be surprised if general manager Brian Cashman is reluctant to hold on to these two because of their potential. However, all of these guys will also have to compete with Noesi, Phelps, and Warren who are are all going to start in the minor leagues barring injuries to CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, or A.J. Burnett. The question for all of these guys is; how much will we see them in the big leagues? If the number four or number five starters for the Yankees struggle don't be surprised if Cashman calls up one of these guys. Both Banuelos and Betances will start in AA so they'll need some more seasoning to be ready. Watch out for Brackman, Noesi, Phelps, or Warren to get the call if the Yankees need an arm or two.

So, there you have it. All of the Yankees starters this season from aces like CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes to minor leaguers Adam Warren and David Phelps. By seasons end we could see every one of these guys get a chance in the rotation in the regular season. But, right now in Spring Training everyone will get a chance to prove themselves. I believe Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia will earn the last two spots. Yes, Ivan Nova has trouble the third time around, and he's only pitched 42 big league innings and Freddy Garcia is a fly ball pitcher, and if he makes the Yankee rotation he'll be pitching half of his games in a bandbox at Yankee Stadium, and he's had injury issues. However, I think these two are the best bets because Bartolo Colon has a serious weight issue, and he hasn't pitched since 2009, and the six minor league guys haven't thrown a pitch in the major leagues yet. Look for Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia to make the rotation, with Sergio Mitre earning the long relief spot in the 'pen. The fifth and final part of my series will be the bullpen. Stay tuned!

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