At the end of 2008, the Yankees added six players to their 40 man roster, all of them young pitchers. The new 40 man roster now includes Steven Jackson, Christian Garcia, Wilkins De La Rosa, Eric Hacker, Michael Dunn and Anthony Claggett. Garcia, De La Rosa (LH) and Hacker have been starters, while Jackson, Dunn (LH) and Claggett are power armed relievers.
Most of those new additions have one thing in common – unless there is a rash of injuries, they won’t get a chance any time soon to make it to the Bronx.
If you are a young pitcher, the worst place to be is on the New York Yankees 40 man roster.
Last season, the Yankees decided to go with a youth movement in their starting rotation, but ineffectiveness and injuries left Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy with zero combined victories, and eventual demotions to the minor leagues.
When those two were demoted, who did the Yankees rely? More young arms drafted and developed from their farm system? Nope. They went out and signed Sidney Ponson (released from the Texas Rangers) and elevated Darrell Rasner, a former draft pick of Omar Minaya’s while at Montreal and a recent Washington Nationals castoff.
Guys waiting their turn in AAA, and those making a name in AA were pushed aside for two guys not deemed worthy enough for perennial cellar dwellers, but are now good enough for the Yankees?
Now the Yankees have moved into high-priced veteran mode. The free agent signings of CC Sabathia (7 years/$161 million) and AJ Burnett (5 years/$82.5 million) cemented their places in the rotation for quite a while, and with the possibility of signing another free agent. With Chien-Ming Wang a two-time 19 game winner and Joba Chamberlain the young ace cemented into the rotation, where is the room for young pitchers?
While the rotation is locked, the bullpen is the only place for a Yankee farmhand, but there is overcrowding there, too. Veterans Brain Bruney, Jose Veras, Edward Ramirez, Damaso Marte, and of course, Mariano Rivera are set, with only two spots available for pitchers Jonathan Albaladejo, David Robertson and Dan Giese, pitchers who have achieved some Major League success.
Youngsters waiting in the wings include Mark Melancon, Phil Coke (now AAA starter), Alfredo Aceves and the new 40 roster additions.
YANKEE MINOR LEAGUE BELIEFS
What the Yankees like to do is get their young pitchers and change any mechanical flaws, eliminate the slider (unless it is a plus-plus pitch like Joba’s) and teach the curve ball and change up. Most of the good Yankee pitching prospects have good movement of their pitches and have really good (or developing) change ups. Nardi Contreras is a genius in teaching both off speed pitches.
What the Yankee DO NOT do well is allow many of their young players adequate time in the major leagues to prove their worth. In 2007, Chase Wright (23-8, 3.00 ERA over last two years in AA and AAA) has one bad inning against the Red Sox and is banished to AA, Jeff Karstens can’t shake the injury bug and is shipped to Pittsburgh along with Ross Ohlendorf and Dan McCutchen. McCutchen was chosen in the same 2006 draft which produced Joba and Kennedy, has been a dominant pitcher in the minors, but was never given his opportunity in Pinstripes.
Other minor league pitchers such as RH starter Jason Jones (2008: 13-7, 3.33 ERA in AA Trenton), and LHP Zachary Kroenke (2008: 7-0, 2.85 ERA, .190 AVG in AA and AAA) have performed admirably, but still do not get a shot with the big club. The Yankees would rather have Ponson and Rasner getting big league innings. They would also rather re-sign Marte to a 3 year/$12 million contract instead of promoting Kroenke, a converted started now flourishing in the LH specialist role.
The Yankees recently left Jones and Kroenke unprotected and both were selected in the Rule 5 draft. Jones will get a great opportunity to be the 12th man on the Minnesota Twins staff, and Kroenke is probably a lock to be in the Florida Marlins bullpen. New York Mets fans will see Kroenke, a former teammate of Joba’s at Nebraska, coming in many times this year to face Carlos Delgado.
When I covered the 2008 Double A playoffs in Trenton, I saw a picture of McCutchen in Jones’ locker and asked about his reaction to that trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates which dealt “Cutch” and Karstens for Xavier Nady and Marte. I asked Jones if he would have liked to have been involved in that trade.
“Absolutely,” replied Jones. “Many of us here realize how the Yankees work and feel our best chance to the Major Leagues is with another franchise.” Jones was correct as Karstens went directly to the majors, and Ohlendorf cracked the Pirate rotation a few weeks later.
I feel good for Jones (age 25) and Kroenke (24), both good guys caught in the Yankee system, who are now getting their opportunity to be big leaguers. Also, because of a glut of right handed relievers, the Yankees released reliever Scott Patterson around the same time. He was immediately signed by the San Diego Padres, who had him pitch out of the bullpen for the balance of the season.
The Yankee minor league system is peppered with power arms. Each level has a pitcher (or two) who seems to dominate their level. Although winning games is the priority for the parent club and the pitchers, the minors are less about won-loss records for pitchers and more about development. When a minor league pitcher has a real good won-loss record (like Chase Wright) in addition to a good ERA, they are promising pitchers.
But, the Yankees are now wary of promoting young pitchers, especially in the wake of the failures of Phi Hughes and Ian Kennedy last season. Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox continue to promote young pitching with Jon Lester developing into an ace, and Michael Bowden, Justin Masterson, David Pauley, Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard to be promoted soon.