Has Phil Hughes Finally Begun to Live Up To His Potential?

July 5, 2012

Well, he is at it again, that Phil Hughes. He is throwing the ball well and winning games for the New York Yankees. 

And despite an extremely shaky outing by Adam Warren in his major league debut last Friday night, the Yankee starting rotation hasn’t missed a beat since losing both CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte last Wednesday afternoon.

One of the keys has been the transformation of Hughes, once the golden boy of the Yankee farm system since his selection by the Yankees as the 23rd pick in the first round of the 2004 draft*. The expectations have always been high for Hughes, who had worked up to the 2007 No. 2 overall prospect in baseball by Baseball Digest.

*An interesting fact is the Yankees were awarded this pick as compensation for the loss of a free agent by the name of Andy Pettitte, who signed with the Houston Astros after the 2003 season.

With a “dead arm” and reduced velocity over the last couple years (along with less than moderate results), much talk centered on Hughes pitching out of the pen for his Yankee future. However, the Yankee brass always discussed Hughes as a starting pitcher and, to their credit, kept him in the rotation mix over the last several years.

With improved velocity this spring training, and better results, Hughes “won” the fifth starting spot in the rotation. However, after a disastrous start to the 2012 campaign, people promptly wanted Hughes out of the rotation.

I cannot even understand all those Yankee fans who wanted Hughes banished to the bullpen. Don’t people realize that five starts do not make a starting pitcher? Whatever happened to the “small sample size” bullshit we hear about every stinking day? Did that not count for Hughes in April?

Hell, even the great Catfish Hunter had a disastrous start to his Yankee career, losing his first four starts after signing that huge 5 year, $3.2 million free agent contract.

Hughes had issues early on, primarily allowing an inordinate amount of home runs. Of the 19 HRs Hughes has allowed this season, 13 have been solo shots, and almost a third (6), have come in two games, both losses. So, similar to Catfish, despite the large amount of HRs allowed, they haven’t really hurt since the damage was usually one run, or in Hughes’ case were siphoned off in two games*.

*And in one of these games, the June 20th Atlanta game,  the Yankees banged out four home runs, too. That Wednesday afternoon was a hot and humid day just ripe for the long ball.

I remember one time I was telling a scout one time about guy who hit two HRs in a game, real bombs which travelled well over the fence. True no doubters. The scout asked me if any other HRs were hit. I said yes, quite a few and the scout said that the two hit by the kid were nice, but if the ball was flying out like that on that particular day, there were likely other factors invloved which helped the long balls that day.

But then Hughes turned his season around during an innocuous start in Kansas City, where Hughes allowed three earned runs in 6.2 innings, striking out seven and issuing one free pass. He still gave up a HR, but it was two-out, solo shot in the bottom of the 7th. Due to a pitch count of 115, and although the hurler appeared neither gassed nor in trouble of losing the lead, General Joe promptly removed Hughes from that game.

Hughes has then gone on a roll, winning 8 of his last 11 starts, helping form a solid Yankees rotation. Some of the reasons behind Hughes’ surge are his ability to get (and stay) ahead in the count, locate his fastball, throw his curve ball for strikes, and overpower hitters with his fastball. Another huge move was Hughes scrapping his cutter.

While many pitchers are in love with their cutter, I feel this pitch is the latest fad, along the likes of the splitter. Hughes fell in love with his cutter, too, but hitters began to look for it, and pounced. This is a piece I wrote back in 2010 about Hughes getting too predictive with his cut fastball.  Hughes threw it too much and I feel that is one reason why he lost velocity on his fastball and began to get those arm issues. According to FanGraphs, Hughes has thrown the cutter only 4% of the time, if that much.

From what I have noticed, early in games Hughes has gotten ahead most of the time with his fastball, then has used his curveball more often on the first pitch to get ahead later in the games. In his last start against the White Sox, Hughes only got behind on the count 2-0 to two batters, the leadoff guy in the first inning and then to Paul Konerko with two outs in the 8th inning.

While still making a few mistakes here and there (Such as why would Hughes throw a 2-strike curveball to Michael Morse in 3rd inning of his Washington start while he was blowing him away with his fastball the entire at bat), by and large Hughes is pitching smarter and with sustained velocity. Hughes was still popping his fastball up to 94 in the 6th inning of his most recent start and in that Washington game a few starts earlier.

That is progress which the Yankees wanted to see from their young pitcher.

And I do not believe this progress is “small sample size” garbage because it derived from a change in approach and improvement in repertoire. Hughes felt the need to eliminate his cutter and focus on his best pitches, the stuff which advanced him to the major leagues in the first place. This approach allowed him to throw harder and boost confidence enough to challenge hitters, something Hughes shied away from in the past. 

I have seen very good major league hitters fail against Hughes’ fastball late in games when everybody in the world knew it was coming. A perfect example is the 8th inning Kevin Youkilis at bat in Hughes’ last start. This was a massive 8-pitch at bat in a 4-2 game in an inning where most people thought Girardi was going to go to the bullpen and not let Hughes even start the inning.

And Hughes came through with a one, two, three inning against Youkilis, Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko, the heart of the White Sox lineup. It is that inning which necessitated this piece.

What to do with Phil Hughes?

Of course he is going to be a Yankee starting pitcher for the next two years. He has earned that right, even though the Yankees might make him “earn” his spot again next spring. That is just a joke…probably.

But what about after 2013, when Hughes can become a free agent? Still only 26 now, Hughes will be all of 28 when he gets to free agency, and with a solid year or two under his belt, if Hughes reaches free agency, plenty of teams will be calling for his services. Similar to Cole Hamels this off season, Hughes would still be in his “prime” years. And If Hughes continues his stellar pitching through next season, the numbers tossed around might even be too big for the Yankees to handle, especially if they are resigned to their self-imposed $189 million payroll noose.

So, despite the basic team motto of no negotiations during the season, the Yankees should approach Hughes and his agent to talk a long term deal.

Even before Curtis Granderson and even before Robinson Cano. Having a set starting rotation is of utmost importance in today’s game, especially a home grown kid for below market cost.

So, where to begin on numbers? Hughes is already earning $3.2 million this season through arbitration and would likely command $6-10 million next year. Hughes is 26 and a general lookup of 26 year old pitchers who have signed pre free agent deals turned up this one:

Jon Danks, who signed a 5 year/$65 million deal this past off season, then struggled before he was hurt and placed on the DL.

Other guys near Hughes’ age and history who signed long term deals during arbitration include Jon Lester (24, 5 yr/$30M), Johnny Cueto (24, 4 yr/$27M), Josh Johnson (26, 4 yr/$39M), Justin Verlander (26, 5yr/$80M), Jonathan Niese (25, 4 yr/25M).

Lester, Cueto and Niese were all younger and less established than Hughes, while Verlander, Johnson and Jered Weaver (29, 5 yr/$85) and Matt Cain (27, big money) were all established aces of their teams and were paid as such.

Hughes is very similar to Danks, but I believe Danks was paid too much. Danks likely received what he did because his length of work as a starter was established for several years, but I believe Hughes is a better pitcher. Somewhere in the middle of Danks and Cueto/Lester is about right for a probably Hughes deal.

How about offering Hughes a 4 year deal for $40 million with a club option for a fifth year at a slightly higher salary? Work from there and negotiate as the situation permits. That would keep Hughes in pinstripes through his key years and give the Yankees a certainty on a cost structure. If Hughes wants much more and test the free agent waters, then keep him for the two seasons and bid adieu.

But if Hughes rejects a long term deal and wants to test free agency, I would use him for 120 plus pitches each start next season. Let him really earn his free agent money.

As I said earlier, it is a credit to the Yankees brass (Cashman/Girardi) that they had the gumption to stick with Hughes in the rotation. A handful of starts are never a certainty when dealing with young pitchers, but with his new approach, Hughes has clearly turned the corner and has become a more consistent and durable pitcher for the Yankees. From his improved confidence and challenging hitters, Hughes has upped his strikeout rate this season while also lowering his walk rate.

Aren’t we told by the saber guys that this is a predictor of future success?

Sure, Hughes will still have a clunker now and then, but so does every pitcher.

I talked on Mike Silva’s radio show early this spring that the Yankees needed to at least give Hughes the chance to pitch through the All Star break to determine if he had a future in the rotation. I also said if the Yankees continued to jerk Hughes around like they did with Joba, NO WAY Hughes was going to give the Yankees an option regarding free agency. He would walk, and likely walk to the West coast (where he is from) or maybe the Boston Red Sox, his favorite team growing up.

It is time for the Yankees to pony up to keep Hughes in pinstripes. His youth and internal upbringing are keys to the future success of the Yankees rotation. Of course, the team could choose to lean on David Phelps, Adam Warren and DJ Mitchell in 2014 and beyond, or go on a free agent pitcher spending spree.

But it might be wise to combine the two and let Phelps work into the rotation and spend money on guys like Hughes who have already come up through the system and established themselves.

After all the hand wringing over the last couple years, it would a shame for the Yankees to lose their “golden child” of their system after he finally began living up to his potential.

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Adam Warren and Jose Quintana – A Review of Two Rookie Hurlers

June 30, 2012

I am prefacing this by saying I have seen Adam Warren pitch about a half dozen times, from Staten Island up through Scranton.

I have never seen him as bad as he was in his major league debut Friday night at Yankee Stadium. And I don’t mean bad by results oriented bad, but approach on the mound bad, stuff bad and command bad.

Warren can be a pretty decent major league pitcher, and it would be a mistake if the Yankees ended up giving Warren the Chase Wright treatment of permanent banishment to the minor leagues after one bad start to a major league career.

But that will likely happen. Look for David Phelps to get the missing CC start next week.

Warren did get the first two guys out in the first inning, but then walked the next two. Granted they were the biggest power hitters in the Chicago White Sox lineup, Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko, but attack the strike zone with two outs and no one on base! Solo HRs won’t kill you, but two-run shots will.

What I did notice was Warren has a pretty good change up last night, striking out the leadoff batter on a change up and throwing a 2-0 change to Dunn for a called strike after falling behind on two curve balls out of the zone. Memo to Warren and Chris Stewart: Adam Dunn takes a lot of pitches. He never faced you before and was likely going to take the first pitch you threw him no matter what.

With two outs and no one on, throw a 0-0 strike.

However, Warren only threw a couple other change ups in his 2.1 innings, which generated swings and misses or outs. I am surprised Warren didn’t throw more as the change up was the only effective pitch he had all night. I am also surprised the catcher, Stewart, didn’t call for more changes.

Warren was throwing his fastball with good velocity (up to 93) in the first inning, but the pitch lacked pop and the extra giddy-up required to get a fastball by major league hitters. What it also severely lacked was movement. It was as straight as an arrow. It was the lack of movement that allowed Dunn to receive that first inning walk. A 3-2 fastball was just off the inside corner, perfectly placed under Dunn’s hands, but with any tailing movement to the pitch, Warren probably gets the called third strike.

But Warren’s fastball was straight all night. I don’t remember Warren having that straight of a fastball, and he used to throw a 2-seamer once in a while, but never saw it last night.

Warren also had a very ugly slider/cutter* last night. In the past, I have seen this pitch get lots of swings and misses during his minor league stints. But it was always much tighter and with good, sharp bite and he often threw it for strikes.

*I saw Warren in back to back to back starts a few seasons ago. The first two were in High-A Tampa, which saw Warren dominate both games. He was then promoted to Trenton and I saw him that next week pitching in Double-A. He did a double take when I saw him in Trenton, “like what are you doing here, weren’t you in Tampa?” type look.  Anyway, we talked about his slider and he said it was not a slider but a combination slider/cutter, which I quickly said, “You mean like a slutter?” He laughed and said that it was funny I said that, because that is what his father called the pitch – the slutter. (His dad was in Trenton for his Double A debut, and, obviously as you saw on T.V. was in Yankee Stadium for his major league debut).

But last night, Warren often started the pitch out of the zone and the slurvy break just brought the ball further low and away, a very easy pitch for major league hitters to recognize and avoid. Last night’s slutter was more an A-ball type offering rather than a major league pitch. It has been better in the past and should (needs to) be better in the future.

Plus, if the hitters weren’t chasing the pitch, he needed to throw it for strikes early in the count to hitters. Just to show them he can and to begin to bring the strike zone back into play, to the hitter and the umpire. I am not a big Lou Piniella in the TV booth guy (too general, not enough insight) but he did say a couple things last night worth noting. One was that Warren needed to throw more strikes to keep the umpire on his side, especially as a major league debut guy. A young pitcher needs to establish the strike zone to the umpire.

Without that extra pop on his fastball, the White Sox hitters knew Warren couldn’t blow the ball by them. He may have been throwing up to 93 MPH, but it sure seems like David Robertson’s 90 MPH fastballs have more juice. When hitters know you can’t blow the ball by them, they sit on certain pitches and wait patiently until they get that pitch.

Perfect example is the double hit by Gordon Beckman in the second inning. Beckham easily fouled off two outside pitches, one maybe off the plate and when Warren came inside on 1-2, he stroked a solid double down the left field line on a 93 MPH fastball. As Warren had done often early, he worked outside early to hitters, and then came inside with two strikes. Beckham recognized this and patiently waited for the inside pitch he could handle, then…well, he handled it.

Warren walked only two batters (both in the first), but he was nibbling with his fastball all night, just missing off the outside corner. I suggest throwing the ball over the plate more, then working to expand the zone later in the game when you have established the zone to both hitter and umpire.

So to summarize, Warren had brutal stuff – a very straight , medium pop fastball, with no movement at all; a slutter with no bite, was recognized all night, didn’t get chased and wasn’t thrown for strikes; PLUS a seldom used change up which happened to be his best pitch all night.

As I said at the top, it was a very bad night for Warren in terms of approach, stuff and command, which obviously had terrible results on the scoreboard. He is better than what he showed last night, and I sincerely hope the Yankees (and their fair weather “fans”) given him another opportunity.

His opponent was Jose Quintana, who pitched last year for the Yankees High-A Tampa team, before being released in a 40-man roster crunch. Quintana was to become a minor league free agent, and needed to be placed on the 40 man roster at the end of 2011. But despite very good numbers in each of his prior minor league seasons, the Yankees chose to not keep Quintana.

Since the White Sox brought up Quintana, I have read a few reports how the Yankees blew it with Quintana, how he would be perfect fit with the major league team, etc. If the Yankees did offer their final 40 man roster spot to Quintana last winter, he would be no higher than Double-A Trenton and would never sniff the major leagues before 2014, if then. He would be on strict pitch counts and innings limits, placed on the phantom DL to limit his work and he would be buried behind all the arms at Scranton (including Russ Ortiz and now Chris Schwinden – lol).

The only chance Quintana would have had to pitch in Yankee Stadium was if it was for another team. Which last night it was.

The White Sox do things differently than the Yankees. They take risks, play young players and generally think outside the box. And they have patience with young players.

Actually, I didn’t think Quintana was all that impressive last night. He has slight movement to a nothing fastball, a weak breaking ball and so-so change up. But he has been successful thus far by keeping hitters off balance and locating his pitches well. Doesn’t sound like a Yankee pitching prospect, huh?

He has a smooth easy delivery and despite getting into a few jams last night, shows the poise of a 10 year veteran. He also trusts his stuff and throws strikes.

You know who Quintana should be? He is exactly what Yankee left handed pitching prospect Manuel Banuelos SHOULD be. But Banuelos is hurt again and has pitched only 24 innings this season.

What was impressive last night was rookie White Sox manager Robin Ventura, who confidently left Quintana in the game during the 6th inning. With an 8-6 lead, two outs and no one on base, a fielding error allowed a runner on second base, and there a right handed reliever warmed up in the bullpen. However, Quintana was allowed to pitch to Derek Jeter, a right handed hitter facing the rookie for a third time.

I guarantee Joe Girardi hooks a rookie starter in that spot, if he was allowed to start the inning at all.

Quintana calmly retired Jeter and finished his night. Ventura made a gutsy, good call leaving in Quintana. The worst case scenario the game becomes tied with a Jeter two-run homer. But more importantly Ventura gave a huge boost of support to his young pitcher, which not only helped last night but also in future appearances.


Why Is Freddy Garcia and Not David Phelps Getting the Start Monday Night ?

June 28, 2012

The New York Yankees had a mixed day on Wednesday afternoon. First, they lost both CC Sabathia (leg) and Andy Pettitte (broken ankle) to the disabled list, but held on the beat the Cleveland Indians 5-4 and sweep the three game series.

Sabathia will likely miss only two starts, and will come back within a week after the All-Star break, while Pettitte is likely done for until mid-September. The word is Pettitte is gone for only six weeks, which takes the injury out to mid-August, but the way the Yankees run injury rehabs and “stretch out” programs, it will be AT LEAST another month after his ankle heals before Pettitte will take the hill in a major league game.

So, the Yankees can easily place Andy on the 60-day DL to clear a spot on the 40-man roster as he will not be back until September.

If the Yankees are still cruising through their division and best overall record in late August, why even rush Pettitte? Remember the 2010 season, when Andy had to make three minor league rehab starts in Double-A Trenton? The Yankees were worried about bringing him back too soon. How do you think they will be two years later for a 40-year-old Pettitte?

One pitcher who piggybacked Pettitte during that 2010 Thunder post season was Adam Warren, who will get one call up to replace CC/Andy. Warren struck out 10 New Hampshire hitters that evening in six innings.

NOTE: As I write this, I see tweets from several Yankee beat writers saying Warren and Ryota Igarashi will get the two call ups. I thought the Yankees were going to call up David Phelps and Warren. The call ups SHOULD be Phelps and Warren. But due to the Yankee organization “build up” process, since being sent down on June 14th for David Robertson, Phelps only has 5.1 innings under his belt, in High-A no less. Can we let these kids throw the god damn baseball? So, in the last MONTH, Phelps has less than six innings pitched.

Pathetic.

However, I still believe Phelps is ready.

Warren will now likely get at least two or three starts. Beginning with his first start tomorrow night, if Warren does well, he will continue to pitch until he has one bad start. That is the Yankee way. If he doesn’t do well immediately, the Yankees will promote Ramon Ortiz or David Phelps, whenever Phelps is ready.

GM Brian Cashman stated that if Phelps was “stretched out,*” he would have received the call rather than Warren.

*Oh, man how do I hate this term.

Then why wasn’t Phelps ready? Again, I do believe Phelps is ready, as ready as Garcia is now. But why did it take seven days for Phelps to even take the mound in a game when he was sent down on June 14th? I know players returned to the minors have three days to report, but the Yankees could have nudged Phelps to get to Tampa right away so he could begin pitching.

Any why in Tampa and not Triple-A, but that is another story.

Phelps started on June 21st and threw two innings. Two. Then he started again on June 26th, and threw 3.1 innings, using 55 pitches. According to the above linked report, Phelps will throw 65 pitches in his next start. Only 10 more pitches than his last start? By the time the Yankees let Phelps be ready for a real start, it could be mid-July. I am half-kidding but it will be close to that time at the rate they are going with 10 pitch increases.

And why does Phelps need to get stretched out even more when Garcia only threw 32 pitches yesterday plus a few dozen more in the bullpen afterwards. Isn’t Garcia around 55 pitches, too?

I don’t understand why Garcia is getting starts. Is it loyalty to the “good soldier” who has not said boo since being demoted to the bullpen or because Garcia is a veteran who is more trusted by manager Joe Girardi? I think it’s a bit of both, but despite a good 2 plus inning performance yesterday, Garcia still hasn’t been that good as a starter this season.

But he has been pretty effective as a reliever. Why not leave him in that role? It was similar to Sergio Mitre a few years ago, who was terrible as a starter in 2009 and early 2010, but thrived in a relief role most of 2010 when he was moved to the bullpen as long man. But when Mitre was pressed back as a spot starter due to injuries, he regressed back to his usual starter suckiness.

I have the feeling that “Starter Freddy” will come back quickly.

Why not have Phelps throw 80 pitches, and not 65, in his next start? Like the start Garcia is getting Monday night. That is all the pitches Garcia is likely going to be allowed to throw, unless, of course, he gets bombed early. It’s not like Phelps hasn’t thrown this year, and in his appearances, he has thrown much better than Garcia. Phelps and Warren are the future, especially when the Yankees are at their self-assessed $189 million cap for 2014.

The Yankees babying of these pitchers is getting brutal, and with the recent demotion of Dellin Betances, it appears their methods with minor league guys do not work very well.

However, if Phelps was allowed to pitch the way he should have been, Phelps could have started throwing a couple days after being sent down. Let’s say June 17th, then again June 21st, then again June 26th. Phelps then Phelps could already have been at the 80 pitch plateau, and ready for Friday or Monday.

I see quite a few Yankee fans worrying about the loss of their two veterans. Pettitte has surprised me this season, as I did not think he was going to be as effective as he has shown. I saw tweets and heard analysts saying the Yankees lost their “two best pitchers.” Well, guys like Phil Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova have also been pretty darn good for June. Plus, the high octane offense and very good bullpen gives the Yankees some breathing room.

I would have gone with Phelps and Warren to anchor the two spots (at least until CC returns in two weeks), and leave Garcia in the role which he is performing well.  Warren will go tomorrow night and Garcia will start Monday.

And whenever Phelps gets “stretched out,” he should get the nod over the eventual ineffective Garcia, like he should have had already.


New York Yankees: Can They Pry Away Zack Greinke From the Kansas City Royals?

October 11, 2010

I want to preface this by saying that I heard from a friend who was at several of the Kansas City Royals instructional league games/practices/workouts last week. All the general talk amongst Royals people was Zack Greinke and if he will be traded this offseason.

Greinke has a contract which runs through 2012, when he will be all of 29 when he reaches free agency.

But general consensus of those associated Royals employees was NO, Greinke would not be traded this offseason. The most likely scenario is he could be moved during the 2011 or even 2012 trade deadline.

And the Royals would want top dollar in trade value if and when he might be traded.

The same questions arise when a pitcher of Greinke’s caliber (and prime age) might become available via trade:

1) What teams have the financial capability to pony up the type of money to bring on $26 million over the next two seasons and possible demands via an extension?

2) What team has the type of prospects, especially Major League-ready pitching prospects, which a team like the Royals would want back in trade?

There are the typical teams which have the dollars, such as the New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves and both Chicago teams. But none of those teams has anywhere near the prospects that several other teams do.

The Mets’ and Red Sox’s systems are not that deep, the Angels just traded for Dan Haren and like their top system guys and the White Sox appeared to have traded their entire farm system for Jake Peavy and Manny Ramirez.

The Braves have quaite a few young pitching prospects, but they are at lower levels, and the Royals want at least one arm with Major League ready talent. The Florida Marlins have tons of good top level and Major League prospect players, but they are in the same boat as the Royals.

They keep their young guys to replenish the Major League team with good, young and cheap talent. In fact, the Marlins followed the Royals’ lead by signing their top pitching stud, Josh Johnson, to a multi-year deal. Guys like Mike Stanton, Logan Morrison, Gaby Sanchez, Chris Coghlan, and Chris Volstad are not going to be moved to take on more payroll.

The Cardinals have a few good young pitchers in their system and also have the somewhat disgruntled Colby Rasmus possibly available. If Tony LaRussa returns to St. Louis, could Rasmus be part of a deal for Greinke? 

Probably not. The Cardinals might not have enough money for their own guys. They need to re-sign Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter (at least one of the two) and Albert Pujols to longer deals in the next year or two.

The Tampa Bay Rays inquired about Greinke this past trading deadline, and would have done a deal if available. They have the prospects and were willing to handle the current salary structure.

But I believe they were looking for in-season help, and while not looking to trade this offseason, the Rays could possibly try and work something out next season if the need arises. Tampa seems pretty satisfied with what they have now. 

David Price, Matt Garza, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, and probably Jeremy Hellickson taking over for James Shields, who also could be traded, provide Tampa with a formidable rotation for 2011.

There are just not that many teams which have the financial and prospect capabilities to pull off this type of trade.

Well, except one.  

The New York Yankees have the money. And with the player development side built up behind General Manager Brian Cashman, scouting director Damon Oppenheimer and Senior V.P. Mark Newman, they now have one of the top farm systems in all of baseball.

I don’t care what Baseball America says or how they rank the Yankees. The pinstripe parade of young talent has already produced quality Major League talent, and is strong at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, especially in the area of pitching.

Good arms like Manny Banuelos, Adam Warren, David Phelps, Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances, Hector Noesi, D.J. Mitchell, and Ivan Nova not only provide the Yankees with multiple arms ready to contribute in the Bronx, but also valuable trade bait to obtain top major league talent.

There are only so many spots open in a Major League starting rotation, and the Yankees, with their penchant in spending money on Major League arms, are not going to keep all this talent in house.

It is just not possible. They can keep several of these kids in the Minor Leagues for a few more seasons, but most need to be brought up or moved. No way they all get their Yankee chance.

They already tried to trade Warren as part of the Cliff Lee deal this past July, adding him when Seattle balked at the injured David Adams. And I still believe the Mariners made a terrible decision by taking the Rangers deal over that of the Yankees.  

I have seen most of the above Yankee farm hands pitch several times and while many are keepers, most are trade chips.

I love Banuelos, Warren, and Phelps, and with his power fastball and knee bucking breaking pitch, I believe Brackman is more suited to a late inning relief role. Betances is good, with great strikeout capabilites, but I do not believe he has the strike zone command yet to be the top of the rotation starter most others believe.

Most guys look at the size and wow factor and deem them “high ceiling” guys. Power guys get all the attention, but guys who get hitters out with an array of pitches are better suited in the majors. I like my starting pitchers who can throw consistent strikes to both sides of the plate and have command within the strike zone.

Like Banuelos, Warren and Phelps.

I have seen Dellin pitch several times, he is a nice kid, but throws too many fat pitches over the middle of the plate. He does not have that great command right now, and I don’t believe he can get that down the road.

But he can be one of the key chips to get Greinke from the Royals. Why? Because many others believe he is a top of the rotation starter. 

He had a good season coming back from Tommy John surgery, and with Cashman coming out saying he was possibly “the best pitching prospect we have ever had,” his value might be highest right now, especially with the history of arm injuries.

And since Brackman is better suited for the pen, and ready for the Majors sometimes in 2011, that makes Joba Chamberlain expendable, too. The Royals want two top pitching guys and the Yankees have that in Betances and Joba.  

And Phil Hughes isn’t going anywhere.

I would package those two right handers and and any positional prospect not named Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, J.R. Murphy, or Gary Sanchez. While I am not enamored with Romine, I do believe that the young catcher would be more valuable traded for a need sometime next season.  

But will the Royals trade their ace?

The Royals have several young pitchers who are very highly rated in Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, Christopher Dwyer, and John Lamb, all left-handed and all who did well at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, a very tough park to pitch. Will Smith and former top pick Aaron Crow are also in the mix.

Throw in former top picks Mike Moustakas at third base and Eric Hosmer at first base, and the Royals have pitching and sluggers to anchor what looks like a solid core of young players, ready to all contribute in 2012.

And that is the rub. Do the Royals keep Greinke around to provide mentorship (and a right handed arm) for all the youngsters or do they trade him an help replenish with more Major League ready talent?

They will never be able to pay Greinke that type of big time money he will be due in 2013, and will save about $26 million over the next two seasons.

The trade would benefit the Royals. They would definitely allow the somewhat local product Joba to be a starter again, and he and Betances would add two right-handed power arms to the flurry of lefty pitching talent on the rise. As the Minnesota Twins proved all year, Joba would fare much better in the weaker A.L. Central.

The Royals will not really be a good team with Greinke now, they will not be able to afford him in two years, and they could get two power arms and a position player in return. If I were the Royals, I would shoot for the versatile Eduardo Nunez.

Besides recent first round pick shortstop Christian Colon, the Royals do not have another top middle infield prospect in the system. But if the Royals really want a catcher, then Romine is also expendable, maybe in addition to the two pitchers and Nunez. 

The Royals would be best suited to trade Greinke and the Yankees have the prospects to make the trade.


New York Yankees: High-A Tampa Rotation Pitching Prospect Capsules, Part 2

July 29, 2010

This is the second installment of my starting pitching capsules from my trip down to the Florida State League to watch the High A Tampa Yankees play.

I saw quite a few games which included four of the five starting pitchers. The one starter I did NOT see pitch was Dellin Betances.

The first capsule can be seen here, and included right-handed pitcher Adam Warren and left-handed pitcher Manuel Banuelos. I like both those guys, and can see Warren (who reminds me of Greg Maddux) and Banuelos (who reminds me of Johan Santana with a better curve ball), getting to the Bronx by 2012.

By reminds me, I am not saying these pitchers will have those types of careers, but they have similarities.

After my report on Warren, he was promoted to Double A Trenton where he has made two starts, and has a 2-0 record and 2.25 ERA. I saw him again in Trenton and we spoke a bit about his season. I mentioned to him that I saw Graham Stoneburner for Charleston, wrote a report, and then he was promoted to High A Tampa. I then saw Warren pitch in Tampa, wrote the report, and he was then promoted to Trenton.

I asked Warren who else does he want me to see so they can get promoted. He replied, “keep coming to my starts.” He is very mild-mannered kid, and has a good sense of humor.

This capsule includes another left-handed/right-handed due, Shaeffer Hall and aforementioned Stoneburner. I saw both of these guys pitch for Low A Charleston in early May and again in Tampa.

Shaeffer Hall – LHP   6″0″, 185 lbs.

Hall was the RiverDogs opening day starter, throwing six innings and allowing three hits, no walks while striking out four. Of the 13 other outs recorded, Hall generated nine ground outs, including one double play.

The first time I met Shaeffer Hall, he was in the Charleston clubhouse on their trip north to the Lakewood (NJ) Blue Claws.

Here was my first question:

Joseph DelGrippo: “Last year in college, Stephen Strasburg threw a no-hitter against the Air Force Academy. Do you know the other college pitcher who threw a no-hitter against Air Force last year?

Shaeffer Hall: Laughing out loud saying, “Yeah, you’re looking at him, but I guess you already knew that.”

Yes, I did. Hall threw an early season February nine inning no-hitter for the University of Kansas. The Jayhawks have a good baseball program but it is overlooked because of a great Kansas hoops team and other well-known Big 12 baseball programs such as Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska.

Later that season, Hall pitched a complete game shutout against Dartmouth in the NCAA tournament. He was the Jayhawks Friday night starter in 2009, indicating he was the ace of that staff.

However, he did not have a great season going 5-6 with a 4.18 ERA in 15 starts, but his walk rate of 0.97 per nine innings attracted the Yankees. New York likes to take college pitchers who they feel pitched well but were the victim of “metal bat syndrome.”

Hall appears to fit into that category. He is also a hard worker, who worked to lose about 20 pounds from his college frame. I noticed the difference from his college photos to his body type in Lakewood.

Due to a slight shoulder strain, Hall only threw nine professional innings last season for short season Staten Island. The 2010 season is basically Hall’s first full year in pro baseball.

It’s funny, but Hall has had such a good season in his first full year in pro baseball, but in the two games I saw him pitch were his two worst outings of the year.

While I was “good luck” for Stoneburner and Warren, I am like a pariah of sorts for Hall.

Hall is a fastball, curveball, change-up guy who relies primarily on precise location to be effective. And based upon his results this season, he does have great control and command within the strike zone. He works quickly (a great trait) and can throw all three of his pitches for strikes.

RiverDogs pitching coach Jeff Ware agrees. “He has great command of all three of his pitches. When he has all three working and keeping the ball down, he is on top of his game. He can strike you out and can induce lots of ground balls. Schaef is also well prepared and hard-working. It is a great combination.”

Hall needs to be precise because he does not throw that hard, mostly 87-89, barely touching 90 a few times, but has some fastballs hovering around the 85 range. His curve ball is a nice weapon (mostly around 74), but while it has good bite, it is not consistent with its depth. Shaeffer sometimes leaves this pitch up, especially to right-handed hitters.

Like almost all Yankee farm hand pitchers, Hall’s out pitch is his change-up. It will arrive normally in the 76 range, and has decent bite, running slightly away from righties. It is not as good as Banuelos’ on an every pitch basis but it does have the ability to get lot of weakly hit balls in play.

Hall needs to also have an umpire who has a liberal outlook on strikes. In the game I witnessed in May up in Lakewood, the umpire has a very tight zone and would not give Hall any pitches on the corner. It forced Hall to bring his pitches over the plate more, where they proceeded to get hit.

In speaking with Hall after that game, he did not blame the umpiring, but said the zone was a little “tighter” than the day before. “I wasn’t getting many calls on the corners,” Hall said. “But I still need to work around that and throw better pitches when guys got on base.”

But that is what happens when a pitcher does not have “put away” stuff. Hall needs to work the strike zone in and out, down and away. If Hall does not get the pitches on the corner called strikes, the hitters will adjust to the tighter zone. And Hall can get hit hard when he brings the ball back over the outer and inner thirds of the plate.

In Tampa, it was more of the same. Lots of hits against Hall, who despite not walking anyone, was battered around. Some hits were dinks and dunks, but others were really belted. He seemed to not have command of his fastball. Around 88 with the fastball and similar as in Lakewood with the curve ball (74-75) and change-up (76).

Shaeffer Hall is a very nice pitcher, but is likely not going to be in any future Yankee plans. They just do not like that type of pitcher, a guy who doesn’t have dominant stuff with “great upside.”

Hall reminds me of former Yankee Chase Wright.

Mark Buehrle and maybe Jamie Moyer would also be good comparisons to what type of pitcher Hall is stuff wise.

Hall is a great kid who really likes the Yankees organization. My time in Tampa was during the Cliff Lee trade scenarios and Hall, Stoneburner and Adam Warren were asking me about what I had heard.

Graham Stoneburner – RHP  6’1″, 180 lbs

I saw also saw Stoneburner pitch twice, once in Lakewood and once in Tampa. He was great both times, and you can read about the Lakewood game here.

Stoneburner has a power fastball, above average to plus slider and a vastly improving change-up. When I saw him in Lakewood back in early May, I was told by one scout that Graham did not possess a good change. But his performance in that game, and other which followed proved that assessment incorrect.

The change-up was pretty good and he threw it quite often, generating lots of swings and misses. It had good downward bite as did his slider and two-seam fastball, which moves in both directions.

When asked about the change-up, Stoneburner said, “I think my change-up is coming along really well. It was pretty good all spring and I have more confidence in throwing, even in some fastball counts. The more I throw it, the better I get a feel for it.”  

That is the important thing about the change-up. Some pitchers don’t get a good feel for it, then they scrap it for long periods of time, which is a huge mistake.

It is a credit to Stoneburner that he continues to go with the pitch in different situations.

Graham has an explosive fastball which reached up to 96 MPH in the Lakewood start. In fact, in Stoneburner’s 95th pitch against Blue Claws that day saw him bring a 95 MPH up and in fastball past the No. 5 hitter Darin Ruff.

Stoneburner is a power pitcher to the core. He goes right after hitters and doesn’t mince his pitches as he throws strike after strike. He also has the rare ability to throw that hard and still command his arsenal within the strike zone.

His slider was consistently around 80-81 showing good, late break. Many people have talked about that he need to “tighten” up the slider, but I did not see any real need to alter that pitch as it appeared the same both times I saw him pitch. Stoneburner even told me in Tampa that he has thrown the slider the same way all season.

With his really good fastball/slider combination, some people have talked about Stoneburner becoming a power reliever as he moves further up the Yankee ladder. Maybe near the end of this season, that might happen as Double A Trenton goes into a playoff push and Stoneburner has already eclipsed 104 innings.

I spoke to him in July at a Tampa game and he feels he will be a 130-140 inning pitcher this year. It is a possibility, and I would like to see hin challenged again this season. But the Yankees do not like to promote a pitcher two times in one season, and with this being Graham’s first pro season, it is unlikely he will be moved to Trenton.

But with four pitches which he commands well, Stoneburner can be a real good starting pitcher. He has shown that this season in two levels, and owns one of the best WHIP’s for a starting pitcher in the minor leagues with a 0.90. 

Although he has a somewhat long arm action in the back, Stoneburner’s delivery appears to be consistent, and the control numbers are good. He has only issued only 26 walks in 104 IP (2.25 per 9 IP), a great number considering how hard Stoneburner throws. He reminds me of Tim Hudson, a sinewy guy with a smallish frame who throws hard, with control, and has a good slider.

While the Yankees always trade away their fringy prospects, Stoneburner is much more than a fringe prospect and can be a vital member of the Yankees pitching staff as soon as 2012. He should not be traded, but given every opportunity to continue up the ranks as a starting pitcher.


Adam Warren: New York Yankees Pitching Prospect

July 12, 2010

I spent the better part of last week traveling across the state of Florida to see the Tampa Yankees of the Florida State League (FSL).

This step, from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa, is great for these kids, as they get special treatment with shorter bus rides (their longest trip is to Jupiter and Port St. Lucie, a mere four hour ride) than when playing in the Sally League.*

*I talked with Graham Stoneburner and Shaeffer Hall, two mid-season promotions from Charleston, and they both agreed the shorter bus rides were a relief. Stoneburner mentioned the 14-hour ride from Charleston to Lakewood, NJ for a four-game set was too long.

Charleston has to make that trip again in late July.

Plus, these kids get to play ball all season in George M. Steinbrenner Stadium, the same building which the major leaguers ply their trade every spring training. One issue I saw with the FSL is that the stands are mostly empty.

The Sally League gets many more paying customers.

This Tampa team has a few good young hitters, and a couple other decent position players.

The meat and potatoes of this team, however, is the pitching staff. At the time of my witnessing these games, there had been two former Tampa starting pitchers promoted to Double-A Trenton (Hector Noesi and Andrew Brackman), plus another who likely would be moving up soon in Adam Warren.

And on the day I returned from Tampa, Warren was indeed promoted to Trenton.

Even after the promotions, The Tampa rotation continues to be good, with the additions of those two Charleston call ups, right-handed flamethrower Graham Stoneburner and left-handed control artist Shaeffer Hall.

These roster moves gave the Tampa Yankees a rotation of Warren, Stoneburner, Hall, Dellin Betances and Manuel Banuelos. Both Betances and Banuelos are coming off injuries, with Dellin having elbow surgery last season and Man-Ban having an appendectomy this past spring.

I did not see Betances in either of his starts, so I will not be commenting on anything specific. 

All five starters are good enough to eventually pitch in Trenton, a few of them now. Here is my capsule on the first pitcher, Adam Warren.

I will talk about Warren’s pitches and ability, but also use a major leaguer as a comparison to style. This comparison  is similar in style, but this does not mean the specific Tampa pitcher will have that type of career.

Adam Warren: RHP 6’1″, 200 lbs.

Since he has already been promoted, lets start with him.

Two words: Nothing special. But that is not a negative.

He does not have mind-blowing velocity, not a single dominant out pitch where you say, “wow, this kid has great stuff.”

But he is going to be pretty good, with his stuff representing a No. 4 type starter, while his command, ability to pitch and mound demeanor are all ace material.

I saw him twice, and he was exactly the same both times. Warren keeps everything down in the zone, with a four-seam fastball, a nice sinking fastball, smart change up and a slider/cutter.

He did throw a curve ball, but not very much.

Warren has a very easy delivery, “straight to the plate” on every pitch. He lands with a slightly closed front foot and uses his thick lower body to create nice hip rotation, giving him that easy velocity.  I can see him even adding another couple ticks, likely working at a consistent 92-94 as he matures.

Everything was thrown for strikes, and with Warren moving the ball in and out very well, he was effective in getting swings and misses on all of his pitches.

He faced the same team, the Brevard County Manatees, both times, and was more effective the second time around. The first game saw him go seven innings, allowing five hits, but two walks and a hit batter. He got out of two jams, allowing a single unearned run.

In game two, however, Warren was flat out dominant. He only threw five innings, allowing four hits and no walks while striking out nine Manatees.

It was interesting, but even though Warren was great, he was rarely ahead of any hitters in the second game, regularly going to three ball counts early in the game. But he always came back to get the strikeout or obtain a weakly batted ball.

Warren will keep a hitter’s BABIP way down with the way he comes inside with his hard sinking fastball.

That pitch was usually 91-93 MPH, but he did ratchet it up to 94 a few times in the fourth and fifth innings, and hit 95 in the fourth inning. His change up was around 81, and his slider came in anywhere from 82-85. The slider had good bite, generating swings and misses and balls hit off the handle or the end of the bat.

His change up has good movement against left handed hitters, and I said earlier, it is always down in the zone. He threw a two-seam fastball in the upper 80’s also with good movement.

As I said, Warren does not have one great pitch, but knows how to pitch. He sends hitters back to the bench feeling comfortable with their zero per night.

They weren’t dominated with great stuff, just great pitching.

After the fifth inning one of the pitchers said, “he is probably done for tonight.” There was a feeling around the players that Warren was probably going to be promoted soon. There were no more statements to be made about pitching in the FSL.

When I asked about a possible promotion, Warren was a typical Yankee farmhand. He took the traditional Yankee high road and said he had “no control over those matters,” and he will pitch “wherever they want me to.”

On the mound, Warren reminds me of Greg Maddux, with his ability to throw all his pitches for strikes, issuing very few walks and with great ball movement.

Still, with quite a few starting pitcher prospects above Warren (McAllister, Nova, Noesi, DJ Mitchell, David Phelps) and a few equal (Brackman, plus a few others in Tampa), Warren is the kind of a guy who can be a major trade chip one day. 

UPDATE: Adam Warren was, in fact, later offered to Seattle for Cliff Lee as a replacement for David Adams, but the Mariners still turned down the Yankees. I believe Seattle made a mistake here in taking the Texas Rangers deal.


Manuel Banuelos Impressive in Most Recent Start for Tampa Yankees

July 7, 2010

Author’s Note: This was written several months before all the recently published big media reports from the Arizona Fall League of how good a pitcher Manuel Banuelos is.

I am taking a tour of Florida for a little time to watch the Florida State League High A Tampa Yankees.

The first night I saw Adam Warren and Graham Stoneburner create a show with both pitching well against the Brevard County Manatees. It was the first time seeing Warren and second time seeing Stoneburner throw, although the first time was at Low A Charleston.

Warren was good, keeping everything down in the zone. He moves the ball in and out very well, pin points every pitch and was effective over seven innings in getting swings and misses on all of his pitches. This included striking out former major leaguer and former top Milwaukee Brewers catching prospect Angel Salome three times.

I will see Warren again Saturday night in Tampa.

Stoneburner was his usual self, getting a bunch of strikeouts and ground balls off his hard fastball and sharp biting slider. He only threw four innings, allowing four hits, four runs, three of which were earned. He had one bad inning, helped along by another bad Bradley Suttle fielding play.

Both guys are not afraid to come inside, and used their low-to- mid 90s fastballs to bust hitters in on the hands. Warren is very adept at breaking bats with a nice running action on his two seamer.

Due to a rain out the prior day, these games were only seven inning tilts. The Yankee organization, ever-present concerning young pitchers and innings limits, lifted Stoneburner after four. The Yankees supposedly have an innings limit of around 130-140 this year for Stoneburner (he has 85 thus far), basically his first professional season.

But the main attraction for me in traveling the 2 1/2 hours to Brevard County was to see Manuel Banuelos, a 19-year-old left-handed pitcher signed from the Mexican League.

Banuelos is listed as 5’10” but he is no bigger than me, and I am only 5″9.” However, he is thick in the legs, and appears to weight more than his listed weight of 155 lbs.

But what Man-Ban lacks in height, he makes up with repertoire, pitch command and poise. And not necessarily ranked in that order.

Watching him warm up I saw a very smooth and easy delivery. He does not swing back with a high PAS elbow, putting less stress on his elbow and shoulder. His front foot plants in the same spot every time, slightly closed but in a direct line to home plate, good signs towards a pitcher repeating his delivery pitch after pitch and having excellent control.

And Banuelos does repeat his easy delivery. He locates all three of his pitches where he wants most of the time. If he misses with a pitch, he misses down, especially with his dynamite 12-6/11-7 curve ball.

And that curve ball is just one of three out pitches Banuelos displayed Tuesday night. He threw that pitch inside and outside, getting called strikes on some, weakly hit ground balls on a few and swinging strikes on many.

Banuelos started that game by allowing three straight hard-hit singles, and his first earned run in two FSL starts. All three hits were on pitches over the plate, and two of the batters fought off some tough pitches prior to getting their knocks.

But Manny settled down, striking out the next three hitters (two looking) on a called fastball away, swinging change-up away and called inside curve to a right-handed hitter. All three hitters were set up beautifully, giving credit to veteran backstop Myron Leslie.

But Banuelos threw the pitches to the right spots when he needed to, and he dominated the Brevard County lineup after those first three hitters.

While the curve ball is really good (75-76 MPH all night), and the fastball is solid (92-93 MPH all night, touching 94 twice) with a slight tailing action to right-handed hitters, it is Banuelos’ change up which is going to get him through the system in a hurry.

The change was thrown consistently in the 80-82 MPH range with precise location. He generated lots of swing and misses all night on this pitch, painting the outside corner with it at will.

This pitch was very Johan Santana-like.

Banuelos was not afraid to throw his off-speed pitches in favorable hitters counts, and as the game moved along it was very unpredictable in what he would throw. He threw many back-to-back change ups which shows Banuelos is confident in his pitches. He was not afraid to throw to the corners, possibly put on man on via a walk, because he has the pitch action to generate strikeouts or get a quick double play ground ball.

He showed tremendous confidence in throwing strikes when behind in the count, seemingly not caring as he continued to throw his off speed stuff at anytime. And when a right-handed hitter began to lean out over the plate, he busted them inside with a curve or 93 MPH fastball.

After one swing and a miss on a pinpoint change-up, I said out loud  “that was really unfair.”

One Tampa Yankees hurler who was seated behind the back stop charting pitches said that Banuelos is “unreal” in that he has three out pitches and command of all three. This player also said, “I have not seen anything like him so far in pro ball.”

What I did not like about Banuelos was his pick off move to first base. It is predictable and easy to recognize. There were three successful stolen bases (on three attempt) off him.

But a pickoff move, especially to a lefty, is a very teachable craft.

What is not coachable is Banuelos ability to throw three out pitches with pinpoint control.

He is a keeper and one to keep an eye on for rapid advancement in the Yankee system and I can see Banuelos moving into the Bronx rotation by late 2012.