The Yankee rotation being in flux going into the season is a story we have heard before, and it resolved itself quite nicely in 2011 with the emergence of Ivan Nova and surprising seasons from Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon. Going into 2012, the back of the rotation will be in a similar situation.
CC Sabathia will once again head the rotation, and Ivan Nova has also locked up a spot following an impressive rookie season. Phil Hughes and AJ Burnett don’t have guaranteed rotation spots, but Phil’s potential and AJ’s salary make it very likely that they will be starting for the Yankees in 2012 barring a trade. Rumors have circulated suggesting that there is mutual interest in a Freddy Garcia reunion, so Garcia could very well be back in pinstripes.
Those 5 could very well be in the starting rotation when the beginning of the season rolls around, but history suggests that most teams will need at least 6-7 starters over the course of a season due to injury and volatility. In this post, I want to take a look at the Yankees’ AAA pitching depth (excluding Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, who I don’t think will necessarily be ready for a major league callup should an early injury occur), to see who may be in competition to win a rotation spot should a free agent signing not materialize, or if a starter goes down with an injury.
Hector Noesi was a useful (albeit perhaps underutilized) asset for the Yankees in 2011, putting up a 4.02 xFIP, 7.19 k/9 and 3.51 bb/9 in 56 1/3 major league innings (primarily as a long man), and 24 2/3 innings of 3.16 FIP ball in AAA. His major league experience (and moderate success) would likely make him the first internal rotation candidate. He was mostly a fastball-slider guy in the bullpen this year, but he also has a good changeup that will probably get more use as a starter. He could begin the season in AAA as a starter, or may be utilized as a long-man again, but regardless, I think he’s #1 on the list.
Adam Warren put together a solid, but not overwhelming season in AAA last year. He pitched 152 1/3 innings of 4.05 FIP ball, though he struck out just 6.56 batters per 9 after averaging around 8 the two prior seasons. He works in the low-90′s with his 4-seamer (though can dial it up higher), and also shows a 2-seamer, curve, and change. You would certainly like to see a guy like Warren dominate in AAA before promoting him to the majors, and he’ll likely get a shot to show that he should be considered for a rotation spot in spring training. However, I imagine he’s ticketed for AAA, and he could be the #2 callup after Noesi.
David Phelps has often been considered in Warren’s class as a prospect, and his AAA results from this season support that. Phelps missed some time due to injury this season, but posted a 3.19 ERA and 3.69 FIP in 107 1/3 innings, with 7.55 k/9 and 2.18 bb/9. He is currently pitching in the Arizona Fall League, where he has a 5.40 ERA in 18 1/3 innings, though the league is very hitter-friendly. Phelps primarily works with his low-90′s fastball, though uses a slider and a curveball as well, and the secondary offerings could use some improvement. Performance-wise he’s similar to Warren, however Warren may get a slight edge due to pitching a full healthy season in 2011. As a result, Phelps is probably #3 on the list.
Some other potential options include George Kontos and DJ Mitchell, though I consider both of them to be bullpen guys in the future. Kontos saw some work in the big league bullpen in September, and I imagine he will get a shot to earn a spot there next year. Mitchell was pretty solid in AAA this year (3.96 FIP), but his significant platoon splits may keep him from having major league success.
The future impact pitching talent, Banuelos and Betances, will also be joining these guys in AAA, but due to developmental concerns, I imagine the Yankees will wait to promote them until they are showing consistent performance in AAA. The Noesi/Warren/Phelps trio is not likely to set the world on fire, but they should be solid fill-ins should disaster strike.
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