As it has been for many offseasons of yore, starting pitching figures to be on the Yankees’ radar as they look to improve their team over the winter. CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova are shoo-ins for rotation spots, with Freddy Garcia, AJ Burnett, and Phil Hughes in line to compete for the 3, 4, and 5 spots barring an acquisition. Few observers expect the Yankees plan to go to war with the current quintet of starters, and believe that the Yankees will acquiring a mid-rotation starter or frontline guy on the trade market or via free agency. The acquisition of a Yu Darvish or a John Danks (for instance) would push the 3-5 spots back, forcing a competition between Garcia, Hughes, and Burnett for two rotation spots.
Hector Noesi has largely flown under the radar as a serious rotation option for 2012, despite serving quite capably as a swingman in the bullpen last season. Back in October, Larry analyzed Noesi’s repertoire, finding that he flashed 4 pitches, generating above-average whiff rates with 3 of them. We assume that Noesi’s fastball velocity probably played up in the bullpen, where he averaged 93 with the fastball.
However, reports of his performance this offseason in the Liga de Beisbol Dominicano should perhaps make Phil Hughes and AJ Burnett start to watch their backs. According to tweets from David of Yankee Source, recent reports had Noesi sitting consistently 93-95 with his fastball as a starter in the DR, and even topping out at 96-97 on occasion. This velocity would be faster than what he was averaging out of the bullpen this year, so if this jump is sustainable then we could all be in for a pleasant surprise.
To my knowledge, Noesi has never shown that type of velocity at any point in his career, especially as a starter, so seeing an uptick like that is certainly encouraging. He’s certainly young enough that a mechanical tweak or better conditioning could contribute to better velocity. It may also be worthy of some skepticism, (in this day in age, it’s hard to avoid fears of illegal Dominican milkshakes or stem cells from Bartolo Colon‘s corpulent caboose, especially because Noesi already had a 50-game PED suspension in the minors). Additionally, it’s easy to be skeptical of velocity readings if you’re not sure about the reliability of the radar gun involved, and you wonder if Noesi was sacrificing command for heat.
The numbers don’t really support the idea that Noesi is selling out control for velocity, as so far in the DR he is 3-1 with a 2.22 ERA, 45 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings, and 45 strikeouts against 22 walks. The level of competition in the DR is not major league caliber (though there are plenty of quality minor leaguers and some major leaguers too), but Noesi has certainly done well against the competition he is facing.
We have seen Noesi have success throughout his career by working in the low-90′s and mixing in his secondary offerings, such as his slider and changeup (not so much this season) to keep hitters on their toes. With his 2011 repertoire, envisioning Noesi as a potential #4 starter was not out of the question. However, if Noesi can really hit 93-95 with command and continue to use his secondary offerings, you don’t need comprehension skills north of the Nelson Line to envision him as a #3 in this rotation. It may be overly optimistic to expect him to make the kind of leap that Ivan Nova did in 2011, but then again, nobody expected Nova to be that good that quickly, and Noesi’s minor league career has been better than Nova’s. In any case, Phil and AJ had best protect their (fat and tattooed respectively) necks.
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