There are a lot of reasons to be pessimistic about Dellin Betances. He has trouble staying healthy. He has control problems. His velocity waivers between an awesome 95-96 mph and a less awesome 91-92 mph. All of that is valid stuff. He’s a high-risk prospect. What keeps him interesting, and cemented in the #3 Yankee prospect slot behind Manuel Banuelos and Gary Sanchez, is his high reward side. Even at lower velocities, his stuff is special: combining killer movement with at times killer velocity. His curve is a true plus offering, as evidenced by his minor league career K/9 over 10. He even brings a decent enough changeup to the party. He’s the kind of player that, if he manages to get his crap together, can be pitch as good as anyone in the majors. Granted, he’s more likely to be an A.J. Burnett type than C.C. Sabathia type, but the potential is there. Betances just has a knack for underachieving.
Betances’ health and control issues knock his prospect status down, and will probably prevent him from being all that good of a major league pitcher. This is perfectly understandable for a strong prospect, even one worthy of a top-100 prospect rating. However, given that reality, a lot of people are quick to say, “He’s probably a really good relief pitcher, not a starting pitcher.” Go online and read any national prospect ranker. I guarantee you’ll see the line. The problem is it’s a massive cop out.
There is no reason to believe that the same problems that are likely to keep Betances out of the major leagues won’t be there when he pitches in relief. His two chief problems are health, although he is starting to put that behind him, and control. He’s a big tall guy with big tall guy problems keeping his delivery consistent. His fastball may be a tick faster in the bullpen, but stuff is never going to be a problem for Betances.
I feel like there’s a tendency to assume that any power pitcher will automatically get better when moved to the bullpen. The Yankees tried this with Andrew Brackman, and it didn’t work. Betances compares in many ways to MLB guys like Daniel Cabrera and Chris Young. All three are tall, strong guys with great stuff but poor control, and at times have struggled to stay healthy. Teams have never really tried moving them to the bullpen, because they see their problems being bigger than starter/reliever.
I believe that people use the relief pitcher line about Betances because they don’t like to rate a guy so highly while acknowledging how risky he is. They want to have a fall-back plan, subconsciously at least. I think we should look at Betances the same way we look at Andrew Brackman: a guy who could put it all together and become a really good MLB starting pitcher, or he could struggle to do anything in the bigs. I don’t think we should expect much to happen in between.
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