Over 20 years ago, the Yankees began developing the greatest failed starting pitcher in history, Mariano Rivera. With Hughes and Chamberlain in constant rotation/bullpen limbo over the last few years, you could make a case that not much has changed in two decades. Banuelos and Betances should see regular starts in the later part of 2012 or sometime during the 2013 season, but if they don’t immediately pitch into the middle of the rotation, we’ll hear the same discussion about how poorly the Yankees have developed starting pitchers. Regardless, the team remains the best organization at scouting and developing relief pitchers.
Of the top 15 relief pitchers in 2011, according to ERA, five were graduates of the Yankees’ minor league system. (David Robertson 1.08, Tyler Clippard 1.83, Mariano Rivera 1.91, John Axford 1.95, and Alfredo Aceves 2.03) Three of the top six saves leaders in 2011 were drafted or signed by the team. (John Axford 46, Mariano Rivera 44, and Drew Storen 43) Three of the top five holds leaders were also drafted or signed by the Yankees. (Tyler Clippard 38, David Robertson 34, and Daniel Bard 34) I decided to take a look at what the Yankees saw when they scouted each player, and what their statistics looked like when developing.
We’ll start with the two that weren’t developed by the Yankees. Despite a horrendous end to his season, Daniel Bard ranked 9th in all relief pitchers with a 1.9 WAR for 2011. Bard threw to a 3.33 ERA, 2.96 FIP, with a 9.12 K/9. He was first drafted by the Yanks out of high school in 2003. The Yankees saw a young kid throwing low to mid 90’s, a very projectable fastball, and potential plus curveball and changeups. He was closely scouted when he pitched for the US Junior National Team, and eventually drafted in the 20th round. Unfortunately, Bard was set on attending UNC and demanded an exuberant $2 million signing bonus. The Yankees never made an offer. In 2007, Bard ended up as the first round, 28th overall pick by the Red Sox, receiving a $1.55 million signing bonus. He is projected in the rotation in 2012, but only time will tell where his talent is best suited.
Drew Storen was one of the biggest surprises in 2011. In only his second MLB year he posted a 2.75 ERA and collected 43 saves for the Nationals. It came as no surprise to the Nats though, who selected him as a relief pitcher 10th overall in 2009. Two years earlier the Yankees selected him in the 34th round as a starting pitcher out of high school. In his senior year, Storen topped out at 92-93 mph, with an excellent power slurve and power slider. Amongst a flurry of awards, he was a Louisville Slugger first-team All-American selection, where he pitched to a 0.89 ERA, 86 K’s, 8 BB’s, 55.0 IP and he batted .400, 8 HR’s, 33 RBI’s. Baseball America ranked him 49th in their Top 100 High School prospects of 2007. He was one of the many over slot reaches the Yankees often pick in late rounds, and Storen ultimately chose to attend Stanford. 2012 will be Storen’s second full season as the Nat’s closer, and I can’t imagine he’ll do anything but improve. They might not have developed them, but the hipster Yankee front office liked Bard and Storen before it was cool.
Although he spent the beginning of the season in a setup man role, Melancon was promoted to closer by late May. 2011 was his first full year in the majors, and it was a breakout year, posting a 2.78 ERA and a 3.25 FIP. Melancon was another one of the Yankee risky overslot signings. He projected to be a first round pick up until an injury and fear that he’d face inevitable Tommy John surgery; he fell to the 9th round in 2006. Scouts were correct and later that year he underwent surgery. Melancon returned in 2008 posting a 2.27 ERA through 95.0 IP in Tampa, Trenton, and Scranton. By the end of the season he was topping out at 96 mph, and had regained his 12-6 curveball. The Yankees broke him into the majors in 2009 for 16.1 IP, but he posted a questionable 3.86 ERA behind a 5.41 xFIP. Unfortunately, the team never gave him a big enough opportunity in the majors and he was traded in 2010 to the Astros for Lance Berkman.
Another kid drafted in 2006 was 17th rounder David Robertson. Out of the University of Alabama, Robertson threw his 2 and 4 seam mid 90’s fastballs, an average cutter, and power slider. The Yankees saw something special in Robertson when they scouted a curveball he added in the Cape Cod League the summer of 2006. He went on to dominate the minors with that combination of curveball and moving fastballs; he posted a 1.30 ERA throughout his three seasons. In 2011, Robertson posted the lowest FIP, ERA, and highest K/9 rate for relievers in the American League. He also ranked 2nd for WAR in the American League, behind only Jonathon Papelbon.
John Axford was originally drafted in 2001 by the Mariners in the seventh round, he opted to attend the University of Notre Dame. Two years later he fell victim to Tommy John surgery, which made him fall to a 42nd round selection in 2005, but he was never offered a contract. In 2006, yet again, the Yankees were impressed by a 19 strikeout seven-inning game, and signed Axord. He spent 2007 both starting and relieving through Charleston, Staten Island, Tampa, and even had an outing in Scranton. He posted a 3.29 ERA with a 9.6 K/9, but consistently faced command problems finishing with a 6.4 BB/9. He was released by the Yankees that winter and signed by the Brewers. Axford always found a way to miss bats, but 2011 was the first year for him to control his walk rate, finishing at a 3.05 BB/9. In 2011 he ended with a 1.95 ERA, 2.41 FIP, 10.51 K/9, and 46 saves, tying Craig Kimbrel for first in the National League.
The Yankees don’t commonly draft pitchers out of highschool, but Tyler Clippard was an exception. Unlike the others mentioned, Clippard spent the majority of his minor league career starting. He was drafted in the 9th round of 2003, a kid with a fastball in the high 80’s and a deceptive change up. He posted solid number in his minor league career, his biggest tool being command. Clippard learned early how to pitch with deception rather than overpowering hitters. In 2007, he started 6 games for the Yankees and put up a 6.33 ERA. It didn’t take long for the team to trade the 22 year old that offseason to the Nationals for 24 year old Jonathan Albaladejo. The Nationals gave Clippard a shot at starting in 2008 before converting him to a reliever in 2009. From 2009-2010 he began to see his fastball gain velocity, and posted a 2.91 ERA in 151.1 IP despite an un-Clippard 4.3 BB/9. In 2011 he sat 93mph with his fastball and regained his control, finishing with a 1.83 ERA, 10.60 K/9, 2.65 BB/9.
Alfredo Aceves is another pitcher that makes fans think “what if?”. He was first signed by the Blue Jays in 2001, but declined to leave Mexico and had his contract purchased by the Yucatán Leones. In 2007, the Yankees scouts signed Aceves and 3 other prospects, one named Manny Banuelos. With his low 90’s fastball, he specialized as a control pitcher. That same year he began in the minors, then pitched 30.0 innings with the major league team as a starter and reliever, to the tune of a 2.40 ERA. There was of course the 4.80 FIP, which may have resulted in the Yankees starting him in Scranton in 2009. He made his way back to the majors in 2009, posting a 3.54 ERA, 3.75 FIP, and 1.71 BB/9. After succumbing to a strained lower back and broken collarbone in 2010 the Yankees non-tendered Ace. The Red Sox signed him for the 2011 season where he found plenty of opportunities to pitch with their unstable back-end of the rotation. He posted a 2.61 ERA in 114.0 IP, which was the American League’s 3rd lowest ERA after Cy Young/MVP superman Justin Verlander and Cy Young runnerup Jered Weaver for pitchers with more than 100 IP.
There isn’t much to say about the last guy that hasn’t been said before. He was a shortstop that was forced to pitch in a game, couldn’t throw a ball straight, and then became the greatest closer in the game. I’m sure you’ve heard the story about his big-time prospect cousin, trying to straighten his cutter into a regular fastball, and it all culminating with a 41 year old breaking the save record last year. Mariano Rivera may not be a recent product of the Yankees’ farm system, but he’s certainly a staple of the organization, a symbol of their scouting ability, perhaps the reason the Yankees go the extra mile to see David Robertson playing with a curveball, John Axford’s 19 strikeout game in Saskatchewan, or Aceves refusing to deal a walk for the Leones de Yucatán. They haven’t been perfect when dealing with pitchers, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a team that scouts and develops relief pitchers as well as the Yankees.
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