There seems to be a problem with the Yankees newest (potential) star, Michael Pineda. Among the biggest stories to come out of spring training this year is his diminished velocity. Fangraphs lists Pineda’s average velocity as between 94 and 96 mph for a variety of fastballs last season. Rumor has it that his pitches have been in the high eighties or low nineties this spring. The lack of bite has led to two concerns among those who follow the Yankees. The most dire is that Pineda has an undiagnosed injury, the way Phil Hughes did last year. Less concerning, but comparably embarrassing, are the suggestions that of the Yankees six potential starters this year (seven counting Andy Pettitte, but he isn’t available yet) Pineda may be the one to start the season without a job on the big league club.
This has generated an understandable amount of angst among those who follow the Yankees. The optics would be awful. The team trades away Jesus Montero, its best offensive prospect since Derek Jeter, for a potential number one starter only to turn around and take an action that suggests the team believes the player it received isn’t ready for the big time. The quick response is to suggest that the trade was a bust if Pineda doesn’t start the season in the Bronx. Nothing could be further from the truth.
While it would be disappointing for the newest Yankee pitching prospect to start in AAA, it has little bearing on the merit of the trade that put him in pinstripes. The Yankees have the luxury of having six or seven legitimate starters right now. Furthermore, they have the additional luxury of a newly acquired, 6’7″ starter with the potential to dominate. If the team feels confident in asking their other pitchers to start the season in the big leagues while sending the Pineda to AAA to work on his flaws then it should do what’s best for its long term investment. We as fans should be happy that the team is in such a position of strength to make that decision. If Pineda can improve his mechanics, get healthy, or solve whatever it is that’s keeping his velocity down in AAA he’ll still be on the Yankees once the issue is resolved, and will remain on the team for many years. It would be far worse if the Yankees had to force him on the big league club because it had no other options, even though something was wrong.
For my part, I don’t believe Pineda will begin in AAA. While I too am concerned that he’s lost a few miles on his pitches, he has remained productive the entire time. He can get big league hitters out. If the team believed he had an injury the Yankees’ history suggests they’d shut him down so quickly our heads would spin. They haven’t done that and he has remained effective. For those reasons I predict he’ll be on the roster on April 6th, but even if the team does decide to take action it’s important for us to look at Pineda and see the next five to eight years, not the third or fourth game this season.
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