Pitchers' Improvement Gives Yankees Newfound Depth
Once the organization's second-round pick out of Wake Forest in the 2000 draft, Danny Borrell is now the Yankees' rehab pitching coordinator. He has unique training for the gig, having had Tommy John surgery twice himself.
In his position, he worked extensively with righthander Dellin Betances and was not going to miss his 2010 debut for high Class A Tampa for the world. Betances had not pitched in a game since June 24, 2009, but he was ready when he got back on the mound for a game that counted.
"I wasn't surprised he came out throwing 96-97 (mph)," Borrell said. "I knew he was ready. He put in a lot of work to be ready for that game."
Betances wound up throwing six innings and giving up just three hits, no walks and one run in his outing, and more impressively, he kept doing it. He walked just 19 in 71 innings before earning a promotion from Tampa to Double-A Trenton. Including two Eastern League playoff starts, Betances went 9-2, 2.24 with a sterling 123-27 strikeout-walk ratio in 96 innings.
Betances' strong bounce-back season pushed him back up the Yankees' prospect list, and it's a crowded list. The big league team's inability to defend its World Series championship is bigger news, obviously, but one storyline for the organization that can't be ignored was the depth and quality of its pitching prospects.
"There just were not many of our guys who were not good," says Mark Newman, the senior vice president for baseball operations who oversees the organization's player development department. "I can't say I remember a year like this happening very often, because we had many, many players do really well. A lot of them were better than expected, jumping leagues or coming back from injuries, and we didn't have many injuries."
Betances led the charge of pitchers into the Yankees' Top 10 (see Page 18), followed by lefthander Manny Banuelos and righthanders Andrew Brackman, Hector Noesi and Ivan Nova. All five have spent time at Double-A, and Nova pitched 40 innings in the majors this season. All but Nova began their seasons at Tampa playing for manager Torre Tyson, who also had, at one time or another, prospects such as Craig Heyer, George Kontos, Brett Marshall, Graham Stoneburner and Adam Warren pass through his rotation.
"We preach development all the time, but the Yankee way of development includes developing while learning to win, and we were able to do that this year," said Tyson, who just completed his seventh year with the organization. "In 2005 at (low Class A) Charleston, we had Phil Hughes, Jeff Marquez, Brett Smith, Chase Wright and Chris Garcia. I thought that was a pretty good group, and three of those guys made the majors.
"But we had seven guys this year who might be big league starters, and more who can be big league relievers. It was a deep, good group."
None made as big a move forward as Betances, though 2007 first-round pick Brackman came close. The Yankees believe they have impact arms in the top 10 but plenty of depth behind them, and scouts outside the organization who do Yankees pro coverage agree.
"One thing they have is depth," a pro scout with a rival American League organization said. "They have the pitching depth to make a trade if they need to. I'm not sure how many of those guys profile as Yankees starters, you know, championship-caliber guys, but they know how to create (trade) value with their players."
Bouncing Back From Injury
Most of the players providing that depth were in the organization last year. The Yankees had several players come back strong off injuries, such as Betances and Marshall, and plenty more who just had better years, such as Noesi, Nova and righthanders David Phelps and Warren.
Marshall, like Betances and Brackman, is a Tommy John surgery alumnus. He got the largest bonus of any Yankees draftee in 2008 at $850,000, but the sixth-round pick missed much of the '09 season with his elbow injury. He returned to game play in June with a pair of starts in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where Borrell doubles as pitching coach. He graduated to Charleston and then finished with Tampa, helping win a Florida State League championship with a six-inning win in the league finals against Charlotte.
"He's a lot like Dellin, and he might be the hardest-working kid I've been around," Borrell said. "A lot of it was just him trying not to throw 97 or 98 (mph) on every pitch. He can do that, but he's really incorporated a low- to mid-90s two-seamer this year and works off that to be more efficient."
Marshall wound up pitching 90 innings and gave up just two home runs between his three stops, including the playoffs. He relies on both his two- and four-seam fastball and changeup currently, but his slider has shown flashes of giving him a third average-or-better pitch. He's the organization's best breakout candidate for 2011.
Phelps, 24, and Warren, 23, have lower ceilings but are part of why New York has such enviable pitching depth. Both have arm strength and fastball command, as well as success at upper levels. Warren, who got married on Oct. 23, went 11-7, 2.59 between Tampa and Trenton, then struck out 18 in just 11 innings for Trenton in the EL playoffs.
Phelps, a 14th-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2008 who signed for $150,000, had even gaudier stats, going 10-2, 2.50 with a 141-36 strikeout-walk ratio in 159 innings. Both pitchers profile more as fourth starters, though some scouts see Warren with a ceiling as high as a No. 3 as his cutter-type slider improves.
Warren is used to being somewhat under the radar, having pitched at North Carolina behind the likes of first-round picks Andrew Miller, Daniel Bard, Alex White and Matt Harvey. He's just as impressed by the Yankees' slew of power arms, and considering he runs his heater up to 96 mph and had a 15-strikeout game for Trenton, he should consider himself part of that group.
"In the spring, you'd see a guy go out there throwing mid-90s, and then another, and then another," he said. "I was kind of like, 'Where's all this coming from?' I had an idea that we had some real good pitching, and we definitely pushed each other. We had a lot of great teams."
Warren also agrees with Newman that the organization has a strong foundation of pitching coaches. Nardi Contreras is the pitching coordinator, and in his six seasons in the organization he's helped shepherd the likes of Hughes, who won 18 games in New York this season, as well as the homegrown members of the bullpen who helped the Yankees win the 2009 World Series. He remains admired in the system for his ability to teach curveballs and for setting the focus for the organization's pitching plan.
He has help. Newman called Borrell a "rising star and tremendous future pitching coach." Tampa pitching coach Greg Pavlick was on the Mets' 1986 World Series coaching staff and was the Mets' big league pitching coach in two different stints. And Triple-A pitching coach Scott Aldred has spent five years in the organization.
Because so many of the system's top pitchers were at Tampa this season, Newman pointed out Pavlick's influence specifically. Tyson, in his first season with Tampa after managing Charleston for three seasons, said he learned plenty from the man affectionately known as "Mother Hen" within the organization.
"He takes care of his pitchers," Tyson said. "He's a stabilizer. He's been in the game so long and still does what he loves to do, which is teach. There's no substitute for experience, and he's got 40 years in the game, and he still communicates."
Coaches like Pavlick brought out the talent in high-profile, highly-paid players such as Brackman (whose contract guaranteed him $4.55 million), Betances ($1 million) and Marshall. They've done the same with Warren, a fourth-round pick as a senior in '09; Nova, whom they briefly lost in the '08 Rule 5 draft to the Padres; and Phelps.
"It goes back to the players and the coaches," Warren said. "A guy like Brackman who was lights-out the last month and a half because of the work he put in, and the coaches who put in the work with them. They don't really force anything, they just make tweaks here and there, and this year you could see how it worked so well."