(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)
One of the cardinal rules about spring training is you have to take the results with a grain of salt, especially the early performances of eager rookies who are either facing veterans slowly ramping up to speed or overmatched secondary talent. With that disclaimer noted, some of the bad vibes from the Yankees’ offseason of discontent dissipated yesterday thanks to impressive early performances from three of the team’s young prospects.
The biggest impression from the spring contest against the Phillies was appropriately left by imposing 6’8” right hander Dellin Betances, who struck out the side in his one inning of work. More impressive than the result, however, was the way the Brooklyn-born hurler achieved it. In addition to featuring a mid-90s fastball (that topped out at 97), Betances also wielded a late breaking knuckle curve that had several Phillies’ batters fooled completely. After striking out Wilson Valdez to end the inning, YES cut to a shot of Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild practically leaping to their feet. Could one performance alter the Yankees’ stated intention to have Betances start the season in the minors?
During Betances’ inning of work, there was a very lively discussion in the YES booth. Jack Curry stated that the Yankees were very reticent to bring Betances north, but the door was slowly opening. After yesterday’s performance, you can officially consider it ajar. As Michael Kay noted, however, even if Betances does make the team, he’s likely to face an innings limit of around 120 innings, or about 20 starts. Although that might not seem like a great option, the best solution might be the one suggested by Ken Singleton: give Bartolo Colon or Freddy Garcia a chance to fail and then use Betances as a mid-season replacement, just like the Yankees did with Chien-Ming Wang in 2005. Of course, in order to do that, the Yankees will need to limit Betances’ innings in the minors. Considering the likelihood that the Yankees will need midseason rotation help, and Betances’ ability to provide it, wasting valuable bullets in the minors would be shortsighted.
One other thing worth noting from the conversation in the YES booth was Curry’s thought that had the team not signed Rafael Soriano, an arm like Betances could have been used as a shut-down reliever in the eighth. If for no other reason, Soriano’s signing should be considered a blessing if it helps prevent the team from turning its top-line arms into short relievers, although one would imagine the lessons learned from the Joba Chamberlain experience would prevent a repeat of the same mistakes.
Because Betances’ performance was so dominant, Ivan Nova’s workman-like two innings of perfect baseball went mostly unnoticed. Although the team has stated there is an open competition for the backend of the rotation, the conventional wisdom is one of those slots is Nova’s to lose. What the Yankees would prefer, of course, is for Nova to win it, and performances like yesterday’s should certainly help that cause.
With all the buzz about Betances and fellow prospects Andrew Brackman and Manny Banuelos, who collectively are being called the “killer-Bs” (which hopefully doesn’t condemn them to the same fate as the Mets’ former “Generation K” of Bill Pulsipher, Paul Wilson and Jason Isringhausen), Nova has been completely overlooked. In fact, it seems as if the 24-year old righty (who is one year older than Betances and one year younger than Brackman) is being treated like one of the veterans in camp, more akin to Colon and Garcia. Regardless of how he is viewed, however, one thing is certain: Nova could be a key to the Yankees’ success in 2011.
Not only does Nova posses the talent to be a competent starter, but his limited experience during last season’s call-up provided several reasons to be optimistic, not the least of which was his ability to maintain his composure in the midst of a pennant race. An added benefit to Nova is his previous workload likely means no innings limit will be required. Between the majors and the minors, Nova tossed 180 innings in 2010, so his training wheels should now be off completely.
Also not to be overlooked is the man who caught Betances and Nova yesterday. In three at bats, Montero simply looked like a hitter. Even more encouraging, he also looked like a catcher. Once thought to be a long shot to make the team, it now seems as if only a poor spring (or a great spring by Francisco Cervelli) will keep the Yankees’ prized prospect from coming north.
When Brian Cashman preached patience over the winter, he likely had talent like Betances, Nova and Montero in mind. Now, he’ll have to guard against those around him being too aggressive with their expectations for the Yankees’ crop of farmhands. That’s a GM’s problem, however. Everyone else is free to respond to the winter’s exaggerated pessimism with over-the-top, spring-time optimism…even after only a couple of games.
Cliff Lee who?