Minor Leagues: No shortage of talent in High-A Tampa rotation

High-A Tampa sports one of the most exciting rotations in New York’s minor league system. Tampa has all the elements of a fun minor league staff to watch. They have high-end raw talent, a big, hard throwing lefty, polish, and projectability. Two of the pitchers may not be here much longer, and there is no shortage of major league potential in the rotation.

Jose Ramirez represents the high-end raw talent still finding his way. Coming off the worst season of his career, many thought the 22 year old right-hander was destined for the bullpen. Then, at instructs this year, he dialed the fastball up to 100 mph, and the slider looked nasty. His changeup was never in question. The Yankees decided to give him another crack at the rotation.

Thus far the results have been mostly negative. He’s let up 40 hits in just 26 IP, and has an ERA of 6.23 over five starts. It is still very early in the season, and he has time to right the ship. It is nearing the time when Jose Ramirez will be sent to the bullpen for good though, and with good reason. In short spurts he is able to throw the ball extremely hard, and make guys look silly. Hopefully this starts to translate into some of his starts. He’s had one good six inning start so far this season where he struck out five and let up just one run. He’ll have to start doing that consistently if he wants to avoid the bullpen. His ceiling is an ace starter, but he more likely projects as a high-leverage reliever.

The big, hard throwing lefty who has been the ace of the staff so far this season is 22 year old Nik Turley. He is 6-foot-6 and 230-pounds. Last year his season was cut short by a broken wrist, but he has picked up right where he left off. He’s thrown 31.1 innings of 2.01 ERA ball, has a 2-0 record and has struck out a whopping 32 batters during that time, while walking 10.

Turley generally tops out at 92 mph, but this season he has a two mph uptick in his velocity and improved command. He complements the fastball with an above average change, and a curve. Turley is one of the two players mentioned by Nardi Contreras as candidates for a midseason promotion to Double-A. His ceiling is a number two starter, with his projection more likely as a back end starter.

The polish is best exemplified by 22 year old (noticing a theme here?) Mikey O’Brien, a right handed pitcher on the short side at 5-foot-11. What he lacks in height he makes up for in heart and control. Drafted in the 9th round in 2008, he really started to hit his stride in 2010 with the Staten Island Yankees. In his first full season last year, he had a 3.16 ERA with 99 K in 119.2 innings across Low-A and High-A. He has been off to a great start until one bad outing ruined his numbers, but I suspect it was an anomaly.

He is a lower velocity guy, sitting around 91 mph with the four-seam and 89-90 with the two-seam. He throws an above average curveball, a slider, and a changeup. His ceiling is a back end starter, but his projection is more likely a middle inning reliever, unless he is able to increase the velocity on his fastball in short stints, which he has shown the ability to do in the past.

The final two rotation slots belong to two players who have a great deal of projectability. Both are looking as though they might be shedding that tag in the early going, and may shift over to the high-end talent realm.

The first is Zach Nuding, a 22 year old right handed pitcher drafted in the 30th round out of Weatherfield College. Before last season, coaches were expecting him to be a reliever. When they saw his stuff before the season, there was a drastic shift in that belief and they made him a starter. The results could have been better, but he showed promise in his first full major league season. So far in 2012 he has thrown 20 innings and has a 2.25 ERA while striking out 23.

He had a 4.24 ERA and struck out 91 in 108.1 innings last year. The big, 6-foot-4, 250-pounder held hitters to a .232 average. He is a power pitcher who can sit in the mid 90s and has been known to hit 98. The major area of improvement from last year is his secondary pitches. His slider is improved and he is still learning the art of the changeup. So far the results have been impressive. He is the other pitcher Nardi Contreras felt would get promoted to Double-A this season. Right now he projects as a late inning reliever, but if he can further develop his secondary offerings, he could end up in the starting rotation.

The other projectability player is Shane Greene. Make no mistake, this 2009 15th round draft pick has a lot of “now” talent as well. Greene is actually the oldest in the group at 23 years old, and is 6-foot-4, 210-pounds. He is an innings eating machine, as he threw 138 innings in Charleston last season. He also struck out 128 though, so his value is not just to soak up innings. He finished the season with a 4.37 ERA. This year he has a 3.60 ERA¬† and 20 K in 25 innings.

He has a power sinking fastball which reaches 94 mph, and a four-seam that sits at 93 on average. The sinking fastball has so much break he has difficulty controlling it. His best pitch is the slider, which he uses as a strikeout pitch. He also throws a changeup with good fade. Greene has the repertoire to be a starter in the big leagues, but it remains to be seen if he can gain control of those pitches. If not, he still has the upside of a late inning reliever.

Statistically, the High-A rotation has been the best in the system early in 2012. With continued success, several promotions could be in order. For now, this rotation is for sure one you want to follow.

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