Too much pitching is never a bad thing. This especially holds true in the minor leagues, where any number of things can go wrong in the course of a pitcher’s development. There can be injuries, regression in talent or stuff, control problems, attitude issues, and finally busts. For the past two drafts, the Yankees have chosen to circumvent this problem by drafting and signing a large quantity of high school pitching, while bringing along their international signings at the same time. What has resulted is a logjam of young, lower level pitching.
While this is a good problem to have in some ways, it also forces the team to limit the innings of players who could be starters if they got the chance. The other choice would be to pick five pitchers and stick with them as the starters, making the rest relievers. Instead of picking starters, the Yankees have chosen to go the route of giving each potential starter a max of four, at most five innings.
For example, Caleb Frare threw three innings and Rony Bautista threw four in a recent win (he did throw five innings today). The game before that, Jordan Cote threw four innings as the game’s starter, and he is getting the most innings of any pitcher at this level. A few games ago, Luis Niebla threw 3.2 innings and Chaz Hebert threw two.
This does not sound like the schedule for grooming starting pitchers. Luckily, it’s only the GCL, and the situation should sort itself out to some extent by the time next season comes around. There had also apparently been a rash of “dead arms” in the GCL just before the start of the season, so this may be their way of “resting” them. It doesn’t really explain the lack of innings for some of these pitchers though. It’s not as though the Yankees are building them up, they are pitching the same amount of innings each outing.
While hoping for the pitching situation to sort itself out for next season sounds good, it doesn’t appear that next year will provide any more clarity. Furthermore, there likely won’t be that many more innings to go around. Potential starters in the GCL this season include Jordan Cote, Rony Bautista, Joey Maher, Luis Niebla, Chaz Hebert, Giovanny Gallegos, Hayden Sharp, Rookie Davis, and Daniel Camarena. Caleb Frare is also now on the roster. That’s 10 possible starters for Staten Island next season, and five slots for them.
I doubt if the situation clears up that much for short season Staten Island next season. Innings are still going to be hard to come by, and you have to question whether this is going to stunt these young pitchers’ development. Some relief may come in the form of lack of depth at the Low-A and High-A levels though. Right now, the only two legitimate prospect starters in Low-A are Jose Campos and Bryan Mitchell. Campos is injured with elbow inflammation, and Mitchell has been inconsistent. He’s got a 5.89 ERA in his last 44.1 innings.
There isn’t much in the way of reinforcements coming from Staten Island for 2013 either. Evan Rutckyj, Corey Black, and maybe Tim Flight are the only ones who look ready to start in Low-A next season. The latter two still have a lot to prove though. With Jose Campos and Mitchell likely destined for High-A next season, that leaves several vacant slots in the Charleston rotation, and possibly more by the time Short Season league starts next year.
Of the 10 possible starters, maybe one or two ends up in Charleston. Then, a few probably prove by 2013 that they are not worthy of starting. This puts the team much closer to having enough innings for all of these guys.
This analysis, however, does not consider that next season 2012 draftees Ty Hensley, Jose Mesa Jr., Brady Lail, Caleb Frare, and Dayton Dawe will need innings. They will either have to fight for innings in Staten Island or against guys like Chris Cabrera, Dallas Martinez, and Luis Severino in the GCL. These three will most likely be coming over from the DSL next season. There will be at least 18 possible starters, and 10 slots between the two short season levels.
All of these pitchers are talented. No one should be disappointed that the organization has this many promising pitchers at the lower levels. A few of them are bound to develop into top prospects.
The question remains, however, whether the front office is currently doing the right thing for these players in terms of development. Instead of picking five starters and letting them be starters, they are pitching all of them at two, three, or four inning clips this season. It’s pretty bizarre actually, because they are not being treated as relievers. They are all still only pitching once every five days, just for fewer innings than a typical start lasts.
I’m not yet sure whether to applaud this method or lambast it. It’s certainly frustrating to be unable to analyze statistics because the sample sizes are so small, but maybe there is something to this method. Many of the players have looked awful sharp in their shorter stints, and I would imagine that it would preserve their arms better than overworking them. Regardless of the pitfalls and merits of this method, it will be interesting to hear what upper management’s philosophy is, and why they are choosing this strategy for pitcher development.