Amongst the craziness of the Winter meetings, A-Rod’s injury, and all of the rumors that have been circulating, it’s time to take a break from all of the insanity and talk about the farm system. Relievers in the minor leagues are not the most glamorous players. They don’t get a lot of love in the rankings, they can fall off at any level, and they are often passed up for promotions to the major leagues for converted starters. The Yankees are one team, however, who has had some recent success with relief prospects, most notably David Robertson.
Since the D-Rob success story, they have used the draft to pick up some later round guys who end up being excellent relief prospects. Here I will highlight a few of the players who I think could make an impact in the major leagues. The system has never been so deep in relief pitching, and this could be the season where we start to benefit from a cheap, homegrown, phenomenal bullpen. Only 5 of these guys made the top 50 prospects.
10. RHP Manuel Barreda, 24-years-old, 5-foot-11, 190-pounds – One of the best fastballs in the system, he goes from 94-97 mph with it. He’s got a great slider. A good changeup will make him mor than just a LOOGY. 9.5 K/9, 5.1 BB/9 this season. The major key is control. He’ll start in Trenton this season.
9. RHP Dan Burawa, 24-years-old, 6-foot-2, 215-pounds – 2012 was a season lost to injury for Burawa, but he had moved quickly up to High-A leading up to that. He finally made it back for instructs and he’s ready to go. He’ll bring his 93-97 mph fastball and 88 mph slider with him to start this year. He’s on the older side, but not for a reliever. Could see him in the majors soon if he comes back ready to play. 7.5 K/9, 3.1 BB/9 on his career.
8. LHP James Pazos, 21-years-old, 6-foot-3, 220-pounds – 91-94 mph fastball, pinpoint fastball control, and he throws with his left hand. If he can develop a breaking ball or changeup, he’ll move quickly and could be more than just a LOOGY. Even if he’s just a LOOGY, that has significant value in the majors. 39 K and 19 BB in 40.1 innings this season.
7. RHP Preston Claiborne, 25-years-old, 6-foot-2, 215-pounds – The stuff isn’t overwhelming, but when you have good control and three big league pitches you’ve got a shot to contribute. He’s this high on the list because he is so close to contributing. He’s 91-94 with the fastball, a plus changeup, and a good slider. Claiborne is unlikely to be a backend reliever, but he has good control and could be a valuable middle reliever to the Yankees. 8.8 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 in his career with a 2.97 ERA.
6. RHP Kelvin Perez, 27-years-old, 6-foot-1, 185-pounds – 95-98 mph fastball, plus curve ball, and the ability to throw several other breaking pitches for strikes. He had a sudden uptick in stuff this season which put him on the fast track to the major leagues. He was always more of a junkballer, and dabbled in starting pitching for a while. Perez was more of an organizational arm until 2012. Now he’s on the brink of the major leagues with stuff that could put him in the back of a bullpen somewhere. It’s amazing how things can change so suddenly, even late in the game for relievers. He could contribute to a major league team in 2013. I say that because he was left off the 40 man roster, and a team could steal him this offseason. 85.2 innings, 81 K, and 40 walks this season.
5. RHP Tom Kahnle, 23-years-old, 6-foot-1, 220-pounds – Dude can hit 100 mph with the fastball. Not many guys can say that. His changeup has an 18 mph differential from his fastball. It’s hard enough to hit a 100 mph fastball, but imagine trying the hit an 82 mph changeup that’s moving the very next pitch. This is why his upside is so high. He developed some slider consistency this season and if he can control his pitches he has closer or set-up man written all over him. A whopping 11.7 K/9 this season with a 3.8 BB/9 in mostly High-A. If his control improves this season he could be in Triple-A relatively soon.
4. RHP Chase Whitley, 23-years-old, 6-foot-3, 215-pounds – 90-94 mph fastball with David Robertson-esque extension. He throws 2 sinkers, a changeup, and a slider as well. The slider is what turned his season around in Triple-A this season, and will likely be his ticket to the major leagues. He could be in the Yankees bullpen by the end of this season. He’s also a big kid, and while at 23 there’s not much projection left, we have seen people with upticks in velocity far beyond the age of 23. He’s already in a set-up man mold, but if he has an uptick, he could be 8th or 9th inning material. 7.8 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 in 2012. Close if not the best control on this list.
3. RHP Branden Pinder, 24-years-old, 6-foot-3, 210-pounds – 93-97 mph fastball with late life and great deception. His slider now tops out at 88-89 mph, and he has a decent changeup to go along with it all. He also gets great extension on his pitches. He had a rough start to the season this year, but he turned it around to finish with a 2.79 ERA, 8.7 K/9, and a 3.8 BB/9 in mostly High-A. He’ll be in Trenton next season, and if he picks up where he left off he’ll be in Scranton-Wilkes Barre soon enough. Easily the ceiling of a closer.
2. RHP Nick Goody, 21-years-old, 6-foot-1, 195-pounds – It was close between Goody and Pinder, but Goody was so dominant over three levels this season this choice ended up being an easy one. 92-96 mph fastball, knockout slider, working on a changeup. Just 32 innings pitched in his debut, but he struck out 52 batters, most of which were in Charleston. He’ll have a Mark Montgomery-like trajectory of he keeps this up, and he has a similar ceiling. His fastball is probably a bit better, but his slider isn’t as good as Montgomery’s. These two could anchor the Yankees bullpen for years to come, and they might even be able to fetch something decent in a trade.
1. RHP Mark Montgomery, 22-years-old, 5-foot-11, 205-pounds. He got some major attention in the Arizona Fall League this season including an All-Star nod. He was also recognized as one of the top prospects in the league. Best slider in the system hands down. 92-95 mph fastball with late life. He can actually control how much break he puts on the slider, making it even more difficult to hit for batters. His career ERA is 1.65, with a 14.6 K/9 and a 3.4 BB/9, and he’s shot across four levels in just 2 seasons. He’ll likely start in Double-A in what will be a stacked bullpen, but he could start in Triple-A. If he starts in Double-A, he’ll be in Triple-A in no time. He has maintained his high strikeout rate through the higher levels, and many are looking at him as the heir apparent to Mo. He just might be that guy.
With Barreda, Kahnle, Pinder, and Montgomery possibly starting in Double-A, the Thunder aren’t going to lose many close games. With Claiborne, Perez, and Whitley in Triple-A, the Yankees won’t be hurting for relief pitching depth either. That’s seven relief pitchers in the top two levels of this system. The bolus of talent is coming, and it could save the Yankees significant money in 2014 and beyond. One thing is for sure. The Yankees shouldn’t need to hand out any contracts to players like Rafael Soriano anymore.