Let’s start the pitching notes with the very last player Mark Newman and I talked about last week. He’s not in the organization, but you know the name well.
• Aroldis Chapman is arguably the most intriguing free agent pitcher still on the market. He might be this winter’s most intriguing available player, period. “Who knows what the price tag is going to be on this deal,” Newman said. “He’s not where (Stephen) Strasburg was.” When Chapman threw a bullpen for scouts earlier this month, Newman said the reports were exactly what he expected: Huge fastball. Spotty command. Inconsistent secondary pitches. “But if you don’t like that, you need to be in another business,” Newman said.
Ultimately, it seems still very uncertain where Chapman might end up, or how much he’s going to cost. If the Yankees get him, they don’t plan to start him in the big leagues, and there’s no guarantee he would pitch in New York by the end of the year. “(He would start in) A or Double-A,” Newman said. “Wherever it is he pitches, he needs to be comfortable and he needs to work on the command and secondary pitches. And when he gets that, he’s going to take off.”
• Interesting answer when I asked whether one of the recent college draftees could move quickly like Joba Chamberlain or Ian Kennedy. I thought Newman would build up David Phelps or Adam Warren after their strong seasons, instead he went with a guy who had a 6.65 ERA in Double-A last year. “Jeremy Bleich might,” Newman said. “He had an okay year, not a great year, in some ways. In some ways he had an outstanding year. His stuff was really good. He was getting it up to 94 with regularity. His stuff was better than it was in college, his command wasn’t quite as good. I’ll take that, because the command will come. I really believe that.”
• If Romulo Sanchez doesn’t make the big league bullpen, he’ll likely work once again as a starter in Triple-A.
• Lefty Wilkin de la Rosa has a spot on the 40-man, but he’s scheduled to repeat Double-A this season. And he’s scheduled to stay in the rotation. “It’s too early to tell (whether he’ll eventually move to the pen),” Newman said. “I feel very comfortable about him being able to pitch out of the pen. It’s too early to tell if he’s going to be able to be a starter. The stuff is certainly good enough. He can do things you need to do to be a left-handed bullpen guy. If he pitches some more, we’ll see if the command is good enough to stay in the rotation.”
• De la Rosa and Bleich will be in a Double-A rotation that will most likely include recent 40-man addition Hector Noesi. Noesi made just nine High-A starts last year, but Newman said he will “probably” open in Trenton.
• Put Chris Garcia in the Double-A rotation as well. The high-ceiling, often-injured right-hander is currently throwing and should be ready to open the season back in Trenton. Garcia’s latest surgery was to move his ulnar nerve (apparently that’s possible). He has the stuff to be a big league starter but, “he needs to pitch to develop fastball command,” Newman said. The Yankees want him to continue working as a starter to develop that command, and right now there is no plan to move him to the bullpen to protect his arm. “That could be down the line,” Newman said.
• Dellin Betances had “ligament enhancement” surgery — not Tommy John — on his right elbow. It’s the same thing Mariano Rivera had years ago. Newman said Betances should be ready to pitch close to the start of the season. He’s slated for High-A Tampa.
• Back when I was in Scranton, I wrote a lot about Alan Horne, the once highly touted prospect who’s had a series of injuries the past two years. I’ve been a big believer in Horne because he was outstanding when I saw him in the spring of 2008, and because Scott Aldred raves about how good he was when he won the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year in 2007. “We’ll see (where he opens the season),” Newman said. “He’s healthy. He’s got to come back and see if he can recapture it.”
• Newman stressed patience with Andrew Brackman. “Brack’s got stuff that’s top-of-the-rotation stuff,” Newman said. Brackman’s overall numbers were bad last season, but through his last four appearances he pitched 10 scoreless innings, walking none and striking out nine. Newman is quick to point out that Brackman was a two-sport athlete in college, and he’s just now getting the full fall and winter baseball workouts. “Big body, limited experience and an injury problem,” Newman said. Those things make pitching a little more difficult, and Brackman might move a little more slowly than you’d expect a first-round pick who signed a major league deal.