Our final Pinch Hitter is Trevor Wolff, a 27-year-old majoring in English at the University of Phoenix. “While baseball is just a game in the grand scheme of things, it has always been something that my family and I would bond over,” Trevor wrote. “I am the only one in my family that really tracks the Yankee farm system though. I started really paying attention to the minor leagues in 2005 when Phil Hughes burst onto the scene.”
For his post, Trevor explored the ideas of patience and development, looking at the negative impact of a “quick fix” trade, and the viability of converting young starting pitchers into relievers.
Patience, Yankee fans. Just sit back and enjoy the ride, because it is going to be one that you will be happy to reflect on one day. For some reason, fans tend to judge an offseason based on what their teams did. Sometimes, not doing anything is the right move to make, especially when your farm system is stocked with high-end talent.
The very best prospects in the game don’t get signed and immediately make an impact in the majors. It takes proper development and everything falling into place for a prospect to make his mark. I know that the advanced statistics people out there like to think that baseball players are robots, but they aren’t. There are things in the baseball world that cannot be calculated, such as how a prospect responds to failure, the daily grind of minor league life, and being out on your own for the first time. These are kids that have been star baseball players all of their lives and most likely excelled at every level they played at. Now that they are signed professionals, they are among their peers on a talent level, and there is an urgency to perform.
This isn’t something a player learns to deal with on a high school diamond when he’s the big shot on campus. This is something experienced when you’re hitting under .220, the calendar reads August, and there is a younger player at your position a level below that is hitting .300.
That is the beauty of minor league baseball and why the development of a prospect is so fascinating. One day, everything can click. A pitcher can finally throw that sharp breaking ball for strikes; a hitter can finally lay off junk pitches off the plate.
Ivan Nova is a shining example. Being replaced by Phil Hughes turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to Nova. He turned that breaking pitch into a legitimate strikeout weapon and finished in Rookie of the Year voting. For those keeping score at home, he finished ahead of the Yankees new starter, Michael Pineda. I’m not saying that Nova is better than Pineda, I’m just saying that patience with Nova and letting him develop that pitch, put him among the upper echelon of rookie talent last season.
Yes, the New York Yankees are always competing for a championship. What fan doesn’t want their team to win it all? The “World Series or Bust” mantra needs to be retired, though.
It is impossible for a professional sports team to win its league’s major championship every season. It just does not happen. Near the trade deadline of the 2010 season, the Yankees almost sent Jesus Montero plus other players to Seattle for Cliff Lee. I was against this deal because dealing a bat like Montero’s for a pitcher on the wrong side of 30 (even if he is Cliff Lee) was not the right move to make. People would tell me “The Yankees need a second ace if they want to go far in the playoffs” Having two aces in a rotation is a luxury, not an absolute must-have, and it does not guarantee anything. Imagine that this deal went down. The Yankees would not have Montero, Lee or Pineda.
If you’ve made it this far in my article and you’re thinking “Is this guy saying that the Yankees should never trade anyone?” The answer is, no. I am saying that the impact prospects should not be dealt for a possible “quick fix.” I was not a fan of the Pineda deal personally, but I at least understood it. Pineda has the chance to anchor the Yankee rotation for a long time, and Jose Campos has high upside as well. You only deal Montero for a player that is going to help for a significant length of time, and that is what the Yankees did.
Keeping with the develop from within theme: the Yankees should also no longer be in the market for free agent relief help. Between the impact relievers down on the farm like Mark Montgomery, Danny Burawa, and Tommy Kahnle to the fringe starters with limited upside, paying big money for a reliever is a waste of resources. The aforementioned relievers have impact stuff that will play at the back end of the bullpen for the Yankees in the near future. Montgomery’s slider is such a strong weapon that he struck out five hitters in one inning. The opposing team couldn’t hit it (and Gary Sanchez couldn’t catch it). The great thing about relief prospects is that they are traditionally fast movers, so their arrival to The Show isn’t a process that takes four years. Signing Rafael Soriano to that contract was a poor choice, and he lost his job to home-grown David Robertson.
Seeing the Washington Nationals convert one of the Yankees’ own former starters, Tyler Clippard, into an elite reliever has hopefully made them think about doing that with some of their own. Pitchers without the high upside potential like David Phelps, Adam Warren, and D.J. Mitchell could find themselves in the bullpen one day. Now, I’m not saying this should happen right now, but it should be something to be considered as an option one day. You can’t keep every prospect, so if the time comes to ship out some pitching depth, think about the value you’re getting in return. Then think, “How will our guy take to the pen?”
This process has already begun for young converted starter Manny Barreda. If he harnesses the command of his solid repertoire, he could prove to be a fast mover. Reports from his bullpen time have his stuff looking like that of a setup man. I had the pleasure of getting to talk to Barreda briefly about his transition to the bullpen. Between Tommy John Surgery and the conversion, he has experienced everything that a pitching prospect can.
Trevor Wolff: Has the transaction from starting pitcher into relief pitcher gone smoothly? Has it been tough getting into the routine of a full-time reliever now that you could pitch any day as opposed to every five?
Manny Barreda: Well you know last year was my first full year as a reliever and it felt great! I enjoyed having to be ready every day and most of all getting to pitch a lot. At first it was a little tough not knowing when I would get the call to go into the game but after the first month it was awesome. I knew I had to be focused come the 5th or 6th inning. As a starter you have a little bit more time to get mentally ready and as a reliever you have to be ready every day. I enjoyed that part.
Trevor Wolff: It’s no secret that the Yankees have a lot of starting pitching depth, from New York down to the Gulf Coast League. When you see former Yankees starting prospect Tyler Clippard blossom into an elite reliever for the Nationals, has that raised your hopes for reaching the big leagues in a different capacity?
Manny Barreda: Of course, you see all these guys that came up in the Yankees minor league system and are now successful with other teams it does raise your hopes knowing I could be a big leaguer one day even if it’s not with the Yankees. The Yankees do a great job of getting you ready that it’s no wonder why a lot of other MLB teams look at players from our minor league system to sign.
You make the moves that make sense for your current ball club and for the future as well. There is a lot of special talent that’s climbing the ladder and you need to let them develop at their own pace. Not every prospect is going to hit the ground running. Robinson Cano entered the system in 2001 as an 18-year old and did not have a breakout year until 2004. He was almost traded twice, but look at him now. With that sweet swing and incredible defense, he is an annual MVP candidate, and the front office should be thanking their lucky stars that the teams he was offered to said “no thanks.” Patience.
Associated Press photos