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Phelps stands out in a thin class of Yankees rookies

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On October 1, in game No. 160 of 162, Melky Mesa pinch hit in the eighth inning of a blowout against the Red Sox. He singled up the middle, Eduardo Nunez scored and Mesa stood at first base smiling like a little kid on Christmas.

It was the first of only two rookie at-bats for the Yankees this season.

Tonight, the Baseball Writers Association of America will announce its choices for Rookie of the Year. Needless to say, the Yankees won’t factor heavily into the discussion. Jesus Montero was traded, Manny Banuelos was hurt and Dellin Betances was demoted. The Yankees might have to lean more heavily on its young talent in the coming years, but that transition certainly didn’t start this year.

Mesa was the Yankees only rookie position player, and he only got into three games. Of the six rookies who pitched for the Yankees, only two pitched as many as five innings. The others were one-game spot starter Adam Warren, September lefty Justin Thomas, occasional mopup man D.J. Mitchell, and shuttling fill-in Ryota Igarashi.

[3]So an all-Yankees Rookie of the Year ballot looks something like this:

1. David Phelps
2. Cody Eppley
3. blank

Eppley was a nice pickup. Grabbed off the waiver wire scrap heap at the end of spring training, he settled in as a trusted middle-innings reliever who could generate some groundballs, hold right-handers to a .227 average and occasionally give multiple innings when necessary. He was helpful — more valuable than expected — and he could provide some bullpen depth again next season. He might not be Rookie of the Year material, but he’s a nice pitcher. More useful than he seemed when the Yankees made a quiet waiver claim before the start of the season.

Of course, Phelps is the real prize of this tiny rookie class.

The last man to make the roster out of spring training, Phelps emerged from the shadows of Banuelos and Betances, and set himself apart from the secondary group of Warren and Mitchell. He was aggressive and gutsy, and the only Yankees who pitched at least 10 innings with a lower WHIP were the elite arms on the team: CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda, Rafael Soriano and Dave Robertson.

Phelps won’t get any Rookie of the Year attention, but for a pitching staff crushed by injuries, he gave the Yankees what they needed. And for a team trying to cut payroll, he could provide more in the future.

“I don’t pencil him in anywhere right now, but I think he’s best as a starter,” Brian Cashman said. “Good starters can all go to the pen. Pens are where failed starters go. He can do that. All our starters can do that.”

Associated Press photo