Tuesday, April 3, 2012

D.J. Mitchell For Long Reliever

The injuries to Michael Pineda and Cesar Cabral this past weekend added a little spice to what was going to be a rather boring final decision on the 25-man roster this week. The only real question was whether Cabral or Clay Rapada was going to get the final bullpen spot, and no offense to those guys but a "Rapada vs. Cabral" battle doesn't exactly get the media all stirred up. A second opening in the bullpen was created when Freddy Garcia was moved into Pineda's spot in the rotation, and the leading candidates for his long relief role are the trio of D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps, and Adam Warren. Those names doesn't exactly sell papers either, but they are the best options to fill what could become an important role in the bullpen once the season starts. The Yankees could throw a curveball and add another position player or send down Cory Wade, but I'm banking on Joe's familiarity with Wade being enough to give Wade a spot. I also think Wade getting that spot with how poorly he's pitched this spring necessitates another relief option in the 'pen, and I'm publicly throwing my support behind D.J. Mitchell for the role.

Mitchell has always been looked at as a relief conversion candidate internally because of his makeup. He's got 3 decent offerings, but nothing overwhelming and nothing that profiles as a big-time strikeout pitch. He also has the least consistent fastball command out of himself, Phelps, and Warren, something that dropped him below the other two in most every side-by-side-by-side prospect comparison. Because of these two factors, the perception has always been that Mitchell would struggle to mix pitches and get guys out the 2nd and 3rd times through a lineup at the Major League level and that he might be better served maximizing the value of his offerings in shorter outings. From his collection of 2-seamer, 4-seamer, slider, change, he should be able to find the 2, maybe 3 that work best in short outings and focus on developing those for relief purposes.

The other thing Mitchell has going for him is that he's worked exclusively in a relief role this spring, whereas Phelps and Warren have thrown more pitches and more innings to stretch themselves out as starters for Triple-A. All 6 of his Spring Training appearances have been in relief and all 6 have been between 2-3 innings, exactly what the Yankees would be looking to get out of their long man. Mitchell's overall ST line of 14.1 IP, 10 H, 4 ER, 8 BB, 12 K isn't head-over-heels great, but when you factor out his bad outing against Detroit on 3/24 the remaining line of 11.I IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 5 BB, 11 K is pretty damn good and a sign that there might be something to the theory of Mitchell's stuff playing up a bit out of the 'pen. It's also worth noting that Mitchell has been experimenting with a cutter this spring, and his attempts to work it into his repertoire during games could be a contributing factor to his recent outings not being as solid as his first few.

Mitchell was moved to the 40-man roster prior to the Rule 5 Draft, so the Yankees obviously see value in him and likely realize they are getting to the point of "you-know-what or get off the pot" time with him. They won't have to make any funky moves to get him onto the 25-man to open the season, and his presence in the Major League bullpen would open up a much-needed spot in the Triple-A rotation for Andy Pettitte and Michael Pineda to complete their prep/rehab work when the time comes. The Yankees could also use this as an opportunity to showcase Mitchell to teams interested in trading for him and ease a potential logjam in the Triple-A rotation that could creep up later in the season. And who knows? Maybe Mitchell finds something with this new cutter and finds his calling a late-inning stopper. There is really no downside to this move and everything is already set up to make it a smooth, painless transition. D.J. Mitchell as the 25th man to open the season should be a no-brainer.

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