Monday, February 11, 2013

Pitchers & Catchers Report Date Prepper: The Relievers

(The great Yankee tradition of the ST baton twirl.  Courtesy of Ron Antonelli/Daily News)

1 day.  We're just 1 day from the beginning of the 2013 Yankee season.  By this time tomorrow, guys will be rolling into Tampa, swinging through the team facility, getting their quick physicals, and getting settled to prepare for the first team workout on Wednesday.  It's about as exciting as the most un-exciting part of the season can be, and to prepare for it we're taking a 3-part look at the group of players who will make their arrivals tomorrow.  Last Friday it was the catchers, a most uninspiring group at the Major League level, and today the level of inspiration should jump a bit with the move to the bullpen.  It's shaping up to be another deep, talented, strong group in 2013, but not a group without its question marks, particularly in the health department.

Mariano Rivera- The G.O.A.T. makes his return from last year's ACL tear, once again looking to finish up his spectacular career on a high note and go out on his terms.  Mo has been on schedule with his rehab work for months now, has declared that he'll be ready for the start of the season, and there's no reason to think otherwise given his progress.  Mo always does his own thing in camp, and this year should be no different as he puts the finishing touches on working himself back into full game shape.

David Robertson- Every great closer needs a great setup man, and D-Rob will once again take that role in 2013 as he also once again becomes the future heir to Mo's closing throne.  D-Rob has learned a lot from Mo, tweaking his mechanics to pattern them after Mo's smooth delivery and learning the cutter, but his curveball remains his greatest weapon.  Robertson is pitching to be the next player worthy of making the Yankees reconsider their "no extensions" policy this season, and he could start getting expensive very soon.

Joba Chamberlain- After looking like he would face a completely lost season last year, Joba managed to make it back from Tommy John Surgery and surgery to a serious ankle injury suffered in ST to rejoin the bullpen before season's end.  This season he comes into camp fully healthy and fully recovered from both injuries and penciled into the 7th inning role again with the departure of Soriano.  If he still has the velocity and bite on his slider that he finished 2012 with, Joba shouldn't miss a beat.

Boone Logan- Logan will enter his 4th straight year as the team's leading lefty out of the 'pen with more questions surrounding him than usual.  He set new records for workload last season, and everybody will be paying close attention to how that affects him in 2013.  Logan can still be useful against right-handed hitters, but I have to think Joe will try to cut back on his usage there this season and focus him more on key lefty-lefty matchups.

David Aardsma- The second of the 2 TJS recovery brothers, Aardsma hasn't pitched competitively at the Major League level for the better part of 2 seasons.  He comes into 2013 also fully recovered from his surgery, but not with the amount of in-game rehab work that Joba had, which could become a problem if he and other guys in the bullpen start to struggle.  Aardsma is in the final year of the 2-year deal he signed with New York, so he's out to prove he's still got something left.

Clay Rapada- One of the bigger surprises from last year's camp, Rapada nailed down the second LOOGY job after Cesar Cabral got hurt and never relinquished it once the season started.  Down the stretch he was arguably more effective against lefties than Logan was, and the Yankees will likely bring him as insurance for Logan when the season starts.

David Phelps- The underdog in this year's 5th starter competition with Ivan Nova, Phelps will have a plan to fall back on as the designated long man and un-designated Swiss army knife of the 'pen.  It's the role he served for the majority of last season and a role he served well.  Phelps knows how to pitch, throws strikes, and stays cool and calm on the mound.  He's out to carve out a bigger role for himself for the future this year.

Cody Eppley- A groundball machine last season (60.3% in 46.0 IP), Eppley should be the first man up as a bullpen replacement assuming none of the other 7 get hurt before the start of the season.  He's basically a right-handed Rapada- doesn't blow you away with his stuff, but very effective against same-handed hitters- and his extra MiL option makes him a valuable piece to have on standby.

Francisco Rondon- Got added to the 40-man after a strong 2012 season in the Minors, and should be in position to be the 3rd lefty at the start of the season while Cabral continues his rehab.  It will take some injuries or horrifically bad performances to get Rondon into the show, but like Eppley, he's a great extra bullet to have in the bullpen gun.

Dellin Betances- The converted starter and longtime Yankee prospect, Betances enters his final year as a MiL-eligible player trying to salvage something from his disappointing career to date.  After bombing as a starter in Triple-A last year, he showed some progress with his command pitching as a reliever in the AZFL.  With a little more work he could still be a high-impact relief arm because of his stuff, but this is his last chance.

Mark Montgomery- The relief prospect name that's on everybody's lips these days, Montgomery has absolutely blown through every level of the Minors he's reached so far and is looking to make his way into the Bronx bullpen this season.  If he stays on his current path, we'll probably see him sometime around the trade deadline, but he could force his way into the Opening Day bullpen discussion with a dynamite camp.

The Rest- Guys like Jim Miller, Ryan Pope, Chase Whitley, Josh Spence, Juan Cedeno, and Kelvin Perez are experienced upper-level MiL arms and will make up the core of the Triple-A bullpen along with Betances and Rondon, and a few of them (Whitley, Spence) could be candidates for mid-season call ups if the situation calls for it.  Younger guys like Tommy Kahnle, Nick Goody, and Branden Pinder are options for the more distant future, and the David Herndons and Matt Daleys of the world are longshots for any sure job as they recover from injuries.

** Coming up tomorrow- the starters. **

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