(Slim CC, so hot right now. Slim CC. Courtesy of Amber Sabathia's Instagram)
It's Monday, February 10th, which means we're a mere 4 days away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Yankee camp. After a long and eventful offseason, we're finally getting back to real, actual, throwing and catching and hitting baseball and that's great news. As part of the early ST process, I'll once again be breaking down the players reporting by roster groups and giving an idea of what to expect, or at least be on the lookout for, from each guy during spring camp. We'll get things started by looking at the contingent of starting pitchers who'll be reporting this Friday. The projected top 4 in the season-opening rotation is all but set, but the competition for that 5th spot is as wide open as ever.
The Top 4:
CC Sabathia- The big fella will come to camp looking leaner and meaner than he ever has and with a regular offseason throwing program under his belt, something he didn't have last ST. That should bode well for his chances to bounce back from a career-worst 2013 season, but all the questions and concerns about his age, health, and velocity will remain until we see how he fairs another year removed from surgery. To his credit, Carsten is confident that he can figure things out.
Hiroki Kuroda- The rock of the rotation the last 2 years, Hirok comes back for a third turn a bigger question mark than he's been after another tough second half in 2013. He turned 39 years old today and the biggest thing this year will be figuring out a way to keep him fresh over the course of a full season. When he's on, there are few 2nd starters in the AL better.
Masahiro Tanaka- The newest member of the rotation and the big FA prize of the 2013-2014 offseason, Tanaka is likely going to be the swing starter for determining how good the Yankee rotation ends up being this season. Cash is already trying to temper expectations, but I think we all know he and everybody else is hoping for more than 3rd starter production from Tanaka. Tempered expectations or not, his first ST start will be the most anticipated Yankee start of the season, at least until his first regular season start.
Ivan Nova- As a 3rd starter, Nova was a major uncertainty. As a 4th, he's almost underrated based on how he finished the 2013 season. What remains to be seen is how he'll follow up that strong finish. The last time from 2011 to 2012 wasn't pretty, and altogether Nova has basically 1 full season of above-average performance to his name. He needs to establish himself as a reliable guy this year to keep the future of the rotation looking bright.
The 5th Starter Competition Crew:
Michael Pineda- Still sitting on 0 pitches thrown as a Yankee, Pineda looks like he'll finally increase that number in 2014. The manner in which he'll do that is still up for debate, and there are some who think he's the #2 in the 5th starter competition behind the guy below him on this list. Personally, I'd like to see Pineda in the 5-spot, at least until he proves he can't handle it. He still offers the highest starter upside out of any of the 4 competing for this spot.
David Phelps- Based on recent experience, Phelps might be the best candidate for the job. He's filled in admirably as a spot starter since coming up in 2012 and has worked as a Major League starter more in the last 2 years than the other 3 guys combined. Based on performance (4.39/4.15/4.17 career starter slash line vs. 3.55/3.95/3.72 as a reliever), however, the Yankees might be more inclined to keep Phelps in the 'pen.
Adam Warren- The 2013 equivalent to Phelps, Warren hasn't had as big a chance to show what he can do as a starter. That will make his spring starts all the more important if he hopes to have a real chance at leapfrogging Phelps and Pineda in the competition.
Vidal Nuno- The soft-throwing lefty has a ton of potential uses as a Major Leaguer: single-inning reliever, multi-inning reliever, lefty specialist, starter. He also doesn't have much of a track record in any role to go on and because of that he's probably ticketed for a season-opening spot in the Triple-A rotation. His ST audition for the 5th starter job will be a token one only.
Manny Banuelos- The once and possibly future top organizational prospect, ManBan is fully recovered from TJS and ready to go this spring. He's already in camp working out and he's going to get a long look from the Major League coaching staff for a variety of roles. If he pitches well enough he could end up opening the season in the Yankee bullpen, which may be a smart way to transition him into an eventual rotation spot.
The Rest: Jose Ramirez, Shane Greene, Nik Turley, Jose Campos, Bryan Mitchell, Brian Gordon, Bruce Billings
Most of the other starters we'll see this spring are prospects who needed 40-man protection and are still new enough to their current MiL levels to not be serious contenders for a Major League job. Greene and Turley could earn themselves future consideration with a good showing in Triple-A and Ramirez is another like ManBan who could work himself into the bullpen mix. Gordon and Billings are extreme org depth and really just there to fill workout groups and intrasquad game rosters.
** Coming up Wednesday- The Relievers. **