(Kelley rocking the stunner shades. Courtesy of Anthony McCarron)
2 days. 2 days away from pitchers and catchers reporting to the Tampa complex to begin pitching and catching. And running and stretching and fielding drills and all that other good stuff. Baseball is so close to being back in our lives that I can almost taste it, and to keep the P&C preview going this week it's time to break down another group scheduled to start work on Friday. On Monday it was the starting pitchers, today it's their shorter workload counterparts in the bullpen. There's a few more open spots in the 'pen than there is in the rotation right now, and even more guys vying for those spots. Here's what to expect and who to watch from the reliever crew.
David Robertson- At long last, he got the closer job he rightfully deserves and D-Rob will head into spring camp without any competition for the job. He's been one of the best relievers in baseball for the last 3 years and there's no reason to expect that to change now. Now in his final year of arbitration eligibility and making $5.22 mil this year, D-Rob will be pitching for a fat new contract in 2015, one the Yankees would be wise to re-sign him to before he hits the open market.
Shawn Kelley- The setup man to start the year, it remains to be seen how well Kelley will do in the follow-up to his pretty good Yankee debut season and how long he'll hold this job. He's got dynamic strikeout stuff when he's locating, but his command can get a little iffy at times and his flyball tendencies are always dangerous in Yankee Stadium.
Matt Thornton- The new LOOGY in town, Thornton will be tasked with replacing the underrated Boone Logan as Joe's primary lefty out of the bullpen. Now in his late 30s, Thornton isn't the smoke-throwing monster he used to be. His effectiveness against right-handed hitters has wavered over the last few seasons and to make the most out of his 2-year deal, Joe should limit his exposure to righties.
Preston Claiborne- Mentioned by name by Joe as one of the guys he envisioned having a guaranteed spot in the Opening Day 'pen, Claiborne will also be looking to build on his first campaign in pinstripes and could be the next in line for the setup role if Kelley falters. His Major League ceiling is still up in the air (get it?), but the foundation is there for Claiborne to become the next good homegrown reliever.
The Shoo-Ins If They Don't Win A Starting Job:
Davadam Pharrenelps- I'm just going lump David Phelps and Adam Warren together for this one because I think they'll both end up with 2 of the open bullpen spots should they both fail to win the competition for the 5th starter job. Both have shown themselves to be effective in long and short relief situations (obligatory SSS reference), and I could see Phelps thriving in a 1-inning role where he can air his fastball out.
The High-Upside Young Arms:
Dellin Betances- Size and stuff for days, the story is and always has been lack of command with Betances. It's why he was moved from the rotation to the bullpen full-time last year and it's why he's basically down to his last life as a potential roster staple going forward. His strikeout numbers in Triple-A after the conversion were encouraging, but I expect the Yanks will take advantage of his 1 remaining option and start him there unless he blows everybody away in ST.
Jose Ramirez- His last chance status as a starter is due more to health and durability problems than performance, but command remains an issue for Ramirez too. If either or both of those things continue to look like a problem area in camp, he could sneak into a back end bullpen job based on his plus-plus stuff.
Mark Montgomery- Doesn't have the luxury of a 40-man spot like Betances and Ramirez, so Montgomery will have to be really, really good to make the team out of camp. I'm talking early 2012 type of good. When his command is on he's borderline unhittable, and his slider is good enough right now to make Major League hitters look foolish. Solid sleeper candidate to steal a job.
The Quad-A Veterans:
Matt Daley- We got a little taste of him last September when he threw 6 scoreless innings over 7 appearances with an 8/0 K/BB ratio. He was actually a boss in the SWB bullpen last year too and had some good results for the Rockies from '09-2011. If I had to pick right now, I'd say he's the guy who gets the 7th spot out of camp.
Robert Coello- Curious to see if his forkball can be as nasty this year as it was in a small sample size last year. If he doesn't pitch well enough or doesn't get enough chances to show it off and wow the coaching staff, I wouldn't mind seeing him stick around in the SWB 'pen as an insurance arm.
David Herndon- Got the David Aardsma treatment last year when the Yanks signed him and let him use 2013 as a MiL rehab season from Tommy John. His Major League track record is short and not all that impressive and he's never really shown legit swing-and-miss stuff until 2012, but you never know...
The 2nd LOOGY Competitors:
Cesar Cabral- I think he's got a better shot at stealing the last spot than most people think based on his SSS results from 2013. He's got shutdown stuff, he just turned 25 yesterday, and he plunked David Ortiz last year, so if nothing else he'll always hold a special place in my heart.
Francisco Rondon- Rondon's stock this year isn't as high as it was last year and that's because Cabral is healthy again. He also wasn't anything special in Trenton or SWB last season, so his uphill climb to a roster spot will be even steeper.
Fred Lewis- He probably deserves to be in the group below, but Lewis showed the ability to miss bats at 3 different MiL levels in 2013 and didn't give up a single run in 11 AZFL appearances.
The Rest: Chase Whitley, Chris Leroux, Jim Miller, Dan Burawa, Yoshinori Tateyama
I want to put Whitley in a higher group because I've always liked him as a back end mop-up guy. But if that's all his ceiling is and he hasn't broken in yet, he's probably not going to, at least not without a lot of injury help. Burawa is the most interesting one of this group because he's still young and can bring the heat when he's healthy. The rest are just bullpen group fodder and early roster cut candidates.
** Coming up on Friday- The Catchers. **