Friday, May 3, 2013

Preston Claiborne, Come On Down...

(Courtesy of the AP)

You're the next contestant on "Unheralded Yankee Minor League Relief Pitcher Breaks Into to The Show."  After Joba Chamberlain was put on the DL yesterday, the buzz was that Mark Montgomery would get the call up to take his place in the bullpen, buzz that only grew when Cash name dropped him among others yesterday afternoon.  One of those others was Preston Claiborne, and based on a round of tweets from teammates this morning it's all but confirmed that Claiborne is going to be the one to get that call.

Claiborne has been a steady fixture in the Yankee system since being drafted in 2010, but comes with none of the hype and fanfare of someone like Montgomery or Joba back in '07.  If you aren't familiar with Claiborne and his body of work, feel free to get brought up to speed after the jump.

Claiborne was taken in the 17th round of the 2010 draft out of Tulane, one of the typical middle round relief prospects the Yankees have become so good at finding and developing.  He's a good size right-hander, standing 6'2"/215 and he works primarily with a fastball/slider combo, the fastball living 92-95 and the slider in the mid-80s.  He's also shown the workings of a changeup here and there, but that's not a pitch he would use much if at all in a Major League game.

Like most college relievers, Claiborne moved quickly through the system after getting drafted, going from SS Staten Island to Triple-A SWB by the end of 2012.  Last season, Claiborne started to put himself on the prospect map by pitching to a 2.22/2.99 ERA/FIP split in 48.2 innings at Double-A with 9.06 K/9 and then following that up with a solid 33.1 innings at Triple-A (4.05/3.32).  He was very impressive in spring camp this year, and had to be in the mix for one of the back end bullpen spots, and he hasn't missed a beat since the MiL season started, pitching to a 3.48/1.55 split with 10 K and just 1 BB in 10.1 IP.

Those walks are the one thing that has kept Claiborne from truly becoming a legitimate prospect.  He struggled with command a bit earlier in his MiL career, and did have a 4.44 BB/9 in Double-A last season.  Overall, though, he has improved in that department and his low BB rate early this season is a testament to that.  Claiborne has always had a healthy K rate, so stuff isn't an issue for him, and when he can locate his pitches and keep the ball down in the zone he can be very effective.

This is likely more an audition than anything else, assuming Joba's oblique strain is truly as "mild" as the team said it is.  Claiborne wasn't on the 40-man roster and someone will have to be cut to make room for him, most likely Cody Eppley.  The fact that the Yankees elected to go that route rather than the easy one with Eppley shows that they see something in Claiborne and want to reward him for his strong year so far as well as see if he's capable of being a real contributing part to future bullpens.  Hype or no hype, Claiborne has proven himself to be worthy of this opportunity.  Here's hoping he makes something of it and helps fortify the middle of the bullpen hierarchy while Joba's on the mend.

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