Before the 2012 season began, there was talk of an elite rotation for the Yankees Triple-A affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The organization’s top two pitching prospects, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, were both slated to open there, as were lesser known minor league stalwarts D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps, and Adam Warren. As Spring Training progressed and the big club saw newly-acquired Michael Pineda go down with a torn labrum, it became clear that one of these rotation candidates would actually make the major league roster as a long reliever. That honor went to Phelps, a 25-year old making his major league debut.
As Phelps moved up, 39-year old Ramon Ortiz entered the picture on a minor league contract, looking for that one final chance to make it to the majors. Since joining Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Ortiz has been their best pitcher, holding the team lead for wins (6), starter’s ERA (3.13), and innings pitched (77.2). In addition to Ortiz, the Yankees have also signed veteran starters Nelson Figueroa and John Maine in the past month. These two were signed after Manny Banuelos was shut down indefinitely with a sore pitching elbow. Another name to remember is Brett Marshall, a 22-year old who is currently breezing through Double-A Trenton, and has possibly done enough to earn a promotion.
In the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see how the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre rotation will pan out. Recently demoted David Phelps, D.J. Mitchell, and Adam Warren are locks to remain in the rotation. Manny Banuelos, if healthy, will also be guaranteed a rotation spot. This leaves Dellin Betances, once an elite prospect whose lack of control has resulted in him leading the International League in walks and WHIP, Ramon Ortiz, the sturdy veteran who has been the staff ace this season, and a pair of former major leaguers in Figueroa and Maine. Right off the bat, I would send Figueroa to the bullpen and keep him as a long relief/spot starter type, leaving you with three remaining options.
As much as some scouts have liked Dellin Betances in the past, others have began this year to call it how they see it regarding the 24-year old righty. Per Josh Norris, one scout had the following to say about Betances:
“I think he’s a seventh-inning or eighth-inning type of setup arm. I just, in the final analysis, think that’s where he’s going to end up. I just don’t think that the command and his his big body are going to be able to throw allow him to throw enough quality strikes as a starter. He’s got starter stuff. He’s got the change, he’s got the breaking ball, he throws hard, but I think in the final analysis he’s a setup guy.” I think he’s a seventh-inning or eighth-inning type of setup arm. I just, in the final analysis, think that’s where he’s going to end up. I just don’t think that the command and his his big body are going to be able to throw allow him to throw enough quality strikes as a starter. He’s got starter stuff. He’s got the change, he’s got the breaking ball, he throws hard, but I think in the final analysis he’s a setup guy.”
Pretty damning words from one scout, but they also may be accurate. Some have hoped that Betances would become the next Randy Johnson, a tall, dominant front-of-the-rotation starter, but in all actuality, he may be more like David Robertson – a solid 8th inning pitcher who will strike out more than a hitter per inning. Perhaps the time to start that conversion is now, with the Triple-A rotation quickly getting clogged and Betances’ struggles getting larger. With the poor command of his pitches showed to date, it’s hard to believe that Betances will ever make it back to the majors as a starter anyways.
With my thoughts that Betances should be moved to the pen, the no-brainer for the fifth rotation spot is Ramon Ortiz. Being the best pitcher in most statistical categories shouldn’t get you thrown out of the rotation, regardless of what kind of prospects you have behind you – especially when the main challenger is growing closer and closer to the “bust” label every day. So there you have it: when everyone is healthy for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the rotation needs to have a mix of experience (Ortiz), youth (Phelps, Mitchell, Warren) and potential (Banuelos) to be successful, while shuffling Betances to the bullpen to see if he can manage as a relief pitcher.