For the purpose of this article we will focus on the pitchers who have been pitching mainly in relief, not the starting pitching prospects who could shift to the bullpen at some point.
RHP, Johnny Barbato: The former 2010 sixth round draft pick was acquired from the San Diego Padres recently this offseason in exchange for big league reliever Shawn Kelley and immediately enters his new organization boasting one of the highest ceilings among the reliever corps. Able to sit anywhere from 95-97 mph with his fastball and armed with a 12-to-6, knee-buckling curveball that ranges from 75-80 mph as well as a quality changeup he can throw for strikes, he's got the depth of a starter's repertoire but the mentality of a power closer. There are some lingering elbow concerns after missing the second half of the 2014 season but with his top-notch control and even better stuff Barbato [in the photo above] could wind up being even better than Kelley was for the Yankees. Double-A tested too, he isn't all that far off from being big league ready either if he proves to remain healthy.
RHP, Nick Goody: Stuff-wise everything came back for the former LSU closer and 2012 sixth round pick in 2014 after making a successful return from Tommy John surgery the previous year. Not only did he return to his normal 91-94 pre-surgery velocity but he actually threw harder a bit more consistently, topping out at 96-97 mph with a little more regularity. His slider was back velocity-wise and break-wise, but his command was a little off with all of his pitches, not surprising since it's the last thing to come back from Tommy John surgery. Still, he has struck out nearly 14 batters per nine innings in his career thus far, boasts a 1.18 WHIP ratio, and has limited batters to a career .218 average. He has true setup man or closer type stuff.
LHP, Jacob Lindgren: Last year's second round selection and top overall pick by the Yankees had one of the more dominating professional debut seasons in recent memory, striking out better than 17 batters per nine innings over four minor league levels. He won't hit 97 mph like some of the other high ceiling relief pitching prospects but he employs an extremely quick tempo on the mound, attacks batters with a 91-94 mph fastball that moves a ton and has a lot of late life, and he has a wipeout slider that batters can't sniff. He can get by on those two pitches alone but he also has a quality changeup with plus potential that he can mix in to keep hitters honest. He's just flat-out intimidating on the mound.
LHP, James Pazos: Lost in the pantheon of high-ceiling relievers is this former 13th round pick in 2012. Despite boasting a fastball that will range anywhere from 91-97 mph, an above average slider, and a quality big league changeup, Pazos gets overshadowed simply because his slider is a tick below that of Lindgren's and because he wasn't a high-round selection. Still, make no mistake, he has great stuff and a real aggressive approach on the mound. Like Lindgren his stuff moves more often than not so the command can be a little erratic but he's so hard to barrel up that he can pitch himself and his team out of jams. And like Lindgren there's some legitimate big league setup man or closer type potential.
Closest to the Majors
RHP, Danny Burawa: The former St. John's closer has always been both one of the highest ceiling relief pitching prospects and one of the better 'sleeper' prospects over the years and it's because of his special arm. He throws only sinking two-seam fastballs and yet he'll average right around 95 mph with it and he even tops out at 100 mph with it on occasion. He also boasts an above average slider with plus potential with all of the movement he generates with it. In fact, few can match his exceptional two-pitch arsenal. The rub with Burawa is that his pitches move so much that it can be quite difficult to control let alone even command and he can pile up walks quicker than most so even though he's adept at inducing ground balls he can get himself into trouble. However, that said, he will be one of the bigger beneficiaries of pitching in front of a big league infield defense and with some Triple-A experience under his belt he is close to being big league ready right now, especially considering he has given up just four home runs combined over his past two seasons.
|GETTING IT DONE: Montgomery still puts up numbers. (Photo: Patrick Teale)|
RHP, Branden Pinder: Part 'sleeper' and part 'highest ceiling' too, this former college starting pitcher continues to fly under the radar despite sitting 93-95 mph with his fastball and striking out a batter per inning pitched in his minor league career thus far. He's continued to be very productive despite constantly tinkering with his repertoire. Once armed with as many as five pitches, he's pared that down to essentially two pitches these days, focusing mostly on his plus fastball-above average slider package and it's allowed him to be more aggressive in the strike zone. He is now Triple-A tested and he too offers setup man or even closer-like potential.
RHP, Jose Ramirez: One of the better starting pitching prospects for years, the Yankees moved Ramirez to the bullpen last Spring Training in an effort to help keep him healthier and the plan didn't exactly work as he collected just 22 innings between Triple-A Scranton and the big leagues while dealing with an oblique issue. Seemingly the forgotten man now, it would be unwise to write off his high potential. Armed with a 95-96 mph fastball and one of the better changeups in the game, and a slider that flashes plus potential, he has a realistic opportunity to be the 2015 version of Dellin Betances as somebody who comes into camp as a rookie, grabs a bullpen spot, and dazzles folks with his stuff and production. He just needs to stay healthy.
RHP, Nick Rumbelow: We tabbed this 2013 seventh round pick a year ago as one of the bigger 'sleeper' prospects because he was underrated by many due to the lack of strikeouts in his debut season and alerted folks that he could become one of the top relief pitching prospects, but even we couldn't have predicted his four-level ascension last year, going from low-A to Triple-A and dominating every step of the way [a combined 2.62 ERA with 81 strikeouts in 58.1 innings]. A little David Robertson-like with his fastball-curveball combination and full-attack style on the mound, like Robertson he won't be long for the minor leagues and could easily pitch in middle relief initially at the big league level right now before eventually sliding further back in the bullpen as he gains more experience.
LHP, Chasen Shreve: Acquired recently this offseason from the Atlanta Braves as part of a package for Manny Banuelos, this former 11th round pick in 2010 from the College of Southern Nevada [Bryce Harper was his catcher for a year] spent the first couple of years in the minor leagues harnessing his fastball control, dialing it down to the 88-90 mph range in the name of throwing more strikes, before eventually letting it rip a little bit more last season and the result was excellent control of a now 91-94 mph fastball. Throw in a quality big league slider-changeup combination and Shreve's game is beginning to get together at the right time as evidenced by his 87 strikeouts in just 64 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last season before an impressive 15-game big league trial late in the season. He'll be in the big league bullpen mix this Spring Training and he has solid middle relief potential, and perhaps even some setup man possibilities long-term too.
LHP, Tyler Webb: Like Rumbelow, this former 2013 tenth round pick out of the University of South Carolina ascended all the way to Triple-A in his first full minor league season and put up some impressive strikeout totals along the way, piling up 94 whiffs in just 68.2 innings over three minor league levels. He doesn't throw particularly hard, sitting mostly in the 89-92 mph range, and neither his breaking ball nor his changeup fall into the plus realm either, but he possesses three quality big league pitches which is a rarity for a reliever and he knows how to mix them in. Like Shreve he has a starter's repertoire out of the bullpen and he has some deception to his pitches with his 6-foot-6 frame. The stuff doesn't spell bonafide setup man but the production does, and he offers a safe projection as a middle reliever initially.
[In Part Two we'll focus on the 'sleeper' prospects, which relievers need to make their move, and which ones are the jury still out on]