Yes, how Yankees fans long for the days that Graeme Lloyd dominated lefty batters in 1996 and how Mike Stanton was a rock in the bullpen through the great Yankee run of championships. And, how can anyone forget the great Randy Choate experiment? Choate was an attempt to come up with a new lefty specialist through the Yankee Farm System and since the departing days of Choate, who eventually was given up on for the most part, and Stanton left to free agency, the Yankees have had a plethora of new lefty recruits to try and unsuccessfully fill that void. Chris Hammond, Gabe White and even the ancient Jesse Orosco have been some recent attempts to find the right match for that lefty role out of the pen. And, right now, Felix Heredia and C.J. Nitkowski are batting for that spot but with limited success between the two of them. Then why is it, with all of these problems in the role, that the Yankees do not pay a little more attention to one of their own, dominator of lefties, Ben Julianel.
Ben Julianel, not exactly a household name in the world of baseball prospects but, in many cases, it is not household names that wins pennants. Maybe that is exactly why the Yankees are sending Julianel to the Arizona Fall League this year. It would be the ideal time to add him to the 40 man roster for 2005. Well, there was certainly nothing to show that he didn't deserve that honor during the 2004 season. He had an amazing season, especially against left handed hitters. Let's now take a look now at all of his statistics against these lefty hitters.
* All stats compiled against all left handed batters faced this season
By any standards, the above statistics are simply out of this world. Left handed batters had almost no shot whatsoever when they stepped in the box against Julianel this year but not because he had an overpowering heater. To find out a little bit more about him, we'll go more into some scouting notes on the 25 year old lefty.
Repertoire. Fastball, Slider, Three Finger Changeup
Fastball. He had arm surgery in his college days and it took him a while to get his arm strength back to where it is at this point. Even so, his fastball is not overpowering. It ranges anywhere from 87-91 MPH but one thing he does have on it is excellent movement. Julianel is more of an old fashioned lefty and has that ability to come inside to the big left handed hitters with his tailing fastball. Either way, his fastball is nothing more than a good set up pitch for his good off speed stuff.
Other Pitches. As earlier stated, Ben Julianel is not all about his fastball. He will sink or float with his great breaking stuff and the important thing is how intelligently he uses those pitches. His breaking ball has developed into the typical southpaw curve. He starts it at the shoulder and drops it over the plate. But, his bread and butter pitch is, without a doubt, his three finger changeup. It is one of the best you will see and the difference in velocity is enormous between it and his fastball.
Pitching. Ben Julianel comes right after every single hitter and that is what makes him so good against them. He is not afraid at all to come inside on any hitter. He is intelligent enough to know his role in getting the left handed hitters out and pitches according to that idea. Julianel also possesses one of the nastiest changeups you will ever see. It is a three finger changed that is about 10-15 MPH slower than his fastball. He has learned to use it in the right spot to absolutely baffle every type of hitter. Any time a young lefty can master a changeup in the early stages like he has an excellent chance to be successful. You know a guy has dominating off speed stuff when he can strike out so many batters without many fastballs cracking 90 MPH on the radar gun.
So, now that we have an idea of what Ben Julianel has in his bag of tricks, the question is why has this guy been wasting away in High A ball. Granted, he did get a short stint in AA late this season but not enough of a stint to even speak of. Without a doubt, he should easily be in AA next season and perhaps in AAA. But, why has a guy that dominates lefties the way he does, gone completely unnoticed for so long?
Well, some of the reason he is 25 years old and still in High A ball is because of his setback last season while he was still with the Cardinal organization. The Cardinals were just about to promote him from low A ball to High A when there was a change of plans. They were going to teach him to be a relief pitcher. But, while he was disappointed not to be promoted at the time, he was happy about the switch. "I want the chance to play everyday," he told the San Francisco Examiner. Half the reason the Cardinals did this was the improvement they saw in him as their eyes lit up when thinking about his bullpen possibilities. Here is what Julianel's high school coach had to say about his improvement in an interview with the San Francisco Examiner. "He's gone from throwing 84-to-86 miles per hour to throwing 86-to-90 with the filthiest change-up you've ever seen," said Hayes. "He has more break on his slider now and has learned to locate all his pitches better." The switch to the pen turned out to be a stroke of genius as the left hander racked up a 1.05 ERA with a 4-2 record with Peoria. With a performance like this, suddenly Julianel had a lot of value on the trade market.
Ben Julianel was dealt to the Yankees along with Justin Pope for Sterling Hitchcock in August of 2003. "It's clear to me that this is a step up with New York," Julianel had to say after the trade. Well, the fact is that it is a step up. And, if he can step up this year in the Arizona Fall League, he could be just one more step away from being the lefty specialist in the Bronx.