Sizing Up the Relief Pitching Prospects

PinstripesPlus.com analyzes the Yankees relief pitching prospects. Which relievers have the highest ceilings? Which ones are closest to the the big leagues? Which ones could be potential sleepers? Which ones need to make their move?

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.

Highest Ceiling

RHP, Mark Melancon: Receiving Tommy John surgery after just seven professional appearances, the former University of Arizona closer has been working his way back. He has the stuff - a great curveball, a power sinker, and a developing changeup with plus potential - and the great makeup to be a huge weapon in the back-end of a big league bullpen. He will return to the mound in 2008 and he could move quickly through the minor leagues.

RHP, Kevin Whelan: The first-year Yankee hurler came over from the Detroit Tigers and reconstructed his game last season, refining his mechanics and developing his slider and changeup to give him one of the deepest repertoires among the relievers. His plus fastball-plus splitter combination makes him a huge asset in either a setup or possible closing role down the road and now he has even more weapons. He's got a sky-high ceiling.

Closest to the Majors

RHP, J. Brent Cox: Even though he too is rehabbing his way back from Tommy John surgery, the former University of Texas closer is still one of the relievers closest to the big leagues. Armed with a polished sinker, a great slider, and a pretty solid changeup, not to mention sound mechanics, there isn't much more development ahead of him aside from getting healthy. He won't be in the minor leagues for long upon his return.

QUITE POLISHED: Robertson, even with just one year under his belt, is closing in on the big leagues. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)
RHP, Scott Patterson: Primarily a curveball-fastball pitcher, while he might not have the ceilings of some of the other pitchers on this list, his game is arguably one of the more polished ones. The Yankees are still trying to get him throw his curveball a little harder and improve its break, but now a member of the 40-man roster, he will be on the short list of possible relievers should the need arise at the big league level.

RHP, David Robertson: In a strange twist, Robertson is one of the relief pitching prospects closest to the big leagues even though he has but one full professional season to his credit. He went a combined 8-3 with a 0.96 ERA and 113 strikeouts in 84 innings over three different minor league levels last year. His stuff - a sneaky quick above average fastball, a curveball with plus potential, and rapidly developing changeup - doesn't need much more work. He finished his first year in Double-A and he could jump another level or two in 2008.

The "Sleepers"

RHP, Anthony Claggett: Like Whelan, Claggett came over from the Detroit Tigers in the Gary Sheffield trade but he gets a little overlooked by some because he doesn't light up the radar gun in the same way. He has a solid big league fastball, a very good slider, and a quickly developing changeup. He doesn't have the stuff to pitch in a big league setup role but he could prove to be solid as a possible middle relief option someday.

TRUE POWER: De La Rosa's plus fastball makes him very, very intriguing. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)
LHP, Wilkins De La Rosa: The former outfielder converted to the mound last season and he has quickly shown a power arm. Able to hit 97 MPH from the left side is quite special. With no pitching background prior to the 2007 season, however, his secondary pitches, and more importantly the command of them, will be the focal point in his development. His special arm gives him great potential and the look of a solid 'sleeper' candidate.

RHP, Jonathan Ortiz: The Dominican native is already 18-1 with 35 saves and 1.42 ERA in his young career, thanks in large part to a great changeup. The 22-year old doesn't throw particularly hard, just 88-90 MPH, but he can throw strikes at will. If he can develop his breaking ball into a better pitch, and gain just a tick or two on his fastball, he could be a big-time sleeper down the road. He's worth paying attention to in the coming seasons.

LHP, Garrett Patterson: A checkered injury history and inconsistent statistics have allowed this power southpaw to fly under the radar of most prospect followers. Able to hit 97 MPH and quickly developing a devastating slider, it's his command that has been seriously lacking in the starting role. He has now made the permanent move to the bullpen and many insiders believe he could start tapping his true potential and move quickly.

RHP, Josh Schmidt: The fact the sub-side armer has a devastating slider that negates right-handed batters makes him very intriguing, but he only throws his sinker in the 85-87 MPH range and that gets him quickly dismissed by most. He's far from a lock to reach the big leagues but his success against righties is so special that he could carve himself a nice niche someday and fly under the radar along the way.

RHP, Eric Wordekemper: Anytime you're drafted in the 46th round, even if you are putting up career numbers [8-5, 1.65 ERA, 41 saves] that he has posted, you're going to be consistently underrated. While he won't hit the high-90's with his fastball, he does have impeccable command of a big league fastball-slider combination and a developing splitter. He should not be overlooked as a potential big league middle reliever.

Need to Make Their Move

LHP, Wilkins Arias: Even though this left-hander can hit the 94-95 MPH plateau with his fastball and has a devastating slider to left-handed batters, which could be enough to make him a sleeper of sorts, the fact remains he will turn 28 years old in April and he hasn't gotten to Double-A yet. Even though he signed late [25], he needs to move a bit quicker.

RHP, Jesse Hoover: Hoover is the poster-boy of the need to stay healthy in one's career. Once a flame-thrower who could hit 97 MPH with one of the great curveballs around, he missed two years with a back injury and he hasn't been able to rediscover his old form yet. The potential is still there to do so and become a big-time sleeper, but at 26 years old and not yet reaching the high-A level, time is not on his side.

RHP, Steven Jackson: Coming over from the Diamondbacks in the Randy Johnson trade, Jackson struggled in the starting role and now the Yankees are having him re-invent himself as a reliever by throwing more power four-seam fastballs instead of his signature sinker. He has Triple-A experience and still has potential to help the big league club, but he is also succumbing to the depth of quality talent in the Yankees organization. He needs to have a big season pretty quickly to get into the 40-man mix.

RHP, Jose Valdez: Like Jackson, Valdez is reconstructing himself on the mound. Once a power arm that could routinely hit the mid-90's with his four-seam fastball, injuries derailed his career and now the 25-year old is throwing mostly sinkers. He does have the nasty splitter-slider combination that can't be written off entirely, but he is growing a little long in the tooth to stay in the Yankees' long-term plans for much longer.

The Jury is Still Out

RHP, Stephen Artz: An undrafted Independent League signing, the side-armer has a great slider and terrific command of a big league fastball. He limited opposing South Atlantic League batters to a paltry .137 batting average last season in limited time and he'll need to have similar success to overtake some of the younger power arms.

RHP, Francisco Castillo: One of the Top 50 Yankees Prospects for two years running, thanks in large part to a plus fastball-plus slider combination, the Dominican native hasn't been healthy for the better part of two years. It was finally revealed a bone chip near the nerve in his pitching arm zapped him of his power and now he's working his way back. If he can prove to be healthy once again, he immediately becomes a sleeper.

RHP, Jonathan Hovis: Like Josh Schmidt and Stephen Artz, Hovis has the devastating slider and funky delivery and arm slot to be extremely effective against right-handed batters. He posted a great 1.69 ERA and saved 30 games for the Charleston Riverdogs last season but it remains to be seen if the undrafted free agent signing has the stuff to get the advanced hitters out. He's a bit of a sleeper but he still has something to prove in the pitching-rich Yankees farm system.

RHP, Paul David Patterson: 'PDP' could also fit in the 'sleeper' category with his plus fastball-above average changeup combination, but his inability to pick up a solid breaking pitch has limited his upside thus far. He has great size and good power coming out of his arm, enough to breakout at some point, but he'll need that breaking pitch to become the true 'sleeper' some insiders believe he could be.


Pinstripes Plus Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\nFor 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.
\r\n
\r\nHighest Ceiling
\r\n
\r\nRHP, Mark Melancon: Receiving Tommy John surgery after just seven professional appearances, the former University of Arizona closer has been working his way back. He has the stuff - a great curveball, a power sinker, and a developing changeup with plus potential - and the great makeup to be a huge weapon in the back-end of a big league bullpen. He will return to the mound in 2008 and he could move quickly through the minor leagues.
\r\n
\r\nRHP, Kevin Whelan: The first-year Yankee hurler came over from the Detroit Tigers and reconstructed his game last season, refining his mechanics and developing his slider and changeup to give him one of the deepest repertoires among the relievers. His plus fastball-plus splitter combination makes him a huge asset in either a setup or possible closing role down the road and now he has even more weapons. He's got a sky-high ceiling.
\r\n
\r\nClosest to the Majors
\r\n
\r\nRHP, J. Brent Cox: Even though he too is rehabbing his way back from Tommy John surgery, the former University of Texas closer is still one of the relievers closest to the big leagues. Armed with a polished sinker, a great slider, and a pretty solid changeup, not to mention sound mechanics, there isn't much more development ahead of him aside from getting healthy. He won't be in the minor leagues for long upon his return.
\r\n
\r\n\r\n
QUITE POLISHED: Robertson, even with just one year under his belt, is closing in on the big leagues. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)
RHP, Scott Patterson: Primarily a curveball-fastball pitcher, while he might not have the ceilings of some of the other pitchers on this list, his game is arguably one of the more polished ones. The Yankees are still trying to get him throw his curveball a little harder and improve its break, but now a member of the 40-man roster, he will be on the short list of possible relievers should the need arise at the big league level.
\r\n
\r\nRHP, David Robertson: In a strange twist, Robertson is one of the relief pitching prospects closest to the big leagues even though he has but one full professional season to his credit. He went a combined 8-3 with a 0.96 ERA and 113 strikeouts in 84 innings over three different minor league levels last year. His stuff - a sneaky quick above average fastball, a curveball with plus potential, and rapidly developing changeup - doesn't need much more work. He finished his first year in Double-A and he could jump another level or two in 2008.
\r\n
\r\nThe \"Sleepers\"
\r\n
\r\nRHP, Anthony Claggett: Like Whelan, Claggett came over from the Detroit Tigers in the Gary Sheffield trade but he gets a little overlooked by some because he doesn't light up the radar gun in the same way. He has a solid big league fastball, a very good slider, and a quickly developing changeup. He doesn't have the stuff to pitch in a big league setup role but he could prove to be solid as a possible middle relief option someday.
\r\n
\r\n\r\n
TRUE POWER: De La Rosa's plus fastball makes him very, very intriguing. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)
LHP, Wilkins De La Rosa: The former outfielder converted to the mound last season and he has quickly shown a power arm. Able to hit 97 MPH from the left side is quite special. With no pitching background prior to the 2007 season, however, his secondary pitches, and more importantly the command of them, will be the focal point in his development. His special arm gives him great potential and the look of a solid 'sleeper' candidate.
\r\n
\r\nRHP, Jonathan Ortiz: The Dominican native is already 18-1 with 35 saves and 1.42 ERA in his young career, thanks in large part to a great changeup. The 22-year old doesn't throw particularly hard, just 88-90 MPH, but he can throw strikes at will. If he can develop his breaking ball into a better pitch, and gain just a tick or two on his fastball, he could be a big-time sleeper down the road. He's worth paying attention to in the coming seasons.
\r\n
\r\nLHP, Garrett Patterson: A checkered injury history and inconsistent statistics have allowed this power southpaw to fly under the radar of most prospect followers. Able to hit 97 MPH and quickly developing a devastating slider, it's his command that has been seriously lacking in the starting role. He has now made the permanent move to the bullpen and many insiders believe he could start tapping his true potential and move quickly.
\r\n
\r\nRHP, Josh Schmidt: The fact the sub-side armer has a devastating slider that negates right-handed batters makes him very intriguing, but he only throws his sinker in the 85-87 MPH range and that gets him quickly dismissed by most. He's far from a lock to reach the big leagues but his success against righties is so special that he could carve himself a nice niche someday and fly under the radar along the way.
\r\n
\r\nRHP, Eric Wordekemper: Anytime you're drafted in the 46th round, even if you are putting up career numbers [8-5, 1.65 ERA, 41 saves] that he has posted, you're going to be consistently underrated. While he won't hit the high-90's with his fastball, he does have impeccable command of a big league fastball-slider combination and a developing splitter. He should not be overlooked as a potential big league middle reliever.
\r\n
\r\nNeed to Make Their Move
\r\n
\r\nLHP, Wilkins Arias: Even though this left-hander can hit the 94-95 MPH plateau with his fastball and has a devastating slider to left-handed batters, which could be enough to make him a sleeper of sorts, the fact remains he will turn 28 years old in April and he hasn't gotten to Double-A yet. Even though he signed late [25], he needs to move a bit quicker.
\r\n
\r\nRHP, Jesse Hoover: Hoover is the poster-boy of the need to stay healthy in one's career. Once a flame-thrower who could hit 97 MPH with one of the great curveballs around, he missed two years with a back injury and he hasn't been able to rediscover his old form yet. The potential is still there to do so and become a big-time sleeper, but at 26 years old and not yet reaching the high-A level, time is not on his side.
\r\n
\r\nRHP, Steven Jackson: Coming over from the Diamondbacks in the Randy Johnson trade, Jackson struggled in the starting role and now the Yankees are having him re-invent himself as a reliever by throwing more power four-seam fastballs instead of his signature sinker. He has Triple-A experience and still has potential to help the big league club, but he is also succumbing to the depth of quality talent in the Yankees organization. He needs to have a big season pretty quickly to get into the 40-man mix.
\r\n
\r\nRHP, Jose Valdez: Like Jackson, Valdez is reconstructing himself on the mound. Once a power arm that could routinely hit the mid-90's with his four-seam fastball, injuries derailed his career and now the 25-year old is throwing mostly sinkers. He does have the nasty splitter-slider combination that can't be written off entirely, but he is growing a little long in the tooth to stay in the Yankees' long-term plans for much longer.
\r\n
\r\nThe Jury is Still Out
\r\n
\r\nRHP, Stephen Artz: An undrafted Independent League signing, the side-armer has a great slider and terrific command of a big league fastball. He limited opposing South Atlantic League batters to a paltry .137 batting average last season in limited time and he'll need to have similar success to overtake some of the younger power arms.
\r\n
\r\nRHP, Francisco Castillo: One of the Top 50 Yankees Prospects for two years running, thanks in large part to a plus fastball-plus slider combination, the Dominican native hasn't been healthy for the better part of two years. It was finally revealed a bone chip near the nerve in his pitching arm zapped him of his power and now he's working his way back. If he can prove to be healthy once again, he immediately becomes a sleeper.
\r\n
\r\nRHP, Jonathan Hovis: Like Josh Schmidt and Stephen Artz, Hovis has the devastating slider and funky delivery and arm slot to be extremely effective against right-handed batters. He posted a great 1.69 ERA and saved 30 games for the Charleston Riverdogs last season but it remains to be seen if the undrafted free agent signing has the stuff to get the advanced hitters out. He's a bit of a sleeper but he still has something to prove in the pitching-rich Yankees farm system.
\r\n
\r\nRHP, Paul David Patterson: 'PDP' could also fit in the 'sleeper' category with his plus fastball-above average changeup combination, but his inability to pick up a solid breaking pitch has limited his upside thus far. He has great size and good power coming out of his arm, enough to breakout at some point, but he'll need that breaking pitch to become the true 'sleeper' some insiders believe he could be.
\r\n
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