Tool Time: Top Ten Curveballs

The Yankees had some pitching prospects make huge advancements with their curveballs in 2009, so much so that a couple of them have shot up the rankings. Here are the Top Ten Curveballs in the Yankee farm system.

Honorable Mention

Same Elam: Elam wouldn't make this list on the control and command of his curveball, but on break alone it's definitely one of the better curveball offerings. It is already a legitimate big league strikeout weapon when he's showing consistent command of it, but that isn't very often. When he shows he can do that, he could really start moving.

Brett Gerritse: Last year's 11th round pick has a lot of work to do ironing out his mechanics and getting consistent pitches, but the curveball has proven to be pretty good already. It sits mostly 80 mph with good spin and it's an above average pitch right now. The prevailing thought is that in time, with more repetition throwing it from the higher release point, he could make it a plus pitch in time.

COMING BACK?: Horne's curveball is one of the best when he's going right. (Photo: Jessica Kovalcin/PinstripesPlus.com)
Alan Horne: When he's completely healthy and going right, Horne's curveball is absolutely one of the best in the farm system. He has been rehabbing for the better part of two years, however, and while the curveball has shown at times to be the same old reliable pitch it once was, it's not quite there yet on a consistent basis. It's getting oh-so-close though.

George Kontos: Kontos' better secondary pitch is his plus slider, but he has gotten his curveball into somewhat similar territory now that he has been able to throw a distinctively different curveball. His problem in the past, and it is something that still happens from time to time, is his slider would morph into more of a slurve when he tried to throw his curveball.

Lance Pendleton: Already 26 years old, Pendleton isn't a prospect in the truest sense age-wise. But he did wind up leading the farm system in strikeouts last season with 130, thanks mostly to his plus curveball. It's a Top Ten pitch overall but he barely misses the cut due to his overall big league projection.

Kelvin Perez: His curveball is also one of the better ones in the organization. He throws a power curve in the 82-84 mph range and it dives over the plate when it's going right. The movement is tremendous, but as is the case with most young hurlers, his command of it can be sketchy for stretches. More consistent command will put his curveball in the Top Ten for sure.

Matt Richardson: Richardson's curveball is on the precipice of being a mainstay in the Top Ten. He not only throws a knee-bending curve in the 76-78 mph range, he can command it better than most young pitchers and he has the confidence to throw it any situation.

Adam Warren: There are times where Warren's curveball is a true plus big league pitch, but there are other times where both the break and the command of it are off. The raw potential is there for it to be special, he just needs more consistency throwing it.

Top Ten Curveballs

10) Manny Banuelos: Based on just 2009 alone, Banuelos' curveball probably wouldn't crack the Top Ten. He had a legit plus curveball in 2008 and showed it again in Spring Training last year before inexplicably being unable to throw it for a good portion of the season last year. He finally found it again by season's end, and while the consistent command of it is lacking at times, the break on it is spectacular. It is a plus pitch movement-wise, but he could use more consistency with it. Should that happen, it's good enough to headline these rankings someday.

9) D.J. Mitchell: Considering how far his curveball - a pitch that used to be a below average 'slurve' when he first signed - has come in such a short period of time, his inclusion in the Top Ten is quite impressive. It sits 78-90 mph and it's a legit strikeout pitch, and he also has the confidence to throw it any count now.

FINALLY HERE: Noesi finally made his slurvy breaking pitch into a consistent plus curveball. (Photo: Mark LoMoglio/PinstripesPlus.com)
8) Ivan Nova: Nova isn't a strikeout pitcher and that allows his plus curveball to be seriously underrated. While he does have three above average to plus pitches, the fact is his curveball is really the only pitch that he goes to for the strikeout. Don't let his lower strikeout totals fool you - his curveball is very good.

7) Hector Noesi: The main reason why Noesi came out of nowhere to have the big breakout season he had last year and grab a 40-man roster spot was the development of his curveball. Once a slurvy breaking ball that he commanded well, he finally developed the big-time break on it and now it's a true curveball, and the stellar command of his breaking ball hasn't changed.

6) Jairo Heredia: Heredia's shoulder aches last season kept him and his plus curveball off of the mound for the better part of the 2009 season. While the time off affected his fastball command, it didn't really impact his curveball much. He can still paint the corners with his 75-78 mph curveball and it's a big-time strikeout pitch.

DON'T BLAME THE CURVE: Bleich's struggles in 2009 had nothing to do with his curveball. (Photo: Kenny Barto/PinstripesPlus.com)
5) Jeremy Bleich: Bleich unfairly gets criticized for his stuff when in actuality his stuff, and his curveball in particular, is plus. He gets consistent break with his curveball, he shows consistent command of it, and it's a big league strikeout pitch. His curveball alone will take him pretty far.

4) Mark Melancon: Melancon's less than stellar big league debut has allowed his plus curveball to become seriously underrated. He failed to duplicate his plus break and the great command of his minor league curveball in the bigs, but it's there. A little more big league experience and more confidence should allow his curveball to shine soon.

3) Andrew Brackman: Brackman's horrendous statistical professional debut season last year had nothing to do with his plus curveball. While his fastball command was way off at times and his changeup command was even worse, his curveball was the one constant in an otherwise frustrating season. It's a power knuckle-curveball that dives and dances over the plate, and it's his big strikeout weapon.

2) Dellin Betances: The similarities to Brackman are actually uncanny, including inconsistent fastball command, struggles with the changeup, and a consistent plus knuckle-curveball that he can command despite everything else evading him. Dealing with elbow issues lately, however, it remains to be seen if they have affected his curveball any.

1) Christian Garcia: The two constants over the last six years have been Garcia's inability to remain healthy and his curveball being rated tops in the organization. It's a power knuckle-curveball that averages 81-84 mph and it's arguably one of the best strikeout pitches overall. In fact, it's his curveball that is one of the biggest reasons he is constantly compared to A.J. Burnett.

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