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Yankee Pitching Prospects and Their Injuries

September 3, 2009 BY ALEX EISENBERG 5 Comments

It’s been a rough year for New York Yankees pitching prospects on a number of counts and the perception seems to be the Yankees have had more pitching-related injuries than your normal team. I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s the perception. Let’s do a run down of some of the injuries that have hit the Yankees…

Dellin Betances underwent Tommy John surgery just a few a days ago. There were warning signs in the past that Betances would eventually undergo Tommy John surgery and the question seemed to be when, not if it would happen.

*Edited on 9-3-09 – According to Greg Fertel of Pending Pinstripes (see the comments section), Betances did not have TJ surgery as first reported. Tyler Kepner reports it was “ligament reinforcement” surgery, which is a less severe type of surgery.

And then there is Andrew Brackman…his season hasn’t been derailed by injuries this year…just by performance. But he did have Tommy John surgery after he was drafted — which is something the Yankees knew he had to undergo. But he’s put up some of the most bizarre lines I’ve ever seen from a pitcher. I came across Brackman’s May 26th line when I was browsing through that day’s box scores — 3.1 IP, 1 H, 3 R, 1 SO, 10 BB. Ten walks in 3.1 innings!! I literally had to make sure I was lining up the columns correctly. But no, he in fact did throw 10 walks in 3+ innings.

Now, we know Tommy John surgery takes usually more than a year to recover from, but his control is so bad and out of whack, I doubt he ever becomes much of a major league pitcher.

We move on to Brett Marshall. I hyped him up pretty good…I liked what I saw from a stuff/command standpoint in his draft video though that was obviously a small sample size of footage, but I also liked what the scouting reports said as well. The red flags were definitely there, however. To list them off:

1. He was reportedly throwing 95+ by the end of his high school year, but he was definitely in the low 90′s at the start of the season. When a pitcher experiences a significant velocity increase in a short time span, often times a pitcher’s arm just can’t carry the extra force that is being applied and the arm breaks down. Everybody loves when a pitcher’s velocity suddenly increases, but it should be noted that a pitcher’s arm might need some time to get used to that extra force.

2. That leads to probably the biggest factor in Marshall’s demise — abuse. Marshall threw 146 pitches in his high school championship game. It wouldn’t be a surprise to me if he had other outings where he accumulated high pitch counts as well. During a time where Marshall’s arm should probably have been babied a little bit more, he threw an excessive amount of pitches.

3. Marshall’s mechanics weren’t the cleanest as he relied a good deal on his arm to generate velocity. He noted the Yankees completely overhauled his mechanics. Betances went through the same overhaul Marshall did. Maybe the mechanics change had something to do with the injury or maybe the damage from his previous mechanics was already done.

4. Marshall’s best breaking pitch was a hard slider and the slider is often associated with a hard torquing of the arm. The slider was scrapped for a curveball, but again maybe the damage was already done.

Add it up and you have a very high risk pitcher. That’s a lesson learned for me and something I should take into more consideration.

George Kontos is another pitcher that went down from Tommy John surgery. Kontos wasn’t the most abused pitcher in college, but he did wrack up a good deal of pitcher abuse points according to Boyd’s World, which uses a pitcher abuse rating system. The year Kontos was drafted, he threw 95.1 IP at Northwestern. The Yankees compounded that by allowing him to throw 78 more innings, which was almost 2.5 times more innings than he threw the previous year. You’re only supposed to increase a pitcher’s workload about 20 or 30 innings a year. Not surprisingly, Kontos spent about half of the next season on the DL with shoulder issues.

Other injured pitchers:

Alan Horne – He was by my count the 11th most abused pitcher in college baseball in 2005. I’m sure that took its toll on his arm.

Christian Garcia- I’ve pointed out before he has high risk mechanics.

I might be missing a few pitchers, but it does seem the Yankees have a high number of injured pitching prospects. So the question should be asked if the Yankees are doing something detrimental to the health of their pitchers. That I don’t know because I’m looking at the situation from an outsider’s perspective, but based on the data we’ve seen, the Yankees have taken their share of high risk pitchers. Brackman had surgery before throwing a pitch for the Yankees and Mark Melancon had TJ surgery after just 10 innings of work. They’ve taken pitchers with questionable mechanics and heavy work loads. I think it’s a combination of factors that have worked against the Yankees, the first one being the amount of abuse some of the Yankee arms have been subject to before entering the organization.

But let’s not act like the Yankees don’t have quality pitching pitching prospects. I’m a big fan of D.J. Mitchell. Arodys Vizcaino — another pitcher that went down with an injury, but it was to his back and not his arm — has enormous upside and I’m looking forward to watching one or two of his starts in the upcoming weeks.

Zach McAllister, Hector Noesi, Wilkin de la Rosa, Jairo Heredia, Manuel Banuelos, and David Phelps are all good prospects in their own right and have varying degrees of upside. So while they’ve endured a bad run of injuries, they have at least assembled a decent stable of depth to make up for any casualties.

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  • 5 Comments »

    • Greg F. said:

      http://twitter.com/TylerKepner/statuses/3698910287

      Turns out Betances didn’t have Tommy John. Thanks for the info, though. I hadn’t realized how much Kontos was abused the year he was drafted.

    • Steve G. said:

      In the draft lately, it seems like even the low and mid-market teams, excluding the Blue Jays, have been more willing to go above slot and take a risk on the bigger talents – The Tigers and Porcello, the Cubs and Vitters, Baltimore and Wieters. While the Yankees and Red Sox still have access to guys who have priced themselves out of the plans of other teams, it does mean that prospects with great stuff but questionable health – Ryan Westmoreland, Andrew Brackman – are the ones who slip to them.

    • Baseballbriefs.com said:

      Baseballbriefs.com tracking back Yankee Pitching Prospects and Their Injuries…

      Baseballbriefs.com tracking back Yankee Pitching Prospects and Their Injuries…

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      Thanks for the info, Greg. I’ve updated my post.

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      Steve, I wouldn’t call Porcello, Vitters, or Wieters risks. Wieters was about as safe a pick as you could get. Porcello was a highly advanced high school pitcher with clean mechanics and great stuff. Vitters was one of the top prep hitters in the 07′ draft. Plus, the risks of drafting a hitter are much different than drafting a pitcher. Brackman slipped in part because of performance, injuries, and cost.

      I do agree, mid and lower market teams are starting to invest more money into the draft and that’s something they should of been doing all along. Take a team that isn’t going to compete, who signs an average level veteran for maybe 3 years, $18 million. Instead of signing that player, they could have taken a big chunk of that money and invest it into players that drop due to signability issues. Those lower market teams have to do that because they can’t compete with the higher market teams in free agency. They have to make up for that somehow. The only problem with that is the big market teams do it as well, especially the Red Sox.