Better Relief Options Ready At Triple-A

Last night’s loss had a lot of components to it, but one of the chief ones was that the Yankees were forced to go to Buddy Carlyle in an important situation. They were forced to do so because Joba needed a day off and Rafael Soriano sat day-to-day. The Yankee bullpen is deep enough that we don’t often have to go to the bottom two guys in important situations. But occasionally we do, so we should put the best guys possible in those spots. I suppose there is an argument for Luis Ayala as one of those pitchers, but I think Buddy Carlyle’s status is going to wane pretty quickly.

This conversation is important because the Yankees have a very solid option available at Triple-A. Ryan Pope (who is on the 40-man) was injured to start the season, which probably caused the Luis Ayala phenomenon, but has since returned to Triple-A and looked great. A brief history of Pope for those who are not familiar with the lower-profile prospect:

The Yankees drafted Ryan Pope in the 3rd round of the 2007 draft. He was a real surprise at the time – an unknown right-handed pitcher out of the Savannah College of Art and Design. He had a solid-average fastball and easy throwing motion, but not much else to justify his draft spot. The consensus was similar to the Cito Culver consensus – the Yankees found their guy, and made an aggressive pick based on their own scouting reports.

Pope had a thoroughly boring rise through the minor leagues as a starting pitcher. For two seasons, he remained healthy while pitching 110+ innings and moving through the minor leagues. At times he flashed plus control, but his walk rates rose as he was unable to put batters away in the higher minor leagues. The Yankees eventually converted him to the bullpen mid way through 2010, and he really took off. His fastball played much better in shorter stints, and his control became an asset again. He functioned as Double-A Trenton’s closer, coming into 20 games as a relief pitcher. We don’t have splits easily available, but if my memory is reliable, he pitched to a strong ERA with a K/9 near 9.0 and strong walk rates.

Pope has pitched 9 1/3 innings so far this season: 5 in a rehab stint at High-A, and 4.1 in Triple-A. He only allowed runs in one appearance: letting four runs cross the plate on May 10th. Yet, he’s walked no hitters at Triple-A so far, and has been strong overall.

In an idea world, where Rafael Soriano was undeniably healthy and pitching well, and the Yankees weren’t overburdening a few middle relief pitchers, you might want to leave Ryan Pope in to get some more Triple-A experience. But for a relief pitcher showing strong stuff and two full Double-A pitchers, I think he is worth a chance. For a guy like Pope, Triple-A experience is less important. He’s never going to be an all-star, but Pope is the kind of guy who could make a name for himself in the middle innings of games for a long time.

I’d like to quickly mention one more option that I doubt will be explored any time soon: D.J. Mitchell. He’s one of only two members of the Triple-A rotation inspiring a lot of confidence right now (David Phelps being the other), but long term should be considered a relief option. I think the Yankees will stick with him as a starter for the time being, both as MLB insurance and as trade bait, and not consider him for short-term fixes. He’s sinker-throwing ground ball pitcher who struggles to get lefties out. That trend has continued into this season, despite his strong ERA and performance against right-handers. We don’t know if he’ll have a Ryan Pope-like transformation when he is finally converted to relief, but he has the potential to be both the guy paired with a LOOGY in key situations and someone who comes in when we’re in need of a tough double-play. Think about Paul Quantrill. Promoting D.J. would be a very aggressive move on the Yankees part, so I don’t expect it to happen.

About EJ Fagan

E.J. Fagan been blogging about Yankee baseball since 2006. He is a Ph.D. student at University of Texas at Austin.

One thought on “Better Relief Options Ready At Triple-A

  1. Nobody thought Dave Robertson was going to be a major bullpen player and look what he’s become since being called up.

    I agree that Pope should get a shot, given the current Soriano injury situation and the fact that it forces Joe to have to use Buddy Carlyle for meaningful innings.

    I would rather see Meg Ryan or The Pope out on the mound in a tie game than Buddy Carlyle, so Ryan Pope is definitely worth a shot.