The Yankees and Pitching Prospects

Before I get into this, my first post at The Yankee Analysts, I’d like to thank everyone here for giving me this opportunity and for welcoming me so fully to the team. I have accepted this position knowing that TYA is not only among the best Yankees blogs on the internet, but among the best team centered blogs in all of baseball, and I hope I have something worthwhile to contribute.

I thought I’d introduce myself to the readers by exploring a phenomena I’ve been considering for quite some time now. Given plethora of young arms in the system – Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Hector Noesi, David Phelps, and Adam Warren - ostensibly close to their shot with the big league club, it’s worth noting how little success the organization has had developing starting pitchers during Brian Cashman’s tenure as general manager. In fact, since Cashman took over before the 1998 season, his system has succeeded in developing exactly one front of the rotation starter.

As with most informed Yankees fans, I have a healthy respect for the job Cashman has done over the past fourteen seasons. Thirteen playoff births, six American League pennants, and four World Series wins make for an impressive resume. Yet one has to wonder how much more this franchise could have accomplished since the turn of the century, and how much better a position it would be in, had the farm system produced the same kind of pitching talent as it drafted. Oh, the hitters are there. Robbie Cano and Brett Gardner are already All-Star caliber talents and Jesus Montero showed last fall how quickly he could reach that level. In fact the bullpen has also been kept afloat in recent years by a healthy influx of young talent. Yet all the current rotation has to show for a decade of high draft picks and bonus babies in Latin America is a mid-rotation starter and a guy who can’t stay healthy – or pitch up to expectations when he is.

The question one must ask then is simple. Why? Why is it that an organization with such a large payroll advantage over the rest of the league, an organization that has focused heavily on the draft over the past half-decade and has developed a plethora of offensive pieces and pitching prospects, failed to develop any of those arms into front of the rotation stalwarts? Is it a question of poor resource allocation? Poor draft picks and signings? Has the organization mismanaged talent? Or is it as simple as bad luck? Let’s take a trip back to the good old days of the 90′s dynasty and try to find out.

Brian Cashman was named general manager of the New York Yankees in February of 1998 and at the Major League level he inherited quite the team. The first – and, so far, only – GM in baseball history to win the World Series in his first three seasons, Cashman inherited a home grown core of Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada, a core that not only led him to great success in the late 90s, but in the later part of the next decade with a World Series victory in 2009.

The farm system Cashman inherited, however, was fairly weak. The Yankees best prospect was Ricky Ledee, a 24-year-old outfield with some pop who hit .309 with just ten home runs the year before. No other Yankee minor leaguer made Baseball America’s top-50 prospects list. The system had it’s share of offensive talent. Within a couple of years, Nick Johnson and Juan Rivera would be top prospects, on their way to productive Major League careers. Mike Lowell as well, though he left the organization earlier. Jackson Melian was just getting starter, an 18-year-old at the backend of BA’s list. Pitching? Nowhere to be seen.

Cashman’s Minor League strategy early in his career was similar to his Major League strategy: win now. Instead of spending heavily on talent at the lowest levels, the Yankees front office focused on high-profile international players. Early in 1998 Orlando Hernandez signed with the Yankees. He shot through the system, and by June was winning games in the Bronx. Alfonso Soriano also signed out of Japan. He would make his big league debut within a year. El Duquecito, Adrian Hernandez, signed two years later and by April of 2001 he was pitching in pinstripes.

The low levels of the farm system were not entirely barren. D’Angelo Jimenez, and John-Ford Griffin, and Willy Mo Pena, and even Drew Henson made many a top prospect list preceding some careers of varying success in other organizations. Still… where was the pitching? Perhaps the one top prospects to come out of the Yankees drafts and signing classes early in the past decade, Brandon Claussen, struck out 220 in 2001 before undergoing Tommy John Surgery. Was this simply a case of bad luck? Of course not. With such little organizational depth on the mound, one injury was crippling. Claussen never returned to form and the system suffered.

In the early years of Cashman’s tenure in New York, the reason for the organizations failure to develop young pitching was quite simply a failure to draft and sign talented young pitching. It was a failure of scouting and of resource allocation. The big league payroll was escalating. The front office was entirely focused on the near term. Finding internal solutions to rotation problems was never a priority. This strategy came to a head in 2003 with the signing of Hideki Matsui and Jose Contreras.

By the middle of the decade, though, depth was on the rise. Though most of the mid-decade Yankees system, from Julio DePaula, Ramon Ramirez, Sean Henn, and Christian Garcia, and Steven White went nowhere, Cashman and co. through just enough darts. After signing for an unprecedented for the region 1.9 million dollars out of Taiwan in 2000, Chien-Ming Wang slowly and surely ascended the Yankees system, landing in New York in 2005 at 25 years old with a hard sinker and good command. The rest, of course, is history as Wang won 46 games over the next three seasons and nearly captured a Cy Young award in his second year. Though few Yankees fans would see the middle of the decade systems as a source of pride, quantity had won out in a single instance. The Yankees teams of ’05 and ’06 and ’07 had been saved by their system. Perhaps for this reasons, but perhaps because of a power struggled that occurred just around then, more was on the horizon. The resource allocation and scouting problems were about to be solved.

Enter Phil Hughes. 6’5″ and 240 pounds. A mid-90s fastball and a knee-breaking curveball. Exceptional command. The 18-year-old from Southern California was the Yankees first round pick in 2004. Hughes signaled the beginning of a new era in Yankee-land. A picture perfect prospect, he shot through the system, dominating at every level before making his big league debut in 2007 as maybe the best pitching prospect in the league. Then came the 2006 draft. Ian Kennedy, a polished righty from USC with second starter potential. Joba Chamberlain, a righty from Nebraska with a big fastball and slider and big injury concerns. And Zach McAllister, and George Kontos, and Betances, and Mark Melancon, and Daniel McCutchen, and David Robertson. And then, before the 2007 season, the Yankees traded Gary Sheffield for Humberto Sanchez, the Tigers top pitching prospect and a guy with a poor health record. Though Sanchez’s impact was minimal in the long run, the fact that Sheffield, an MVP candidate just a year or two earlier, could be moved for a prospect was astonishing. The pitching onslaught had begun.

Depth was still no guarantee of success, of course. Kontos, and Alan Horne, and Sanchez, and a number of other pitchers suffered a series of injuries that derailed their minor league careers. McCutchen and McAllister and Ross Oldendorph – acquired for Randy Johnson after 2006 – were traded eventually and Betances proved a much longer development than initially expected. But the resources were there. And so, finally, was the elite talent. Hughes and Chamberlain and Kennedy came up through the system, not exactly together but not too far apart either. They were to lead the rotation of the future.

And then they didn’t.

Hughes was pitching a no-hitter in Texas and he got hurt. Chamberlain was having a tremendous debut as a starting pitcher and he got hurt. Kennedy was trying to find his groove at the big league level and he got hurt. Chamberlain was never the same. Kennedy was traded. Hughes made a comeback before recent injuries and ineffectiveness put his future in question. And so, the questions began. Is this just an issue of poor resource allocation? Bad luck? Or is there something wrong with the way the Yankees are developing their pitching talent.

With Hughes, it’s hard to say anyone saw this coming or that the management of his development was poor. He was about as close to a perfect prospect as one can be. He had no history of injuries, clean mechanics, and quite the combination of stuff and results. The Yankees brought him up conventionally. They didn’t rush him but they didn’t delay his progress when it was clear his time had come. They handled his injuries as one would expect. They eased him back into the big leagues at the end of 2009 and let him pitch a reasonable number of innings in 2010.

Chamberlain is quite obviously a different story. His big league debut in the bullpen was so impressive that he began the 2008 season in the same role and while he was able to prove dominant in the starting rotation to close out that season the questions continued to dog him heading into 2009. A solid start begot a terrible finished and by the following season he was back in the bullpen. The injuries were also something that could have been forseen. The Yankees would not have grabbed him in the sandwich round had he been healthy. Yet, while his failures remain his own, one has to wonder how he could have develop on another team, given a more consistent and longer shot at rotation success.

Perhaps the most telling of developments from these few draft classes came in the person of Ian Patrick Kennedy. After a dominant minor league stint he did practically nothing at the big league level in New York. The organization gave up on him and he was moved, essentially an afterthought in a trade for Curtis Granderson. He went on to a 21-4 season with a 2.88 ERA and a 5+ WAR for the Diamondbacks last season. The Yankees had the resources and the desire to go out and get one of the top college pitchers in the 2006 draft and yet question remain as to whether Kennedy could have developed as well in this organization. The rest of those classes were either moved or fizzled out or are just now reaching the big leagues.

And so we arrive again in 2011 and now 2012. The system is again stocked with minor league pitchers about to reach the big league level, about to try and break the noted trend. The good news is that organization, despite past failure, has continued to invest in pitching. Banuelos, Betances, and a number of other arms at the low and high minor league levels attest to that success in the draft and in international signing. One might also hope that they have learned from these past failures. That they were not ready, and inexperienced, when they were given Hughes and Chamberlain. That they took too many risks and mismanaged these talents and that they will be more careful, or more aggressive, or whatever it is they need to be to make sure these pitchers have every chance to reach their full potential.

The bad news is that, as we have detailed, it is not so simply as drafting and signing top talent. Even the best pitching prospects can fail. Even the best organizations can mismanage talent. Perhaps of more importance, the signs are there. Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances are not perfect prospects. Banuelos is undersized and Betances has an injury history. Both struggled with command last season – though Banuelos has a much better track-record. There are questions about durability, and about whether these two will remain starters. Noesi, Warren, and Phelps provide depth though they also remind one too much of the go-nowhere prospects of the last decade. There is still hope for Hughes and for Ivan Nova, who had a tremendous rookie season, though Hughes’ star has dimmed and Nova’s was never all that incredibly bright.

As Eric Schultz detailed yesterday, the history of the Yankees farm system in the Cashman era has been that of reactionary paradigm shifts. The farm-focused early-90s Yankees built a winner but they became greedy, too focused on short term payoff, and unable to build depth in the minor league system. Cashman responded by going heavy on depth and while this depth produced a success story in Chien Ming Wang, it failed to produce top of the rotation talent. Then came Hughes, and Chamberlain, and Kennedy, and the Killer B’s. Finally, with the failures of the big three and the success of Robinson Cano, the front office has shifted it’s attention to building offensive depth within the system to replace and aging positional core. Despite the relatively successful drafting and signing policies of the organization, a balance has not been reached, and each new strategy has been a response to the failures of a previous strategy. Perhaps tellingly, a corresponding bet on young big league pitching talent, proven big league pitching talent, has not been made. An expensive proposition? Sure. But one that could be pulled off, perhaps, with Matt Garza on the market, and Zack Greinke on the market a year ago, and Cole Hamels and Matt Cain potentially on the market within the next year.

So at the end of the day I think fans ought to be thankful of the resources and the scouting prowess that has been poured in to this system, at least over the past five or six seasons, but also wary of the failure of the system to take it’s players over the top and develop front of the rotation talent. We should hope this was the product of inexperience and luck but prepare for the possibility that these failures have been the product of some inherent mismanagement, a mismanagement that has been vaguely clear to even the untrained eye. We should hope Brian Cashman, and Damon Openheimer, and the rest of the front office continue to work to fix this problem, but do not become so arrogant, so sure of this (wonderful) Minor League strategy as to ignore the glaring rotational needs at the big league level and to bet the farm on the farm.

18 thoughts on “The Yankees and Pitching Prospects

  1. Good stuff Alex. I think the Yankees’ win-always mentality, along with the lack of early draft picks, may contribute to the low success rate at developing pitching. I also think it illustrates the fact that developing pitching in general is pretty difficult (for teams other than Tampa, Atlanta, and San Francisco, at least), and can be unpredictable.

  2. Atari

    http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/the-bright-side-of-losing-santana/

    Pitching prospects are unpredictable. If you have a chance at acquiring a legitimate starter for prospects I say you do it. I would probably deal Banuelos+Betances+ a lower level prospect for Garza.

  3. bottom line

    In last six years, Yanks have produced Wang, Hughes Chamberlain, Kennedy and Nova. That’s a two-time 19 game winner, an at-times dominating reliever, an 18 game winner, a Cy Young runner-up and a 16 game winner. And this is supposed to prove that prospects are fungible and should be dispatched for “proven” talent, no matter the cost or long-term impact on the system?

    Yes, expectations may have been higher in some cases — and injuries definitely hurt — but I would think these five pitchers alone confirm the value of homegrown prospects.
    Sure, not all prospects succeed. But I’ll take the chance of getting 12 cost-controlled years out of ManBan and Betances over two costly years of Garza (who, by the way, could also get hurt or succumb to the mediocrity that often overcomes pitchers around 29-30).
    I really find the notion that the recent Big 3 proved the unreliability of prospects to be laughable. Kennnedy as noted, was brilliant away from NY. Yanks would not have won pennant in 2009 — or made playoffs in 2010 — without Hughes. And Joba was on his way to a brilliant career before that cursed night with Pudge Rodriguez behind the plate. (and that fdoesn’t even count D-Rob)
    Maybe not the dream scenario– but that’s a hell of a lof production out of three or four guys who’ve barely even gotten into arbitration.
    I’m also kinda glad we hung on to a couple of guys named Andy and Mo..

    • Alex Geshwind

      Thanks for the comment. I’m not suggesting the big three in any way proved the inherent unreliability of prospects (though I would say that this inherent unreliability is patently obviously) or that the front office should abandon the strategy. I’m simply suggesting that the Yankees in particular have a poor track-record of developing starting pitching talent during the Brian Cashman era and that while, in part, there was a failure to devout resources towards this quest for many years, they have also failed to develop the assets they have acquired. While Hughes and Chamberlain were certainly successful draft picks, both have ultimately failed to come close to reaching their ceilings. Neither is remotely close to a front of the rotation starting pitcher. Robertson has obviously turned out ok but it remains true that developing a relief pitcher and developing a starting pitcher are enormously different tasks. Meanwhile Kennedy, quite possibly the least talented of the bunch, has flourished when given the opportunity to develop in a different system. Has the Cashman farm system been a complete failure? Certainly not. But the fact is that other teams are turning out David Prices, Jon Lesters, Matt Moores, and Clayton Kershaws and that while this front office has had those kind of assets, it has not been able to deliver. I’m suggesting, basically, that the front office should recognize this deficiency, do what they can to correct this deficiency, but not have the arrogance to bet the future of the rotation on pitching prospects (all of whom have their potential weaknesses) when there has been a fundamental failure in this regard for most of the past 15 years.

  4. bg90027

    Interesting walk down memory lane. I can’t think of the last time I’d thought about Adrian Hernandez.

    I think it’s pretty hard to analyze who is good and bad at drafting, signing and developing pitchers. How many teams would you say have a really strong record in doing so outside of maybe San Fran, Tampa and Atlanta?

    It’s easy to criticize how they handled Hughes and Chamberlain but every team is going to have a slightly different balance between long term development and winning now at the major league level. The Yankees are clearly more in the win now mood than most and as such are going to be less patient with young players and make decisions that may be short term beneficial but long term detrimental. Is that mismanagement? Maybe but it depends on your perspective and is certainly debatable.

    I disagree that Ian Kennedy was an afterthought in the Granderson acquisition. He was a very key component and the fact that he was included in the deal was more a reflection on their opinion of Granderson than giving up on Kennedy. How much credit do you give AZ vs. NY for Kennedy’s development? He found his success in AZ but does NY not deserve any credit for his development? If Hughes has a decent year this year (very possible), and you add Nova, Wang, and Kennedy do they really have a bad record, especially given where they typically draft and how their goals differ?

    We’re talking small sample sizes here so one or two successes would make a big difference in whether they appear to be good or bad.

    • Alex Geshwind

      We certainly have a small sample size of “can’t miss” prospects but we do have a large sample size (about 15 years) of all prospects and Brian Cashman’s regime has thus far produced one home-grown rotational building piece in Chien Ming Wang and potentially a second in Ivan Nova (we’ll have to wait and see on Hughes). This is despite spending countless millions to correct the problem. Ultimately my point is that while other organizations are far from perfect in this respect, this organization has been particularly bad.

      Other than San Francisco, Tampa, and Atlanta I’d argue that Oakland, Boston, Minnesotta, Chicago, Cleveland, Seattle, Florida, the Dodgers, St. Louis, and San Diego have done a significantly better job over the past 10 or 15 years developing pitching talent on the whole and that even organizations like Detroit and the Angels have to be given credit for developing a top of the line arm this organization has not and several auxiliary pieces. In fact, I’d challenge you to find more than a few organizations who have done a worse job. I agree, there are only a few that consistently turn out full rotations of young, cost controlled talent but that does not mean every organization has failed so miserably.

      • bg90027

        So over that 15 years, how many pitchers would you expect the Yankees to have developed? Especially given their “win now” perspective, where they drafted, and how many picks they lost to free agent signings. I think you need to have a baseline of what would have constituted a good performance to call their development efforts poor, and the baseline for them can’t be the same as the baseline for most teams.

        Take Boston for example so you said they are better at it. Outside of Lester, Buckholz and Masterson (and if you count him you need to give the Yankees credit for Kennedy), how many starters have they developed? The difference is probably a pitcher or at most two. It’s not a large difference,especially since there is a lot of luck at play and a lot of credit/blame needs to go to the pitchers themselves rather than the organization.

        Oakland and Florida are interesting cases. Since the big three of Hudson, Mulder & Zito, how many of the young pitchers that they’ve had over the last ten or so years are pitchers that they’ve drafted and developed? I think most of their younger pitchers have come through rebuilding trades of established talent. That’s not to say that they don’t deserve any credit for taking a prospect and turning him into a finished major league pitcher, but they don’t deserve all the credit and their organizational is so different than the yankees that you can’t really compare the two. I think of Florida as being very similar to the A’s.

        Another thing to consider is that the Yankees have been much more inclined to pick high risk, high reward players than most teams. Joba fell to the Yankees because of arm troubles. I don’t think anyone would have given him a 75% chance to be a successful starter when he was picked. Brackman was damaged goods from the start and I don’t think many talent evaluators really thought Hughes had Ace quality stuff. He was a top prospect because he had good stuff and good makeup and was considered to be very projectable but his ceiling was never as high as fans made it out to be.

        • Alex Geshwind

          “That’s not to say that they don’t deserve any credit for taking a prospect and turning him into a finished major league pitcher”

          Exactly. That’s not the whole job but it’s certainly part of it. I think that’s where the organization has failed, more or less. Great drafts, great signing classes, a ton of top systems over the past few seasons and ultimately very little in the way of starting pitching help, at least compared to organizations that have devoted a similar level of resources to the quest. I don’t think the Yankees know how to turn pitching prospects into pitchers. I don’t think it matters too much how many top prospects who have if you can’t take that last step. And most importantly I think that’s the step we are on with Banuelos, Betances, and the rest of them. That’s why I’m worried and I think the front office (and us fans) might want to hedge their bets just a bit. Not a criticism of the scouting and evaluation or the org. philosophy. Simply a criticism of how they’ve managed young pitchers as they’ve brought them to the big leagues and how that has hurt the team.

  5. Excellent first post Alex. One thing that stood out in your sample post that we all agreed upon is that you’re pretty polished as a writer.

    A few things. First, Hughes wasn’t a picture of health before being called up. He actually hurt his elbow a few weeks after showing up in his first camp, which is one reason why they made him drop his out pitch (Slider) in favor of a less arm-taxing curve. He also broke his toe (answering the phone) in 04 and had shoulder tendinitis in 05.

    Next, I’m not sure there is one way to develop prospects. Teams do it differently, value tools differently and have an organizational philosophy. For instance, the Yanks were killed for shifting Joba back and forth from the bullpen and some feel that’s why he got hurt. The fact of the matter is many teams do that with young starters, with David Cone (Royals) Pedro Martinez (Dodgers) and Johan Santana (Twins) as prominent examples.

    http://www.royalsreview.com/2011/2/14/1992424/success-and-failure-rates-of-top-mlb-prospects

    Finally, check out this study on prospects. Success rates are lower than people think, and the study looked at the Top 50 types. You know, the “can’t miss” ones.

    • Alex Geshwind

      Thanks Steve. I remember now about Hughes swapping out the slider for a curveball… guess it just slipped my mind. Still, I don’t think the organization could have any reason to worry about his health going in (in sharp contrast to Chamberlain, Brackman, etc.) and I think the degree to which his health has deteriorated took us all by surprise. It happens and when it does it’s tough to look back and say “we should have seen that coming,” which is the point I was trying to make.

      I don’t think the mistake with Joba was his initial bullpen stint. That’s a time-tested method for limiting innings and giving young starters exposure. I think the mistake was in wavering on the end state. Whether he could have developed more fully in another system we will probably never know.

      Finally, I think a distinction must be made between top-50 and “can’t miss” prospects. There are plenty of top-50 prospects who are projected as second starters at best, even good third starters at best, or who have significant areas of concern that scouts believe can or will keep them from reaching their ceilings. Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain were top-10, maybe even top-5 prospects, who scouts saw as future ace level starting pitchers and both have found limited success between the rotation and bullpen. How rare is it for these type of prospects to fail to come close to their ceilings? Pretty rare.

      Between 2005 and 2010 there were probably 20 or so other top ten or fifteen prospects that received projections anywhere near those of Hughes and Chamberlain. Among those 20 Felix Hernandez, Matt Cain, Justin Verlander, Tim Lincecum, Yovani Gallardo, Clayton Kershaw, David Price, Tommy Hanson, Madison Bumgarner, Brett Anderson, Clay Buccholz, Trevor Cahil, Stephen Strasburg, and Chad Billingsley established themselves as front of the rotation starting pitchers or at least consistently good third starters. You might even throw in Scott Kazmir and Francisco Liriano who established themselves for a time as legitimate number one starters, something Hughes and Chamberlain only accomplished over a few starts. Neftali Feliz established himself as a top closer and we’ll what he can do in the rotation.

      Hughes and Chamberlain join Homer Bailey, Andrew Miller, Franklin Morales, and potentially Brian Matusz as just about the only “can’t miss” pitching prospects of the past half-decade to fail to establish themselves as legitimate rotation building pieces or in the case of Feliz as a top of the line closer. The point is, the rest of the league has about a 75% success rate and the Yankees are oh-for-two. It could just be bad luck but when you look at their failure to develop any rotational building pieces between Pettitte and potentially Nova with the exception of Wang (and excluding Kennedy, as we don’t know how he would have faired had he stayed in New York), especially given their resources and their pitching heavy strategy over about half that period, you have to be a little concerned, don’t you?

      Of course, this isn’t to say I’ve completely given up on Hughes, or Chamberlain, it’s simply to say that the way their careers have gone so far their prospect status has been terribly disappointed. And while it’s not so unusual for a mid-level offensive prospect like Cano or Gardner to explode into a star, or a top offensive prospect to completely flounder, it is fairly unusual for this to happen with a pitching prospect and most of the elite of the elite pitching prospects do pan out. So when their is a pandemic failure of an organization to develop one it’s bound to weigh on their chances for future success.

  6. Great job Alex. Its rough watching SP prospects bust, but at the same time, the Yankees have incredible luck with relief pitchers. I think it was 1/3rd of the top 15 relief pitchers in 2011 were drafted or signed by the Yankees’ farm system. The problem is that they’re mostly developed as starting pitchers, and when they hit AA/AAA, they move to the bullpen.

    EJ had a great article on it almost 3 years ago. http://www.theyankeeu.com/2009/03/how-to-develop-

  7. bottom line

    The real issue over the last few years has not been whether the Yankees can identify and develop pitching talent.
    Producing four starters who have contributed 16=win or better season should put that question to rest, at least for now.
    The real issue is whether the Yankees make the best use of wwhat they develop; more specfically, do they exhibit the required patience? The cases of Tyler Clippard, Mark Melancon and possibly Kennedy (for whom, of course, the got great trade value)suggest that patience — not development is the issue.

    Also, saying that Robertson is “OK” seems to me sloppy at best and disingenuous at worst. The guy is a phenomenon, and arguably the best set-up man in baseball. That’s just OK?
    Again, in producing Wang, Nova, Hughes, Chamberlain, Robertson, Kennedy, Melancon, Clippard (have I forgotten anyone?) — with many others in the wings — the Yanks, it seems to me, have an extraordinary development record in recent years. The question is what they do with the talent they develop. Certainly, room for lots of views on that.

    • Alex Geshwind

      I think we’re just arguing semantics then. I agree – the organization has succeeded at drafting and signing amateur talent and bringing that talent through the minor league system over the past five years. I also think Cashman (and those scouting and player development personal doing the real work) has shown an unusual aptitude for developing relief pitchers. Robertson is never going to be as valuable as a top of the rotation starter but among relief pitchers he’s more than just ok. He was probably one of the five best relief pitchers in baseball last season.

      Where we disagree, I think, is in where the player development process ends. I’d argue that developing a player from the draft to a BA top-100 list is one thing. Further developing that player into a Major Leaguer is another. That’s why I bring up Kennedy (and I suppose I could bring up Melancon as well). Among all pitching prospects of the Cashman era, Kennedy may very well have the best Major League career. It’s starting out that way. This is after crashing and burning in New York and being shipped off to another organization as a failed prospect. Was this just a bad call by the Yankees to give up on Kennedy? Perhaps. But when you look at the record in totality it looks to me like they are doing something wrong.

      As far as the four 16-game winners: Hughes won 18 games with a 4.19 ERA and 4.25 FIP in what was his best season as a Major Leaguer. I don’t think we can call that a success right now. Kennedy won 21 games, but with Arizona, and to say he could have won 21 games in New York is assuming a lot about the Yankees management of young arms that has not been present for quite some time. Wang was an unmitigated success and the organization deserves credit for that. Nova might be the next Wang. At this point, though, we’re looking at a second starter for two or three years and Nova who might be able to reach that level. Plus a couple of pitchers in limbo, successful as relievers but generally inconsistant as starters. That’s the result of 15 years and countless million dollars. I think the effort has ultimately been, if not a completely failure, at least a relatively poor one.

      • bottom line

        Well, thanks for your thoughtful response. Yes, there is reason to question the Yankees on how they handle pitchers once they reach the majors. On that we agree.
        I still think, though, that you are underestimating what they have accomplished. Not just Wang and Nova, but I would not yet pronounce Phil and Joba as failures. Both thave have been held back by injuries. They are still young at 25 and 26. Very possible that one or both will still prove themselves quality MLB pitchers. And Hughes has already contributed greatly — out of the pen in 09, of course. And his performace as a starter has been uneven but very good in spurts. Many quality major league pittchers had much worse records -and less encouraging early performances – than these guys before turning it around.
        I would also not slight the importance of late inning relief. One year with awful eighth inning relief on your team might convince you too. Finally, let’s wait and see how Yanks do with Noesi, ManBan, Betances, Phelps, Warren, Marshall etc. before pronouncing judgment. They certainly have — if nothing else — a lot of irons in the fire.
        I would focus on patience as the core missing ingredient in translating prospect status to major league success. Certainly, that was the issue with Melancon, Clippard and Kennedy.
        One thing i did enjoy in your piece BTW was the nice historical perspective.

        • Alex Geshwind

          Thanks. I agree… it would be foolish to give up on Hughes and Joba right now. In fact I’m fairly confident the two of them can be highly effective late inning relievers. Whether either will ever be a rotation piece I have my doubts. There’s still some hope. Have they been mismanaged though? I think so.

  8. Graham Ousey

    I think what everyone conveniently forgets is top of the rotation starters are rare commodities, period. Think hard and count up how many there currently are in all of MLB. Not many. To say that the Yankee organization has a particular knack for not developing or mismanaging “true ace” talent assumes that they’ve actually had that talent in their farm system at some point since Cashman took over. And if that’s the case, who were these “can’t miss” future aces that Cashman and colleagues ruined, mismanaged, etc.? In my mind, the reality is they simply have not had that kind of high-end pitching talent. They’ve certainly had some good talent in their system and much of that talent is now in the big leagues; but they simply have not drafted any true pitching stars on the level of say Kershaw or Lincecum or Halladay.

    • Alex Geshwind

      Hughes and Chamberlain were certainly as highly regarded as Verlander, Lincecum, and Halladay coming through the Yankees system. Each of those five pitchers were top-10 prospects who projected as first or second starters. Whether they could have developed into that kind of pitcher in some other system we can’t say. We can say they were looked upon by scouts as that kind of talent and that both failed to actualize (at least thus far).

  9. OldYanksFan

    Unless you have an absolute stud, developing pitching takes time and patience…. 2 things the Yankees don’t have. The year Hughes was brought up, Cashman swore up and down that Phil would be in the minors that whole year. Same with Joba.

    They were both brought up because the Yanks were doing everything to WIN THAT YEAR. Winning NOW (for the Yankees) takes place over developing players.

    I think Cashman has bee more balanced of late, but we are still basically in ‘Win Now’ mode.

    If the Yanks were in 4th place, they would probably have kept IPK…. and maybe AViz. Almost all teams rebuild and look to the future. But the Yankees future is NOW, and that effects the way they handle youngsters.

    I am not making a judgement as to whether this is good or bad, right or wrong, but just stating what I think is fact. The Yankees work under different circumstances then the other 29 teams. It’s just the way things are.

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