As I’ve said before, the Yankees have been the best organization at developing relief pitchers over the last decade. With all these top prospect lists heading our way, I rarely see much loving handed out to the relief pitchers, so I figured we could focus on an impressive group of guys that could become the team’s future. Who knows, one of these guys might be the next Mariano Rivera. While guys like Dellin Betances might ultimately become relievers, this list is for players that currently project out of the bullpen. While closeness to the majors was a factor, upside was primary, which pushed LOOGYs and many older AAA relievers off this list. Without further ado, the top ten relief prospects.
10. RHP- Manuel Barreda (23)
Drafted in the 12th round of the 2007 draft, Barreda was a small pitcher with velocity to gain and a potential plus changeup. Through his first season and the beginning of 2008, the right hander saw a lot of early success with the GCL Yankees. Unfortunately, Tommy John surgery cut short his 2008 and 2009 season, and fell off many prospect lists. Over the last two years, Berreda has struggled against the lingering effects of the surgery, posting 6.0 BB/9. Though the command is weak, Barreda seems to be regaining a feel for pitching, finishing his 2011 season with a 10.0 K/9 rate in A ball, and throwing his fastball in the mid 90’s. If he can limit his walk rate to pre-Tommy John surgery numbers, and add some velocity with his relatively small frame, Barreda might move up the organization rather quickly.
9. RHP- Dan Burawa (23)
Attending the same college as Burawa, I had heard his name well before he was picked in the 12th round of the 2010 draft. His teammates at St. John’s would often tell me about the kid who sat in the 90’s, the only gripe being a lack of movement. Pitching between A and high A last year, Burawa showed the same mid-90’s heat he did in college, combining it with a hard mid-80’s slider. The results were a solid 3.64 ERA through his first full professional season, and a 2.6 BB/9. Burawa has a lot to improve with his slider and a stronger third pitch, but he appears to have created enough sink on fastball to start him in AA next year.
8. LHP- Matthew Tracy (23)
A late pick in the 2011 draft, Tracy surprised scouts with an effective season in low A last year. Tracy began the season in the bullpen, where he posted a 0.40 ERA in 22.1 IP. His four pitch repertoire includes a 2 and 4-seam fastball in the low 90’s, a curveball, and an effective changeup. Success in holding right handed hitters to a .221 batting average comes from his changeup, which he considers his best breaking pitch. Tracy finished the year in the rotation, making six starts, and ending with a 3.04 ERA, 9.1 k/9, and a 3.0 BB/9. Nothing official has been announced on whether he’ll start or relieve next year, but he clearly has a strong feel in the bullpen.
7. RHP- Caleb Cotham (24)
Cotham may be old for his level, but he’s spent most of his minor league time injured. Following a knee issue that shut him down in 2009, Cotham had labrum surgery in 2010. The righty finally had 23 innings to shine in 2011 and went out to prove that he was worth the 165th overall pick in the 2009 draft. He returned in 2011 with an impressive season, returning his fastball velocity to the low-mid 90’s. Not only did Cotham post a 12.4 K/9 in low A, but he also put up a 52% groundball rate, which led to a 1.71 ERA. With Cotham’s strikeout slider and groundball sinker, he could be very effective, but his labrum and knee injuries cost him a lot of time and make him a risky prospect.
6. RHP- Chase Whitley (22)
Following a great 2010 season closing for Staten Island, Whitley moved on to the bullpen in high-A this year. Though his season wasn’t as impressive as his 2010 debut, the righty made progress in 2011. While his K/9 dropped from 12.1 to 7.6 last year, a lot of the time was spent on improving his pitches. Where he sat high 80’s/low 90’s in 2010, Whitley was throwing as high as 96, he improved the late break on his slider, and maintained one of the best minor league changeups. Though his 2.47 ERA is nothing to scoff at, his drop-off in strikeouts could be an indication of a season spent developing pitches rather than racking up numbers. Whitley’s upside is sky high, but he could use another season developing his slider and fastball.
Stay tuned for tomorrow night’s post where I’ll uncover the top five.