There’s a lot of uncertainty in the Yankee bullpen. Rafael Soriano is probably leaving for greener pastures, and Mariano Rivera is old. The Yankees can probably survive with Cody Eppley and Clay Rapada in the bullpen in 2013, but wouldn’t mind an upgrade or two. At the same time, the Yankees have a poor history with free agent relief pitchers.
Below is my attempt to build completely in-house six-man bullpen, as well as a depth chart for the Yankees.
Locked in: Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan
This assumes that Mariano Rivera comes back, and is just now angling for a contract. The top-end of the bullpen in 2013 looks to be just about as good as the top-end of the bullpen in 2012. We don’t know how good Mariano is going to be post-ACL, but people generally lose money betting against Mo. Joba Chamberlain should be ready to go post-surgeries, and I’d expect him to be a strong contributor. If he is, he’ll be a mild upgrade over the 2012 season.
Probable out of spring training: David Phelps, Clay Rapada
A lot could happen between now and April, but I expect things to end up in a spot where David Phelps is the 6th Yankee starter on the depth chart. He’ll spend another season in the long man role. But that’s assuming he’s not traded, or handed a starting spot. Ivan Nova could fulfill this role as well. Rapada is a lefty, so he gets a spot by default, unless the Yankees decide to try and find a slightly better option.
On the bubble: Cody Eppley
I’m not much of a ROOGY fan over a 162 game season, but Eppley is cheap and effective at what he does. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up on the MLB team, but I don’t think anyone is going to shed any tears for Eppley if he doesn’t.
Ready to call up: Mark Montgomery, Adam Warren, Chase Whitley
The Yankees have to be pretty happy to hold these three pitchers in reserve. Warren could easily fill in as a long man, and I’ve always believed that if necessary, he could be a pretty good short reliever. Chase Whitley had a pretty good showing at Triple-A last year, and is the kind of guy who can pitch full innings against both lefties and righties.
But let’s be honest: Mark Montgomery is the fun story that we all actually care about right here. Montgomery pitched 64 1/3 innings over 46 appearances between High-A and Double-A in 2012, and is currently tearing up the Arizona Fall League. His minor league track record is remarkably similar to David Robertson’s, although Montgomery is actually striking out considerably more batters. I think there’s an outside chance that Montgomery impresses enough in spring training to make the club right away, although it is much more likely that he starts at Triple-A and waits for a call up.
You usually don’t get all that excited about relief pitching prospects. They suffer from both having much less impact on the game than starting and being highly volatile. But Mark Montgomery is one of the best pure-relief prospects in baseball. He’ll inject some much-needed youth and power into the Yankee bullpen.
Further Out: Dellin Betances, Vidal Nuno, Tommy Kahle
I could have picked a lot of names for this section, but I wanted to limit it to three interesting relief prospects. Dellin Betances is the most familiar name here. If he’s going to make the major leagues, a lot of people think that it will be as a relief pitcher. I actually disagree. I think that Betances problems are universal–its not like his stuff doesn’t play at short relief, or that he doesn’t have the strength to go 7 innings–and on the very small chance that he makes the majors, you might as well keep him starting. But I’m against the consensus here, so I included him on the depth chart.
Vidal Nuno is a very different kind of pitcher. The Yankees grabbed him out of the Frontier League (independent) two years ago. He’s been nothing but lights out since. In 2012, he pitched 138 1/3 innings with a 2.54 ERA. He struck out 126 and walked just 33. The best part? He’s a lefty. He throws a high-80s fastball, but mixes it up pretty well. I’d expect the Yankees to eventually use him in the bullpen, although I could be long. If he adds a tick to that fastball he could be a very good pitcher in that spot. There’s an outside chance that he makes the bullpen over Clay Rapada, but I’d be surprised.
Tommy Kahnle is another outside name that could make himself interesting. A 2010 college draftee, Kahnle has steadily made his way up through the system. His highlights are a power fastball and a career 12.6 K/9. He will start the 2013 season in Double-A, but his stuff could push him to the majors pretty quickly. He’ll throw a fastball in the 94-96 mph range. He might be closer to Mark Montgomery’s spot right now if not for inconsistent control. He struggled in 2011 at Low-A when his BB/9 spiked to 5.4 per 9, but was much more effective at High-A at 3.8 per 9. I think that if good Kahnle shows up, you could see him contribute in meaningful innings in the latter part of the 2013 season.