(Syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)
Michael Pineda came to Yankee camp last year with high expectations. He was a hulking 23-year-old kid coming off an impressive rookie season, the Yankees had just traded their best prospect in years to acquire him, and he represented the first significant move in the Yankees' efforts to get younger and get below the $189 million payroll threshold. Long story short, those expectations were far from being met after Pineda showed up to camp overweight, struggled with his velocity and command, and eventually missed the whole 2012 season with a labrum tear in his pitching shoulder.
Pineda came to camp this year with no expectations. He started his rehab throwing program in the fall, and the early words coming back from Brian Cashman and the coaching staff focused more on the idea of Pineda not pitching at all in 2013 than on exactly when he would be back. Since arriving in Tampa, however, there's been a pretty noticeable shift in the Pineda discussion and evaluation, and there seems to be a renewed sense of positivity about the progress he's making. With not a lot of other positive storylines to latch onto this spring, I'll raise the question. Is it too early to start getting excited about Pineda's comeback?
"Excited" might be too strong a word to use when describing Pineda's progress. He still isn't anywhere near pitching in a game situation, and is probably still at least a month away from having a radar gun on him. Until those things happen and we see what the results are, excited is a word that should probably stay off the table. But how about "encouraged?" That seems fair given what's happened in the last few weeks. Here's what we know about Pineda right now:
- He stuck to his post-surgery rehab and workout schedule and received positive comments on both his work ethic and conditioning.
- Pineda showed up to camp early to continue his rehab at 260 pounds, 20 pounds lighter than what he came into camp at last season.
- He started throwing off a half-mound on 1/29 and quickly made the transition to a full mound on 2/12.
- Pineda's second full-mound session
onlast Friday drew a positive review from Joe, who praised his arm speed and said he looked "pretty good."
- He's scheduled to start facing hitters sometime next month.
"Next month" could mean March 1st or it could mean March 27th when it comes to facing hitters, but the point is that Pineda has moved forward quickly in his rehab since getting back to throwing regularly and that's a very good sign. Whenever he does start facing batters, I would anticipate the remainder of his Spring Training being spent doing that and then a transition to Extended Spring Training to get some more game situation work in before heading to a MiL rehab assignment sometime in May. June has always been the rough target date for Pineda's return and that date continues to hold. The encouraging part of that timeline is that the talk from the Yankee brass has shifted from outright pessimism and tempering expectations for the season to what Cash called "cautious optimism" after watching Pineda throw last week.
The projections for Pineda this season have been surprisingly positive. ZiPS projects 120.0 IP over 20 starts with a 4.43/4.29 ERA/FIP slash, while CAIRO has him at 147 IP in 25 starts with a 4.24/3.95 slash. The Yankees would be ecstatic with either of those projected scenarios playing out, but in reality they are both overly optimistic. Once again, though, Pineda and the discussion surrounding him has shifted to a positive, optimistic tone, and that's a good thing. Way back when his injury was first diagnosed and the surgery was performed, there was talk about this being a career ender for him, and in fairness the history of labrum tears amongst pitchers is a checkered one. But Pineda has put in the time and the work with his rehab to get back to being the best pitcher he can be, and that time and work is being reflected in his early spring camp performances.
Like I said, "excited" might be a stretch right now because he still has a long way to go. But "encouraged" is more than appropriate and a serious improvement from the feelings about Pineda going back a few months. Pineda is still the wild card in the 2013 rotation, and based on his early work in camp, that wild card has a better chance of returning some dividends this year.