When Matt Thornton was claimed and subsequently sent to the Washington Nationals last week, the conversation almost immediately turned from why the Yankees let Thornton go to what young player from the Minors would be his replacement. The Yanks have a decent stash of lefty relievers, the latest and most high-profile one being this year's top draft pick Jacob Lindgren. Lindgren getting moved up to Trenton on the same day Thornton was let go added fuel to the speculative fire that the team was essentially clearing the spot and the lefty specialist role for Lindgren.
In addition to Lindgren and other guys like James Pazos, Pat Venditte, and the recently called up RIch Hill, the name that came up as a potential replacement most often last week was Tyler Webb. Cashman mentioned him specifically as the closest to earning a call up, and that may have come as a surprise to people who aren't familiar with Webb's name or body of work. If you're one of those people, here's an opportunity to get up to date on one of the newest under-the-radar prospects.
Webb hasn't been around very long, but he's made quite an impression in a little over a year as a pro. The Yankees selected him in the 10th round of the 2013 draft, as the 314th pick overall, out of South Carolina. He made his name as one of their top relievers during his junior year in 2012, and was a preseason 2nd-Team and postseason 3rd-Team All-American as their closer in 2013. He recorded 17 saves in the role during his senior year and left South Carolina as the all-time leader in games pitched with 110.
After being picked and signing quickly for a well below slot value of $30,000, Webb was assigned to Short Season Staten Island to begin his pro career. He pitched 5 scoreless innings in 4 appearances there with 8 strikeouts and got promoted to Low-A Charleston, where he pitched to a 3.86 ERA/3.25 FIP with 40 Ks and 6 BB in 30.1 innings to finish the year. Webb was sent to High-A Tampa to start the 2014 season, but was quickly promoted again when he dominated that level in 8 appearances. He has spent the bulk of this season in Trenton, although he's been pitching out of the Triple-A SWB bullpen since mid-July. Overall this season he has a 3.58 ERA, 86 K, and 19 BB in 60.1 IP.
Webb is a big presence on the mound at 6'6"/225, but he does not operate as a power pitcher. He features a 2-pitch mix of fastball and curveball, the former of which averages around 90 MPH and the latter of which is his primary out pitch. Both are quality offerings when he's commanding them, and he's done a pretty good job of that in his 2 years in the system. At 24 years old, Webb has plenty of experience pitching in big situations for USC in the College World Series and has been praised for his poise and demeanor on the mound. Both of these factors surely influenced the Yankees' decision to draft him and move him quickly up the ladder.
There are a few areas of concern with Webb, primarily health-related ones. He had Tommy John Surgery in college and has experienced bouts of inconsistency with his fastball velocity. At the Major League level, he probably profiles best as a lefty specialist, but he received a pretty hefty workload in his time at South Carolina and has worked as a multi-batter/multi-inning reliever this season. His 60.1 IP have come in 40 appearances, so there may be some risk of additional injuries down the road. Also of note is his reverse platoon split this season. Right-handed batters have posted a .565 OPS against him in 174 plate appearances while lefties have a .665 in 79.
In a sense, Webb was Lindgren before the Yankees drafted Lindgren. An experienced SEC left-handed reliever with the ability to generate lots of swings and misses, hold his own against righties, and pitch multiple innings if need be. He doesn't offer the upside of Lindgren because he can't dial his fastball up to the mid-90s and his curveball isn't as nasty as Lindgren's slider, but he certainly appears to know what he's doing on the mound and the consistently high K rates indicate that he's had no problem adjusting to better levels of competition. Webb should be considered a strong candidate for a September call up this year and a good sleeper candidate to earn a Major League roster spot in ST next year.