Let me throw out a hypothetical: a team has a talented, relatively young (24 years old) pitcher in the minor leagues, in AAA. He throws gas at 95 miles per hour, and isn’t arbitration eligible until 2016, and not a free agent until 2019, effectively placing him under team control for six years. With an aging team, and a starting rotation that will have three of five starters aged 32 or over, with another three of five starters heading into free agency in after 2013, having such a player in the farm system would be a really good thing, right? Unless of course the player cannot find consistency, has the stuff but not the production, and is almost out of options- which is exactly where the Yankees find themselves with pitcher Dellin Bentances.
On the surface, Betances looks like a guy who can help the Yankees- he can throw 95 mph and at 6’ 8”, is just one inch taller than CC Sabathia. But he could also be one of the most confounding players in the entire Yankee system, and the 43rd overall prospect in Major League Baseball in 2011. Having missing significant time in 2008 (sore shoulder), 2009 (UCL reinforcement), and 2012 (sore shoulder) sandwiching mediocre results in 2011 and a dismal 2012.
Betances has issues finding the plate, to say the least. In 2012, he allowed a staggering 99 BBs in 27 games, splitting his time between AAA Scranton and, following a demotion, AA Trenton in about 131 IP. In AAA, his WHIP was a ghastly 1.875, and AA was not better, as he was slapped around for a .317 BAA.
Most irritating is that Betances still has “the stuff,” but cannot find the plate with any meaningful consistency. His WHIP and BB/9 have ballooned significantly. While he can sometimes get away with his inconsistencies, such as in 2011 when he had a 3.42 ERA, Betances’ success can be outweighed by his wildness, such as pitching to a 4.7 BB/9 split that same year. It wouldn’t necessarily be a huge stretch to compare Betances, with his long, lanky frame, hard fast ball, and big breaking ball to a younger AJ Burnett. Moreover, like Burnett, Betances’ struggles emanate from an inability to consistency find the plate, proving to be ineffective despite his “stuff,” much like AJ Burnett in his final year wearing pinstripes.
In a perfect world, Betances will be able to figure out his control issues. However, it has been suggested that his size may make his frame too big to be able to consistently find the plate, despite being only an inch taller than Sabathia. (It’s worth noting that an inch is a pretty big deal when it comes to the physics of pitching and mechanics.)
For the Yankees, having a serviceable Bentances would be a huge boost to the team’s depth. With Sabathia coming over having his left elbow cleaned up, Andy Pettitte crossing 40, Phil Hughes already having a back issue that caused him to miss time, Ivan Nova coming off a disastrous season, having Betances would be an insurance policy. Don’t forget, if any of the starters were to miss significant time (assuming that the starters are Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Pettitte, Hughes and Nova), that would leave Phelps to transition from long-man to starter. And without any player in the role of mop-up like Freddy Garcia was in 2012, the Yankees don’t have much in the way of options in the minors- Adam Warren was lit up in one start in 2012 and there is a drop-off in MLB-capable talent after that. Losing a starter could be disastrous for the Yankees without another available pitcher in the minors, and Betances could fit that bill, provided he shows a marked improvement from his awful 2012.
Needless to say, 2013 may be a make-or-break for Dellin Betances. Even at just 25 years old, in baseball circles, Betances is running out of time, particularly if he cannot figure it out and be a serviceable player. While his ceiling may have been set too high from his Rookie Ball days, there still may be hope for a middle place between that former 43rd overall prospect and the player who was demoted to Trenton after getting slapped around in Scranton. If Betances is able to find his way, he might just be a big X factor for the Yankees, not just in 2013, but in the future, too.