We began our look at the New York Yankees’ fifth starter candidates yesterday by starting with the odds-on favorite to win the job, Michael Pineda. While he has the most upside of any of the others competing for the job, he has missed each of the past two seasons while recovering from shoulder surgery. That has opened the door for lesser-known, less proven pitchers to compete with Pineda for the fifth starter job with the Yankees heading into the 2014 season. The next candidate we will preview today, is most likely next in line to get the job if Pineda falters this spring. Of course we are talking about David Phelps.
The former Notre Dame product was a 14th round selection by the Yankees in the 2008 draft. Phelps has enjoyed a successful minor league career while working his way through the Yankees farm system, being selected for the Eastern League All-Star Game in 2010, and also being named the Yankees Minor League Pitcher of the Year as well. During spring training of 2012, Phelps was good enough to impress Joe Girardi, and was added to the big league roster to start the season.
During his initial campaign, Phelps served as a right-handed reliever, and appeared in 22 games. After Freddy Garcia continued to struggle in the starting rotation, Phelps received his opportunity. By the end of 2012, he had pitched 99 2/3 innings, posting a 4-4 record with an impressive 3.34 ERA. He was moved back to the bullpen when the Yankees promoted Andy Pettitte back to the big leagues. While he struck out less than one hitter per inning (96 total), he walked only 38 batters. The long ball did get the best of Phelps, as he gave up 14 gopher balls during his rookie season in the Bronx.
In 2013, Phelps once again split time between the bullpen and the starting rotation, finishing with a 6-5 record, but his ERA ballooned to a paltry 4.98. He spent the first and last months of the season in the bullpen, with the worst of it coming on June 29th against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards, where he lasted just 2 1/3 innings, while giving up 9 earned runs. One more mediocre start and earning a victory against the Twins concluded Phelps 2013 audition for the starting rotation. He was placed on the disabled list in early July with a forearm strain, and was later moved to the 60-day disabled list when his arm didn’t heal as quickly as the team had hoped. He returned to the team in September.
So what exactly does David Phelps bring to the table that makes him a viable candidate to be the Yankees’ fifth starter in 2014? He’s got five pitches to his repertoire, including a four-seam fastball in the 90-92 mph range, a two-seam fastball between 88-91 mph, a cutter, a curveball and a change, which he prefers to use to get left-handed hitters out. His out pitch against right-handed hitters is his cutter. At 6’2″, and 200 lbs., he’s not an imposing presence on the mound, but his versatility between the bullpen and starting rotation make him a valuable member of the Yankees’ pitching staff.
For Phelps to win the fifth starter job outright from his fellow competitors, he’s going to have to show Joe Girardi that he can pitch out of trouble, and avoid giving up the home run ball. While his number of 14 in 2012 went down to 9 in 2013, his ERA skyrocketed with inconsistent performances throughout the season. Phelps would have a handful of good starts, then a couple of stinkers. The inconsistency makes sense given his career record that is a single game over the .500 mark, and an ERA just over 4. Phelps will also have to find a way to record outs without relying on striking hitters out, since he is a pitch to contact hurler.
If Phelps cannot win the fifth spot in the rotation out of spring training, his future on the Yankees’ big league roster is also uncertain. The team could move him back to the bullpen to serve as the long man, or they might feel that he can continue honing his craft as a starting pitcher, and option him back to Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre. Phelps has a battle ahead of him, competing against the aforementioned Pineda, along with lefty Vidal Nuno and Adam Warren. Any one of these pitchers could have the spring of their lives, and with any hiccups or stumbles from Phelps, most likely concedes the fifth starter rotation slot to someone else.