Michael Pineda. Dellin Betances. Those are two names you’ve probably heard a lot this spring. If you think about it, both have crossed very similar paths. Both were once highly thought of prospects, who suffered possible career-altering injuries, but both have bounced back stronger than ever for the Yankees this spring, and have made extremely strong cases for roster spots.
Dellin Betances: Once considered one of the top prospects on the Yankees, and one of the top pitching prospects in the league, Betances’ career took a dramatic turn for the worse when he underwent a ligament reinforcement procedure on his pitching arm (a procedure similar to Tommy John surgery) in 2009. After struggling mightily in the minors upon his return from the procedure, the Yankees announced in May of last season, that a guy who was once viewed as a potential ace for the team, would never start a game for them, instead shifting to the bullpen as a reliever.
Things didn’t look too much better for Betances when he was called up by the Yankees last September, when he appeared in 6 games, and pitched to a 10.80 ERA. In most years, Betances wouldn’t have even been considered as an option to start the season for the Yankees in the bullpen, but with the Yankees uncharacteristically thin in the ‘pen as of right now, the Yankees made it clear, they were going to give Betances a shot to make the team out of training camp. And boy has he capitalized. After looking so dreadful in September, Betances has emerged as a completely new pitcher. This is Betances’ line this spring: 10.1 IP, 4H, 1R, 1ER, 4BB, 9K. As you can see, those numbers are ridiculously good, for a guy who some doubted would ever find his way to the majors. And at 26-years of age, there’s plenty of room for even more improvement.
Manager Joe Girardi has said that he may wait until this weekend to announce his plans for the bullpen, as he is more focused as of right now on sorting out the Yankees’ fifth starter competition. But when the time does come for Girardi to make that decision, it is more than likely Betances who will find himself on the roster, alongside the big boys.
Michael Pineda: After having a fabulous rookie season with the Seattle Mariners, in which he placed fifth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, Michael Pineda was acquired by the Yankees in exchange for then-top prospect, Jesus Montero. Pineda was expected to be the number two starter behind ace CC Sabathia, and was expected to help give the Yankees a lethal 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation.
Things got off to a rocky start however, when Pineda showed up to Yankees training camp overweight. Things then went from bad to worse, when just before the season on March 30, Pineda complained of soreness in his right pitching shoulder, during a spring training start. He was immediately lifted from the game, and taken for further examination. Pineda was eventually placed on the 15-day disabled list with tendinitis in his right shoulder, causing him to miss the start of the 2012 season.
During his rehabilitation, he suffered an anterior labral tear in his right shoulder. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on May 1, 2012 and was eliminated for the 2012 season. Pineda began the 2013 season on the 60-day DL as he was still recovering from the shoulder surgery. He was activated from the disabled list on July 8, 2013, and optioned to Triple-A, where he pitched well for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders.
After arriving to this year’s training camp in shape, and according to Pineda “ready to play,” manager Joe Girardi announced that there would be a competition for the vacant fifth spot in the Yankees’ starting rotation, between David Phelps, Adam Warren, Vidal Nuno, and Pineda. While it appears that Warren and Nuno are all but eliminated from the competition, Phelps remains the lone challenger to Pineda. Girardi has announced he’s made his decision, but will wait until today to announce it.
All signs are pointing to Pineda as the victor. Here is his incredible line this spring: 15 IP, 14 H, 3R, 2ER, 1BB, 16K. Although he may no longer reach that 97 mph mark, there’s no question at age 25, that this is still a big league-caliber pitcher, with a very bright career ahead of him. Pineda has given the Yankees everything he’s got this spring, now it is up to Joe Girardi to reward him.
Michael Pineda and Dellin Betances are two very interesting stories. Both going from the lows of uncertainty surrounding their futures, to the highs of working their way back to possibly being on the Yankees’ roster. These are two young, exciting players, that when healthy, have the sort of stuff that the Yankees and their fans can look forward to watching for years to come.