What Will the Yankees Bullpen Look Like Come Opening Day?
Prior to Wednesday’s Spring Training contest against the Braves the New York Yankees were in the process of finalizing their bullpen.
Andrew Miller was the closer, Dellin Betances was the set-up man, Chasen Shreve was the seventh-inning swing-man and Bryan Mitchell was the long-reliever/ spot-starter.
Johnny Barbato, Luis Cessa and Kirby Yates were the only three relievers left in camp still competing for the final two bullpen spots.
Related Story: Should Luis Cessa Make the Opening Day Roster?
Boy did that all change in a hurry.
In the seventh inning of yesterdays ball game in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, Yankees closer Andrew Miller was smoked on his right wrist by a comeback line drive off the bat of Braves pinch-hitter Willians Astudillo.
A CT-scan later revealed a chip fracture in Millers right wrist, and he’s scheduled to visit a hand specialist for further evaluation.
The silver lining is that the injury occurred to Miller’s non-throwing hand, and according to Meredith Marakovits, Andrew Miller plans on playing through the injury.
Though I envy Miller’s warrior-type mentality, until the Yankees get a second opinion from the hand specialist, I wouldn’t expect to see Miller on the field any time soon. With $27 million over the next three-years invested in their southpaw reliever, it’s hard to see the Yankees throwing him out onto the field to risk further injury.
To make matters worse, just one inning later Yankees right-hander Bryan Mitchell injured his toe while covering first base on a routine grounder. He was originally diagnosed with a sprained toe, but early Thursday morning it was revealed that his injury was in fact much more serious.
With Miller out until further notice and Bryan Mitchell likely to miss at least half the baseball season, the Yankees are now left scrambling to piece together their bullpen for Opening Day.
So what might their once-so-mighty bullpen now look like?
If Miller is out for an extended period of time, the 28-year old Dellin Betances will undoubtedly serve as the Yankees closer until at least May 9th when Aroldis Chapman can return from serving his suspension. Last season Betances converted nine saves in 13 opportunities when Andrew Miller was on the DL, so while it’s certainly a small sample size, Betances has shown the ability to close out ballgames at the major league level.
Who steps us as the set-up man?
In my opinion it’s 25-year old southpaw Chasen Shreve. After an abysmal second half in 2015, Chasen Shreve has rebounded incredibly well this spring. In nine innings pitched, Shreve has yet to cough up a hit. He also has eight strikeouts and zero walks, so his command is already in mid-season form.
As far as the seventh inning goes, the Yankees can go one of two ways. They can either name 23-year old rookie Luis Cessa to the Opening Day roster and hand him the ball, or they can re-visit the Kirby Yates experiment.
Both Luis Cessa and Kirby Yates have had an impressive spring training, but if the decision were up to me, I would option Cessa to the minors and give the seventh-inning duty to Yates. The Yankees traded a serviceable reliever in Justin Wilson away this off-season in order to bring in Luis Cessa with the goal of adding starting pitching depth to their pipeline. That said, with the Yankees short on farmhand starters as it is, I wouldn’t hamper with Cessa’s development. Plus, this also gives the Yankees another year of control over Cessa in the long-run.
To replace Bryan Mitchell the obvious candidate is Ivan Nova. We all know Ivan Nova want’s to start and that he was ‘competing’ all spring with CC Sabathia for the final rotation spot, but let’s be honest – the only way Sabathia was ever going to lose a spot in the starting rotation was if he went down with injury, and no, Nova’s best start of the spring on Wednesday afternoon against the Braves won’t change a thing.
Nova will begin the season as the Yankees long-reliever, and should any of the Yankees starters go down with injury, Nova will be the go-to-guy in emergency situations.
As far as the remaining two bullpen spots go, I think the injury to Bryan Mitchell opens up a spot for 23-year old right-hander Johnny Barbato by default. In 10.1 innings this spring, Barbato has recorded a 1.74 ERA while scattering seven hits and two earned runs. Barbato has yet to pitch in the major leagues, but last season he made it all the way up to AAA Scranton where he recorded a 0.36 ERA in 25.0 innings pitched.
Another name to consider is Tyler Olson, who the Yankees can recall from the minors. Olson was brought in on a minor-league deal and was optioned to AAA earlier in the spring after pitching to a 6.43 ERA in just seven innings of work.
Next: Yankees Dominant Bullpen Now in Jeopardy
One thing is for certain. The Scranton shuttle will certainly be logging a ton of mileage early on in the season as it shuttles the revolving door of relievers between Pennsylvania and the Bronx. Look for names like Jacob Lindgren, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow and company to appear in-and-out of the Yankees bullpen right off the bat.