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April 2013 Prospect Profile: Starting Pitchers

04/30/2013 9:32 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Nik Turley is one of three lefties in Trenton's starting rotation.(Mike Ashmore)
Entering 2013, the Yankees organization was deeper with pitching talent than it has been in perhaps years; exactly two-thirds of the current staff in the Bronx is homegrown, and when you look at the various deeper lists of Top 25 or 30 prospects in the system, there is likely at least one pitcher at every level somewhere in those rankings.

Now, after a few late-spring and early-season additions, there is a dynamic mixture at every level that gives the Yankees plenty of options in the near and not-so-near future.

With the signing and promotion of Chien-Ming Wang to Triple-A, the Yankees’ rotation at Scranton is a mix of two MLB veterans (Wang and Chris Bootcheck), two 40-man rosterees in righties Dellin Betances and Brett Marshall, and 25-year-old lefty Vidal Nuno, who led the organization in strikeouts last year and put himself on the prospect map with a solid spring.

Nuno is the only southpaw at Triple-A, but he might not be for one – because one step below at Double-A Trenton, manager Tony Franklin has three-and-a-half; Matt Tracy, Nik Turley, and converted reliever Francisco Rondon joined righties Caleb Cotham and Zach Nuding in the initial rotation, and should one of them need to be replaced, Franklin has Shaeffer Hall, who made 27 starts for the Thunder in 2012, waiting in the bullpen.

Facing a lefty tends to change a team’s lineup a bit no matter what level they’re at, but as Tracy says, having three helps the pitchers even more.

“I think it helps out a lot when you see how another lefty attacks a certain lineup, and you can see what the other team does and how they adjust as the game goes on,” Tracy said.

One other thing Trenton’s rotation has that Scranton’s might not: familiarity. Tracy, Nuding, and Turley all spent most if not all of 2012 in Tampa, righty Jose Ramirez, who is expected to join the Thunder once fully healthy, did the same, and Caleb Cotham was there for most of last year.

Thunder catcher J.R. Murphy – who split 2012 between the two stops – said that familiarity with his staff certainly helps a catcher’s development, and according to Tracy and Turley, it does so for the group of friends-yet-competitors on the mound too.

“It’s exciting to be in a rotation with guys of this quality, and we each learn from each other and feed off each other,” Tracy said. “We’ve been together, and we’ll chart each other and pick things up here or there, so it’s a great opportunity.”

“You try to learn from everyone, everywhere you play. As professional athletes, we’re competitors by nature, so we compete everywhere; in the weight room, running, who has the best chart,” Turley added, “and all of that helps us get better.”

Turley has gotten the best of all worlds of late; after spending April through August of last year in Tampa, he got his first taste of the playoffs by joining Trenton for their run to the Eastern League Championship Series – an experience he called “nuts” – and then spent part of this spring with the Major League club, where he got to learn from the Yankees’ most famous southpaw.

“Everyone (in camp) was great, and I got to talk to Andy Pettitte quite a bit; he was always free to talk to me whenever I had a question,” Turley said. “I struggled a bit in my second outing, but I learned a lot about the guys in the clubhouse after that; they all told me to keep my head up, had my back and helped me get through it.”

Ramirez, Nuding, and Rondon were also in camp this spring, as was the man who replaced Turley at the top of Tampa’s rotation this year: righty Bryan Mitchell. The freshly-turned 22-year-old went 9-11 in Charleston last year, and got his first taste of the big stage before staying behind in the Sunshine State to head an all-righty rotation in Tampa.

“It was good to be around those guys; I’m pretty good friends with David Phelps and Adam Warren, so I hung out with them a lot and learned a lot from them,” Mitchell said.

A self-professed power pitcher, Mitchell was ranked by MLB.com as the organization’s No. 15 prospect, and he leads a group that includes five guys who had four different career paths in 2012; Shane Greene is a holdover from last year’s T-Yanks rotation, Mikey O’Brien is back after spending most of last year in Trenton, Scottie Allen joins Mitchell in moving up from Charleston, and 2012 draftee Corey Black is in the mix after spending his abbreviated rookie year over the lowest three levels.

All have converged with Tampa skipper Luis Sojo for 2013, and Mitchell for one enjoys working with the FSL’s all-time wins leader but hopes to crack the club one click north sooner rather than later.

“Command with all our pitches is the biggest thing we work on, but I want to get my changeup to be better,” Mitchell said. “And, I want to be a more consistent pitcher all around. I had ups and downs last year, but I want more ups this year and more consistency no matter what.”

At the lower levels, the Yankees also have several others already on the radar. In Charleston alone, righty Jose Campos, who was acquired in the Michael Pineda trade, is after missing most of 2012 with an elbow injury, and after finally settling years of visa issues, top international prospect Rafael De Paula has joined him there.

Elsewhere, while Ramirez is one of a few names still in Extended Spring Training rehabbing, righty Angel Rincon is there awaiting assignment (likely to a short-season league) after an impressive first year in America (3-1, 2.59 between the GCL and Staten Island), 2012 top pick Ty Hensley (hip surgery) will soon be working his way back and is likely en route to Staten Island, and righties Dallas Martinez and Erick Canela, who spent 2012 with the top Yankees squad in the Dominican Summer League, could be headed to American sooner rather than later.

Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES

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