Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Don't Underestimate the Value of a Relief Prospect

Prospect analysts throughout baseball rarely show the love to minor league relief pitchers.  Now I'm not talking about Spot Starters, or guys that they may convert to the rotation, I'm talking about the pitchers that are strictly short inning relievers.

I've had conversations with people on Scout.com and Baseball America about this topic & the consensus seems to be that their impact is minimal to a team.  Now I can agree & disagree with this notion.  First I can agree that these short relievers do only come in for one, two innings tops.  Also, if you don't have good starting pitching and a respectable offense to get the ball to these short relievers, they won't get a chance to impact the game.

Having said that, it's not the prospect's fault that the rest of the team isn't good enough to maximize his potential to help the team.  Even if the team isn't competent enough to do that, he still has value and can be dealt to another team for someone of his stature is worth.  If a team has a closer prospect that's just dealing but you can't get him to close games due to another Closer on the roster (Think Bard/Papelbon), you still treat him as a Closer prospect & you only deal him if the value you get in return is fair value.  A closer has much more value if you market him as such instead of a 6th or 7th inning reliever.

David Robertson is arguably the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera & he has never even cracked a New York Yankees Top 10 Prospect list.  The highest I've ever seen him was in 2008 & he was at 15.  In 2008 John Sickels had him at 18, behind guys like Jeff Marquez, Damon Sublett, Brad Suttle, and Alan Horne.  Two of those names were starting pitchers (Marquez & Horne) and the other two are position players (Sublett & Suttle).  Marquez was dealt as part of a package for Nick Swisher (Cashman robbed Kenny Williams, loving it).  Alan Horne has been released after having multiple surgeries mixed with bad numbers.  Brad Suttle, I'm not even going to pretend like I know what his story is at this point, & Damon Sublett is long gone.

I understand that position players and starting pitchers have the chance to have a bigger impact on the game but you have to divide them up a bit.  We all know the answer in 2012 but back in 2008 for those like me who follow prospects closely, Robertson was without question going to have a more positive impact on the Yankees then any of those four players.  The very same could have been said about Mark Melancon, who the Yankees never even gave the chance to show what he can do.  Impact relievers like him are not to be used for garbage innings.

Look up what Rafael Soriano's annual salary is then compare that to the cost controlled young relievers throughout baseball & tell me that relief prospects aren't valuable.  Considering the abundance of high impact relievers that the Yankees have in the system, they should no longer be in the market for Free Agent help.

Mark Montgomery, an 11th round pick, burst onto the scene last year with insane strikeout rate (51 in 28.1IP) including a 5 strikeout inning on July 1 against the Rome Braves.  He has a mid 90s fastball and an ungodly slider, which is why he struck out 5 in one inning.  It is so nasty that the Braves could not hit it & Gary Sanchez couldn't catch it.  He pitched in Staten Island & Charleston last season.  I expect him to begin the year in Tampa & end the season in Trenton.  That's the beauty of relievers, they are generally quick movers.

Manny Barreda, a 12th round pick in 2007, was being groomed as a starting pitcher up until last season when he told me that he was being converted to the pen full time.  Manny had good stuff as a starter but reports out of off-season Instructs are that his stuff has spiked significantly.  He is consistently hitting the mid 90s with above average off-speed pitches.  If he can lock down that command, which I think he will, Yankee fans should start tracking this kid because like Montgomery, he has impact potential & can move fast.  I expect him to begin the year in Tampa as well & if he can harness his command, he will move up to Trenton fast because he is a couple years older then Montgomery.

There are a few other guys in the system that I like as well, such as Danny Burawa, Tommy Kahnle, and Branden Pinder.  Mark Montgomery & Manny Barreda are two guys I'm the most high on to impact a bullpen though.

I love the high impact starting pitchers and position players as much as anyone but without a really good bullpen, you're not going anywhere.  It's ironic and amusing to me when analysts don't give credit to these relief prospects but when they are locking down games at the ML level, suddenly they become cheerleaders.

Jump on the bandwagon everyone, there is plenty of room & I welcome you all with open arms.

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