Tuesday, November 14, 2006

MLB: Key to Young Pitching is Having it in Numbers

By Dustin Hockensmith

Steve's right, the Yankees did great in acquiring three quality young arms for an aging Gary Sheffield that wasn't fitting in with the direction of the new-look club. But before you really break down Brian Cashman's current deal, you have to applaud his vision for acquiring Bobby Abreu to not only help immediately, but also give him some flexibility to make a deal in the wintertime. That deal laid the foundation for the Yankees to address ongoing pitching and bullpen issues how it should be done: from the farm system up.

Humberto Sanchez is a legitimate pitching prospect, no question about it, and we have learned quickly to recognize such a prospect's value. But then you throw in a guy like Kevin Whelan, who had 27 saves in 2006, and Anthony Clagget, who had a 0.91 ERA and a .174 opponent batting average, and you've just planted three seeds with pretty good odds of becoming useful plants. That is a tremendous key when it comes to developing pitching prospects because there is so much uncertainty in a young pitcher's career.

Though I'd prefer to not call Sanchez one of the top pitching prospects in baseball just yet, he's got the size and upside to be a star. At 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds, the 23-year old has excellent arm strength and the ability to 'stay on top' of a sinking fastball. With that wingspan, release point and decent velocity, consistency in locating his pitches and keeping his fastball down will be keys. We don't have a large enough sample size yet to measure Sanchez's intangibles and consistency, but I will point out that his numbers dropped significantly last season right about when he hit the 100-inning mark.

The Tigers will feel the effects of this trade down the road, but they will be a better team in 2007 because they made a deal. They didn't have one 'centerpiece' player in the lineup at any point last season, just a lot of nice players that combined to make a solid, if unspectacular, offensive unit. Sheffield's presence in the middle of their lineup immediately makes players like Magglio Ordonez and the underrated Carlos Guillen better. Everyone is more free to be themselves and not try to play roles that don't suit their strengths, and in a less intensive media environment, Shef's truculent nature is less of an issue.

Sanchez is at least a year away from the Majors, but we could see both Whelan and Clagget get some run in middle relief for the Yanks very soon. Add that to a recent crop of draftees that includes Joba Chamberlain, J. Brent Cox and Tim Norton, who throws the heaviest non-Chien Ming Wang fastball I have ever seen, and Yankees fans should have plenty to be excited about.

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