It has been a long and winding road for Michael Pineda to make his first start with the New York Yankees, but now it's time for Pineda to take that next step in his career and become a full-time starter.
His first two seasons with the team were a total failure. Between injuries and rehab and off-the-field issues, Pineda hasn't come close to panning out the way general manager Brian Cashman thought he would.
After all, Pineda came to the Bombers in a deal that sent former top prospect Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners. In that trade, the Bombers thought they might be giving up a lot in Montero but figured that Pineda's rookie season numbers (9-10 with a 3.74 ERA) and All-Star appearance would more than make up for it.
However, quite the opposite has happened, and the only reason there hasn't been a Yankee fan mutiny over the fact that Montero was dealt away for zero return up until this point is because Montero himself has failed miserably with Seattle.
Not only has the once-promising youngster been abysmal at the plate after a solid rookie campaign (three homers and nine RBI with a .208 average in 2013), but he was also sent down to the minors for lackluster play and then injured his knee.
Montero was also linked to the now infamous BioGenesis clinic run by Anthony Bosch and was suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs in August of 2013 after denying rumors earlier in the season.
While many would consider Montero's issues a zero-for-zero exchange in terms of what the Yanks have gotten out of Pineda, at least Montero has taken the field in a game. Pineda, on the other hand, has not.
That's why 2014 is so important. Pineda can only sit in the minors for so long until time runs out on his chances for contributing to the ball club.
Granted, Pineda will be eligible for arbitration through the 2016 season, but all this time in the minors can't be helping the 25-year-old develop into a quality starter if he is only facing minor league bats.
At some point, Pineda has to hit a big league bump and make an impact in a meaningful way that will further his currently sputtering career.
Pineda will see plenty of competition for the final spot in the Yanks rotation, which is already full with the likes of CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova and newly acquired Japanese stud pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
While pitchers such as David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno have all done a solid job when given the opportunity in prime time, Pineda clearly has the potential to be a dominant pitcher with electric stuff if he can remain healthy and keep it all together.
A report by ESPNNewYork.com's Andrew Marchand and Wallace Matthews points out the good news that Pineda is healthy and in shape for the 2014 season and that Cashman is rooting for the player he acquired to win the No. 5 spot in the rotation.
"He's gonna compete for the last spot and hopefully he wins it," Cashman said in the report. "But if it's not him it'll be somebody else. I can't tell you the shoulder surgery is behind him. He's someone who had a massive shoulder surgery and he's trying to come back. He'll either pitch for us or he'll pitch for Scranton."
Scranton is the last place Pineda wants to be in 2014. If he ends up there, it'll mean he didn't pitch well enough to beat out three serviceable but not overwhelmingly good starters. That's quite a drop-off for a guy who was once good enough to play in the Midsummer Classic.
The upside is certainly there for Pineda, and all that's left now is to take the next step and become a factor in the Bombers rotation out of spring training.
Sure, the team and fans are anxious to see him actually start a game. But thankfully for the youngster, he won't have a heap of pressure on him, as he's low on the totem pole as the last guy in line to start.
It's a perfect way for Pineda to break back into the big leagues and hopefully build himself up as a future front-end guy in the best-case scenario for New York.
Pineda realistically still has time, with two years of arbitration after 2014, but it will seriously hurt the Yanks' faith in him if his season comes up short for any reason other than an injury.
Even then, the belief that he can be a healthy, viable starter will be shattered almost beyond repair.
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