Spring training is the time of year when teams look to find answers for their biggest questions. Few teams enter camp with the majority of their players locked in.
The New York Yankees are one of those few.
Despite two openings in their starting rotation, the Yankees have a fairly clear idea of who will make up their everyday lineup and bullpen.
There aren't any real position battles—other than the question of whether or not top prospect Jesus Montero will win a backup catching job.
Offseason acquisition Rafael Soriano will join a bullpen which will most likely include David Robertson, Pedro Feliciano, Damaso Marte and, of course, Mariano Rivera. Other than the question of whether or not Joba Chamberlain can be an effective reliever, the bullpen is pretty much locked up.
The starting rotation is the focus in spring training, as the Yankees look to fill out the last two spots. Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia are all candidates.
Nova pitched two scoreless innings yesterday against the Philadelphia Phillies, retiring all six men he faced, getting four ground balls and striking out two. Colon and Mitre have also looked good so far in spring training, but the real story is top prospect, Dellin Betances.
Betances, 22, made his spring debut yesterday, and was dazzling to say the least.
The promising right-hander, and one of the Yankees' so-called "Killer B's," came into the game ready to face the middle of the Philly batting order.
Betances struck out the side, displaying a lightning-fast, 96-mph fastball. He struck out Dominic Brown and Ben Francisco, walked Carlos Ruiz and finished the inning by striking out Wilson Valdez.
"Pretty good for the first time being out there," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
"You kind of want to see how the kids react the first time out and what they do the next couple after that. I'm sure there are some emotions that go in there, some butterflies. There have got to be."
If he was uncomfortable at all, it certainly didn't show, and even Betances himself said he hasn't been nervous at all in camp.
"I haven't been nervous at all. These guys are making me feel so comfortable... all I have to do is go out and do my job, which is pitch. That's something I love doing." Betances said.
The issue with Betances isn't his performance or potential, it's the Yankees' complete unwillingness to consider him, or any prospect other than Nova, for the starting rotation.
Betances is currently rated the Yankees' No. 3 prospect, according to Baseball America. If he hadn't needed elbow surgery two years ago, he might already be in the majors.
But, manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman have already made it clear that Betances is destined for the minor leagues, no matter how well he pitches during spring training.
The Yankees have already made it clear that they value patience above all else when it comes to their prospects, and with a team of veterans that have won multiple championships, it's not hard to understand their position.
But the Yankee fanbase is still reeling from the loss of free agents Cliff Lee—to the Phillies—and Carl Crawford—to the Boston Red Sox. Cashman himself has already conceded that the Red Sox are the better team in the AL East right now.
And while the Yankees are giving Ivan Nova a long look for the rotation, the final spot will still be a competition between Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon, neither of which should instill any confidence in Yankee fans.
And if Betances continues to look as impressive as he did yesterday and establishes himself as one of the best pitchers the Yankees have in camp, why can't he be given a spot in the rotation to start the season?
The main reason against it would be the fact that Betances has never thrown more than 130 innings in any of his four minor league seasons. It's unclear whether or not he'd be able to handle the workload of an entire season, and that's certainly a fair concern.
But ask the San Francisco Giants what can happen when you give a young pitcher a shot at the rotation.
Tim Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young Award recipient and World Series winning pitcher, was called up for the 2007 season after just two years and 62.2 IP in the minors.
Now, Lincecum was completely dominant and flew straight through the minor leagues, and Betances hasn't come anywhere near duplicating Lincecum's minor league numbers, but that doesn't mean that Betances can't handle a full season or be a productive member of the rotation.
Another Giants pitcher, Matt Cain, is an even better comparison to Betances in terms of minor league experience.
Cain made his Giants debut in 2005 after four seasons in the minors. To that point, he had thrown a total of 397.2 innings with a 3.33 ERA.
Betances' minor league ERA is 3.39 in 299.2 innings.
Would Betances win a Cy Young Award if he pitched this season? Probably not.
Would he give the fans more to look forward to than Sergio Mitre or Bartolo Colon? Certainly.
Now, giving Betances a spot in the rotation would, of course, come with rules and innings limits—"Betances Rules," I guess.
But, with a strong bullpen, the Yankees would be able to get away with keeping Betances limited to five or six innings of work in each start. If he makes 30 starts, that would put Betances between 150-180 innings for the season, at least 30 more than he's ever thrown in the minors.
But if the Yankees also keep Betances to a limited number of starts, they could keep that number down.
It probably won't happen, and Betances seems destined for the minor leagues at the end of spring training, no matter how well he pitches.
But the Yankees have to avoid making the same mistakes with Betances as they did with Chamberlain. If Betances is going to be a starting pitcher, then use him as such.
Given the projected strength of the Yankee bullpen, there won't be much of a need for a September call-up for Betances.
It will be interesting to watch the starting rotation battle play out over the next month. Hopefully Betances will continue to impress, keeping Yankee fans looking forward to the future.
But maybe the future shouldn't be so far away.
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