New York Yankees: 5 Players Poised for a Breakout Year in 2012

Phillip BrownSenior Analyst IIFebruary 8, 2012

New York Yankees: 5 Players Poised for a Breakout Year in 2012

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    When most people talk about the New York Yankees' 2012 season they talk about the regression of players like Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira. They also like to point out that the Yankees traded away potential superstar Jesus Montero.

    What about the flip side? Who will breakout in 2012 for the Yankees? Who will help players like Robinson Cano and CC Sabathia carry the Yankees back to the postseason?

    Let's find out.

Michael Pineda

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    Projected 2012 Stats:

    200 IP, 17-7, 3.28 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 205 K, 62 BB

    People doubt Michael Pineda because he came from huge Safeco Field and a weak AL West. Now he is in a small Yankee Stadium and a strong AL East, but he strikes people out at will and flashed his potential with a 3.03 ERA and 9.0 K/9 in 113 innings before the All-Star break in 2011.

    But he also has a high fly-ball and home run rate, and posted a 5.12 ERA in 58 innings after the All-Star Break. Did he get tired? Did hitters figure his two-pitch stuff out? I don't think so.

    Not only did his K/9 and BB/9 stay constant throughout the whole season, his ground-ball rate rose from 31.3 percent from March to June to 45.3 from September to October.

    Here is a small excerpt from one of my earlier articles on Pineda that sums up how I feel about him, using advanced statistics.

    If you look you can see that he was extremely unlucky on the road because his BABIP is .066 higher away from Safeco. He also for some reason has a 10.5 percent HR/FB at home and a lower 7.8 percent HR/FB on the road even though Safeco Field is supposed to be huge and turn home runs into routine fly balls. He also only stranded 64.4 percent of runners on the road in 2011 even though the league average is 75 percent.

    Pineda was a very unlucky pitcher on the road in 2011.

    Now, let's look at his FIP. His FIP on the road is 3.26 but his FIP at home is 3.62. Neither of those are bad at all and he is actually better on the road away from Safeco Field.

    Pineda actually improved as the season went on, despite what his sudden spike in ERA will tell you. His ground-ball rate was from 31.3 percent from March to June and then from September to October it was 45.3 percent. That is a huge improvement. His strikeout and walk rates also remained fairly constant throughout the year.

    After the All-Star break he had a 5.14 ERA, right? Sounds awful. He also had a 3.22 xFIP during that time period, which is actually pretty good.

    Michael Pineda has serious talent. If he can work on his changeup and have better luck, the move to New York will not hurt him as much as you would think.

Ivan Nova

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    Projected 2012 Stats:

    195 IP, 16-7, 3.36 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 121 K, 59 BB

    Ivan Nova had an incredible 2011 season, finishing with a 16-4 record and 3.70 ERA. With another season in the majors—when he won't be sent down to Triple-A for most of July—he should have had an even better season in 2011.

    Nova settled down once he got used to the majors, as shown by his 8-0 record and 3.09 ERA after July 1. Do I expect an ERA just above 3.00 and an undefeated record from Nova in 2012? No, he got an incredible amount of run support and was hot down the stretch.

    Does that mean I do not think he will improve? Not at all.

    For every Jason Heyward and the sophomore slump, there are many more players who improve in their second season. Another year of experience against major league hitters under his belt will help him greatly.

    Nova also had a great postseason. In his first ever postseason start he threw 6.1 shutout innings before Luis Ayala let two runners score. In his second start, Nova had a rough two innings stint before being pulled due to forearm stiffness.

    You may say that a 3.36 ERA is unreasonable because of Yankee Stadium's small dimensions, but his 52.7 percent ground-ball rate—good for 12th in the majors—will keep the Yankee Stadium effect to the minimum.

    If he can remain unpredictable to hitters that have now seen him multiple times, he should improve and have a better 2012 season.

Alex Rodriguez

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    Projected 2012 Stats:

    .290/.398/.539, 37 HR, 132 RBI, 11 SB 

    Can you really call this a breakout season since Alex Rodriguez already has three MVP Awards? Perhaps "rebound" is a better word for Rodriguez in 2012.

    Why do I trust Alex Rodriguez to perform well in 2012? There are two main reasons, the first is because before 2011 Rodriguez had hit 30 home runs and 100 runs batted in for 13 straight seasons. The second is he had the same German experimental knee surgery as Kobe Bryant. So far Kobe is averaging 29.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game—that sounds like his surgery worked.

    I expect Rodriguez to have a similarly great season in 2012.

    Health is still a big issue though. He played 99 games in 2011 due to knee surgery, but he only averaged 133 games per season from 2007 to 2009, and he still averaged 32 home runs and 109 runs batted in. If he can stay relatively healthy, even if he has to DH 30 to 40 games during the season, he should be offensively productive.

    When you get meniscus surgery you expect your lateral quickness to be hurt, but that is not the case. I am not a big fan of sabermetric stats, especially UZR, but it is hard to ignore his 20.2 UZR/150. That was the best among third basemen in 2011, and second to only Brett Gardner among all positions. That is incredible for a 36-year-old with a surgically repaired knee. Let's just hope he can repeat this defensive prowess in 2012.

Manny Banuelos

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    2012 Projected Stats:

    38 IP, 2.31 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 40 K, 15 BB

    If you doubt the 20-year-old lefty from Mexico look no further than his 2011 Spring Training. How many 19-year-olds can step into Spring Training and post a 2.13 ERA and a 10.0 K/9?

    In 2009 Banuelos had a 2.3 BB/9, in 2010 he had a 3.5 BB/9 and then in 2011 he had a 4.9 BB/9. Banuelos definitely has control issues, but I believe that is because of his recent bump in velocity as he exited his teens. After he gets used to it his pinpoint control should be back.

    Banuelos' stuff is undeniably some of the best in the minor leagues, which is why ranked him as the 13th best prospect in baseball. He has a mid-90s fastball, one of the best changeups in the minors and a plus-curveball.

    He will likely get a late season call-up and could take over as the Yankees' fifth starter if necessary, at the very least he will be a left-handed specialist out of the bullpen.

Cesar Cabral

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    2012 Projected Stats:

    58 IP, 2.85 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 65 K, 19 BB

    New York Yankee fans, I want to introduce you to your new No. 1 left-handed specialist: Cesar Cabral.

    You may not have heard of Cesar Cabral, but the Yankees traded up in the Rule V Draft and gave him a 25-man roster spot in order to grab him.

    Why would the Red Sox leave Cabral eligible for the Rule V Draft if he is so good? Their 40-man roster was full but they could have cleared a space for Cabral. Whatever the reason was the Yankees took advantage of a mistake and grabbed a valuable prospect from their hated rival.

    Cabral is a 22-year-old lefty from the Dominican Republic and he had a very good 2011 season. In High-A Ball and Double-A he posted a 2.95 ERA and an 11.5 K/9 in 55 innings pitched.

    The Yankees have another very good Rule V Draft selection on their roster: Ivan Nova. Am I saying he will be that good? No, but Cabral has a good chance of being an impact arm in the Yankees' bullpen in 2012. gives him high praise by saying this about him:

    Lefty with a solid frame and a smooth delivery. Pitches exclusively from the stretch. Fastball sits between 88-92 mph and tops out at 95 mph. Secondary pitches include an excellent 81-83 mph circle changeup, a mid-70s slurvey curveball, and a sharp 79-82 mph slider. Gets a lot of swings and misses with his changeup, which has nice downward movement. Excellent command and control, attacks hitters.

    That sounds like a pitcher I would want at my disposal if I was Joe Girardi. He will not challenge Rafael Soriano for the seventh inning, but I could see him as a Joba Chamberlain-type pitcher while Chamberlain is out until at least the All-Star break due to Tommy John surgery.