As the Yankee-loving universe is probably aware, Michael Pineda is working his way back from injury on a lengthy rehab stint in the minor leagues. I made the lengthy journey to my least favorite minor league ballpark to see Pineda as well as a few other Yankee prospects.
Michael Pineda is every bit of the 6’7” and 260lbs at which he is listed (Curiously, he is listed at 260 on Baseball Reference’s MLB page and just 255 on Bref’s MiLB page). He is thick and physical, though not overly athletic and can have trouble repeating his delivery at times. This can, of course, result in spells where the control and command disappear. This was not the case last week when I saw Pineda, who threw 54 of his 79 pitches for strikes. His start on Sunday was poor, however, as he threw just 35 of 70 pitches for strikes. Strike throwing issues are a common occurrence in pitchers of extreme height. The Yankees struggled to remedy this very issue with Dellin Betances (6’8”), who has been relegated to middle/long relief in Triple-A where the results have been much better (Betances allowed just 3 runs and walked 6 while striking out 23 in 18.1 June innings). Pineda’s issues with mechanical repetition are not as horrifyingly bad as Betances’ have been, and I certainly don’t expect them to be bad enough that Pineda has to move to the bullpen, but when you consider how difficult it’s been for Yankees pitchers to iron out control issues over the last half decade or so, it’s worth noting.
Pineda’s stuff is good, albeit incomplete, as it was while he was busy racking up a solid 170 innings during his rookie year in Seattle. His average Fastball velocity during his inaugural 2011 campaign was 94.7mph. Last Tuesday, Pineda’s fastball ranged from 90-95mph and sat 92-93mph. It’s heavy and difficult to elevate thanks to Pineda’s size, but I’m sure the Yankees are hoping to see his velocity return to pre-injury levels. The fastball will have natural cut on it at times.
Pineda’s slider looked fantastic. He gained better feel for it as his start went on, throwing a few for strikes early in counts but mostly using it as a swing and miss pitch in the dirt. His slider displayed a wide variance of velocity. He threw a few as low as 81mph, several at 85mph and even touched 87mph once (on what was the best individual slider I’ve ever seen in person). Mostly he was 83-84mph with it, featuring significant late vertical movement. It’s a consistent plus pitch that will flash better, and a true weapon.
The changeup is another story. Firm, at 88-89mph, it doesn’t move much and is more or less just an offering Pineda can use to change speeds and keep hitters off his fastball. He doesn’t use it much and I don’t expect him to when he returns to the Major Leagues.
Overall, he still looks like a fine #3 starter, especially if the control he displayed in his first start at Double-A becomes the norm for him.
Other Yankee prospects of note:
Slade Heathcott (CF) – Physical and muscular, Heathcott put on the most impressive BP of anyone I saw at last year’s Arizona Fall League last year. He’s a tremendous athlete with plus-plus running and throwing tools and projects to stay in CF despite his thick build. He has the arm and offensive profile to play in RF if, for some reason, he does slow down one day. His swing is handsy, he doesn’t incorporate his lower half very much, but he’s strong enough and has a quick enough bat that balls still explode off the wood when he makes solid contact. Heathcott’s issues come from how he plays the game. His approach is over-aggressive, he’s often erratic and putting himself into situations where he could get hurt (and he often does). The ceiling here is quite high, All Star type stuff. Whether or not he gets there will depend on all sorts of secondary still that take time to develop (and frankly, to scout). I want to see more, but I like what I see very much.
Tyler Austin (Corner OF) – A body built for a corner outfield spot, Austin has tremendous bat to ball ability but lacks the power you look for in a left or right fielder. There’s enough pop there that I still think he could put up numbers befitting an average Major League outfielder (especially in Yankee Stadium), especially when you factor in his advanced approach at the plate. The defense is just okay, nothing notable there, good or bad. Austin’s approach is such a big part of his game and will play such a huge roll in his future that, like Heathcott, I want to see more to get a better feel.