With just 28 career starts at the Major League level and none of them coming within the last two seasons, I’m not asking anyone to get over excited about Michael Pineda but developments in the New York Yankees clubhouse this Spring should have us taking note. A Yankee for two seasons, Pineda was injured before ever throwing a pitch for the team but now finds himself on the cusp of his return to the MLB.
Friday, in his first Spring action of 2014 Pineda tossed two scoreless innings and fanned four, topping out at 93 MPH. He won’t be handed the job over his competition (David Phelps, among others) on just two strong innings alone but should Pineda continue to pound the zone (throwing 21 of 27 pitches for strikes in those two innings) and look like a player who could capture his pre-injury form, the team would be hard pressed not to hand him the job.
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“He was really good. Pounded the strike zone with all three of his pitches. His fastball’s got that natural cut on it, which makes it hard for a hitter… His slider was pretty much unhittable.”
On the strength of that slider, Pineda had a successful rookie season for the Mariners before attracting New York’s attention. That season, he posted a 3.74 ERA, giving up just 133 hits in 171 innings with a 3.15 K/BB ratio and a K/9 just over 9.0. At 9.0 runs above average, the above mentioned slider was already the 15th best thrown league wide in his first season, according to Fan Graphs data. Suffice it to say, Pineda turned some heads his first year in the league.
Now, from a fantasy perspective, he’s been forgotten but Pineda has been doing good things in his attempted comeback. Last year, while he threw just 40.2 innings across three levels of minor league ball the 6’7″ hurler struck out 41 batters including 26 in 23.1 innings at AAA. At 93 on the radar gun he has a way to go to catch his 2011 velocity, but that should come up a bit as the Spring progresses.
Whether Pineda can win the job and stay healthy and productive if he does remains to be seen but his first attempt at earning it went about as well as it could have, and for owners thinking about upside late in their drafts it should be enough to take a late round shot on Pineda in hopes that he can show some of the promise he demonstrated in 2011. With an ADP well outside of the top 300 the potential reward far outweighs the risk.