Name: Dellin Betances
Notable 2011 Stats: 3.42 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 7 HRA, 55 BB, 115 K, 51% GB% in 105 1/3 IP with Trenton (AA);
5.14 ERA, 4.15 FIP, 2 HRA, 15 BB, 27 K, 31% GB% in 21 IP with Scranton/Wilkes Barre (AAA);
6.75 ERA, 9.40 FIP, 0 HRA, 6 BB, 2 K, 14.3% GB% in 2 2/3 IP with Yankees
Why He’s This High: Betances boasts an intimidating combination of size and stuff. He stands every bit of 6’8″ and has two bigtime pitches in his 91-95 mph fastball and hard low-80′s curveball.
As his strikeout numbers suggest, the New York native has been able to get tons of batters to come up empty on the back of those two offerings.
While he is something of a flyball pitcher, Betances has never had trouble with the long ball, as his pitches enter the zone on a steep downhill plane that makes them very tough to square up. That also means he seems to generate fairly weak contact, as his BABIP figures have been consistently below .300 the past four years, with the exception of an 11-start stretch in High-A in 2009.
If Betances locates consistently, then, he should be an ace. He gets a bunch of strikeouts and limits hard contact, so limiting walks would make him a truly complete hurler. He had a very low walk rate in 2010, so he’s managed to throw enough strikes before.
Why He’s This Low: Of course, Betances hasn’t managed to throw enough strikes in the upper minors, which is the biggest reason he’s this low. He walked 4.7 batters per nine in Double-A, which escalated to 6.43 in Triple-A and then were further magnified in his brief MLB cameo, where he walked nearly as many batters (6) as he retired (7).
24 in March, Betances remains raw. Like many big pitchers, he struggles to keep his mechanics in line; while his delivery is fundamentally sound, he doesn’t coordinate the parts on a consistent basis, which causes him to overthrow.
Without a bigtime third pitch, Betances thus becomes a guy with two electric offerings and extreme inconsistency. In other words, he’s A.J. Burnett all over again.
Conclusions: There are a lot of different directions Betances’ career could go. He could develop late–not unheard of for behemoth hurlers–and turn into a front-0f-the-rotation guy. He could be the next Burnett. He could move to the bullpen and become a power closer. He could still struggle with his command in relief and simply be the new Jose Veras.
The “he’s big, so he’s still figuring out his mechanics” excuse buys Betances a longer least than most, but the fact remains that he still is very much in need of more minor league time at age 24, and a bullpen move could well be in the cards, which would send his potential upside plummeting. In that way, he’s similar to #89 prospect Joel Carreno. While Betances has more size and velocity than Carreno, both pitchers have electric breaking pitches and bigtime minor league strikeout rates, but also have some serious issues (Betances’ command, Carreno’s size and slider-heaviness) that could leave them in relief roles.
Sure, Betances could turn into a relief ace, but consider that this year’s most valuable reliever was Craig Kimbrel, at 3.2 WAR. That total comes in below starting pitchers like Gio Gonzalez, Alexi Ogando, Ricky Nolasco, and Mark Buehrle–not really a group of aces. Only seven relievers managed even 2.0 WAR this year–even if one were to project Betances to get in that elite group year in and year out (one hell of a stretch, if you ask me), that leaves him as valuable as Paul Maholm.
Chances are, 2012 is going to be the last year Betances gets a chance to rein in his command issues as a starter; the Yankees certainly aren’t going to develop him as a starter if he’s just going to give the MLB team Burnett-style headaches. We’ll know a lot more about his ultimate prognosis a year from now; while his upside remains considerable, the amount and likelihood of less desirable scenarios is increasing.
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