By David Heck, Special to CBS Local Sports
CBS Local Sports will be profiling one young player from each Major League Baseball team every day for the next 30 days as part of our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature.
David Phelps, Pitcher, New York Yankees
2012 season: 99.2 IP, 3.34 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 96 K, 38 BB
It’s no secret that it’s been a rough few months for the Yankees. They lost Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Eric Chavez and Raul Ibanez to free agency. Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson will both miss a significant amount of time with injuries. Derek Jeter is recovering from ankle surgery. And the rest of the division keeps improving.
The Yankees’ bats are questionable, which means that the team’s pitching staff will be all the more important this year. Whether as a starter or a reliever, David Phelps will likely be an integral part of that staff.
Selected in the 14th round of the 2008 Draft, Phelps hasn’t experienced much failure in his professional career. His highest ERA in any full season of minor league play was 2.99 in 2011, and last year he impressed the Yankees so much in March that he made the team out of Spring Training. The club wouldn’t regret that decision, as Phelps fulfilled the Bombers’ swingman role in a way that would make Ramiro Mendoza proud. The Notre Dame product produced admirably as a starter, compiling a 3.77 ERA in 57.1 innings, but did even better by recording a 2.76 mark in relief – a normal disparity for most pitchers.
Phelps was never an elite prospect – his fastball averaged a shade under 91 mph last year, which gives you an idea why – but he’s still got enough stuff to be an effective Major League starter. In addition to the fastball, he wields a slider, curveball and a show-me changeup. He doesn’t have what one would consider a true “out” pitch (the curveball is closest), but he has enough control of his repertoire to be an effective big league hurler. Among American League rookies who pitched at least 90 innings, Phelps ranked third with a 23.2% strikeout rate and checked in at No. 6 with a 2.53 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The only AL East neophyte to beat Phelps in strikeout rate was Boston’s Felix Doubront (23.6%), while only Baltimore’s Wei-Yin Chen edged him in strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.70).
Phelps’ strikeout rate is already solid, and if anything, it’s likely to regress now that the league has seen him. Even if that happens, however, Phelps could still improve this year by cutting down on his walk rate. If he can manage a strikeout-to-walk ratio at or above 3.00, he would likely profile as a legitimate middle-of-the-rotation starter.
Moving forward, there’s a question as to how the Yankees will use Phelps this year. The fifth starter job is ostensibly up for grabs after Ivan Nova took a significant step back last season, but things might not be that simple. Phelps has proven that he can be effective as a starter or a reliever, while Nova hasn’t. That might mean that, fairly or not, Nova will get a longer look for the final spot in the rotation. Either way, Phelps will be an important piece for the Yankees as they look to hold off the rest of the AL East competition. And if the right-hander takes another step forward, he will give the Yankees a cheap option for the rotation as they look to cut their payroll in 2014.
Next up on March 2: Boston Red Sox