Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dellin Betances: New York Yankees’ Future Ace, Or Next Hype-Machine Failure?

Dellin Betances is yet another young fireballer in the New York Yankees suddenly heralded farm system. A once barren and rightfully mocked prospect pool has now jumped as high as fourth among MLB franchises (courtesy of Frankie Piliere, formerly of MLB FanHouse).

This rise has been largely accredited to Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Brackman—otherwise dubbed the “Killer B’s”. Betances in particular is the arm that is dropping the most jaws to the floor across scouting circles.

This awe inevitably begins with his size, as “BEASTances” (thanks Twitter family) is cautiously listed at 6’8” and 245 pounds. As expected, this frame produces a dominant fastball that has been known to reach 96-97 MPH at times—though typically sitting at 93-95.

Betances’ breaking ball is essentially untouchable when at its best, however that inconsistency is one of the primary faults in an otherwise dynamic arsenal. Refining his fastball command is the other key factor in determining how far he can go at the next level.

The Yankees can feel very fortunate to claim the gentle giant as one of their own. Although drafted in the eighth round of the 2006 MLB Draft, Betances was a first round talent—dropping due to severe signability concerns.

The New York City high school star held strong leverage over any team willing to draft him, as a scholarship from respected baseball factory Vanderbilt University rested in his back pocket. An above-slot $1 million bonus from his childhood team was enough to lock him up, and NY knew the risk would pay off long-term.

Now Betances and his surgically reconstructed pitching elbow are quickly rising up MLB prospect lists.

In 17 starts split between Single-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, he compiled an 8-1 record and 2.11 ERA. He recorded 108 strikeouts in just 85.1 innings pitched, and also boasted a 0.88 WHIP and 5.6 H/9.

Betances has shown flashes of that dominance this spring in striking out seven in four and two-thirds innings, but has likewise shown his weaknesses in command and consistency.

One curve will send a hitter ducking out of the way in fear, only to see it snap back over the inside corner. The next will hang up in the zone. One fastball will explode past a late-swinging bat for a strikeout, and the next will miss its spot by two feet.

All of the elements for stardom are already in place, and now the Yankees have to teach him how to harness that power and be more disciplined in his mechanics.

While Betances’ size benefits him in many ways, it also makes it far more difficult to repeat his delivery and gets all parts moving in perfect synchronization. Pitching downhill is a very important weapon for tall pitchers, and is a skill all young prospects have to learn.

He has the stuff to be the next intimidating mound star in MLB, but that could leave him spinning in place below his potential like AJ Burnett, or spiraling out of control like former Orioles stud Daniel Cabrera.

Just a few weeks short of his 23rd birthday, Betances has plenty of time to reach his ceiling. He could likely be a bullpen weapon as early as June or July, but he needs to log the necessary minor league innings to develop correctly.

In my eyes, Betances is a tick below Banuelos in MLB-ready command, but his upside is a tick above Man-Ban in long-term projection.

I will always take the prospect who understands pitch sequences and the importance of command before the off-the-leash flamethrower.

That said, it’s hard to resist thinking about a composed version of Betances ducking his head while exiting the dugout on his way to the Mound.

The “potential” is limitless, but like many prospects the question is will he ever reach it? My gut feeling is that he will fall somewhere below stardom yet far above inconsistent frustration.

Regardless of his progression over the next 12-18 months, the Yankees have every right to feel confident about their rejuvenated farm system. Whether or not they don pinstripes or are traded for established stars is anyone’s guess, but expect Betances to stick around.

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