One of the most pleasant surprises of the spring, and a very welcome sight for the Yankees, is the impressive performance of Michael Pineda. Acquired before the 2012 season in exchange for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi in a trade that has (so far) been incredibly disappointing for both teams, Pineda has yet to pitch an inning for the Yankees after tearing his shoulder labrum in spring training shortly after being traded.
Now, a full two-and-a-half years since he last pitched a major-league inning, the 25-year-old is opening plenty of eyes with his stellar spring performance. In his nine innings, he has allowed zero runs on eight hits, with a 14/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio that jumps off the page. It’s obviously a tiny sample, but his production so far has been very encouraging for a guy who hasn’t taken the mound in a major-league game since 2011.
His fastball velocity hasn’t fully returned, as he’s routinely sitting in the 90-92 mph range instead of the 94-96 mph heater he was throwing in 2011. It’s still too early to tell if his velocity will return to the mid-90s — even completely healthy pitchers routinely pitch with decreased velocity early on in the spring, ramping up as their arms get back into form.
One thing we know for certain is that Pineda’s trademark wipeout slider is 100% back. In Tuesday’s start against the Red Sox, he picked up five strikeouts in his 4.1 innings, and every one of those strikeouts came as a result of swinging strikes on the slider:
Check out that devastating late break. Yikes. Of course, one major knock on Pineda throughout his career has been his lack of a quality third pitch to pair with the slider and fastball. Admittedly, his change-up, long considered to be a below-average major-league offering, still doesn’t appear to be much more than that to my eyes.
He did manage to get a swinging strikeout in his first spring start with the change, but it still just isn’t a very lively pitch. There’s really not any lateral movement at all, and it doesn’t fall off the table the way one would like to see from a straight vertical change. He has also historically had trouble locating the offering.
With that in mind, let’s discuss how Pineda projects at this point of his career. Clearly, his worst-case scenario would be further injury, but if he does stay healthy, I see his floor being a rich man’s Bud Norris — a primarily fastball/slider guy with a change-up that’s good enough to keep him in the rotation and out of the bullpen. Their arsenals are quite similar at present; the reason I labeled Pineda’s non-injury floor as that of a “rich man’s” Norris is that I don’t have as many doubts about Pineda’s command/control profile as I do with Norris.
The upside is replicating his 2011 season, in which he posted a 3.42 FIP and 3.53 xFIP while striking out more than a batter per inning. If Pineda is indeed fully healthy, it’s not an unreasonable projection, and that’s a very valuable fantasy commodity. Furthermore, if he can develop the change into something more than just a show-me pitch, he still has a top-of-the-rotation ceiling.
Keep in mind that his arm could fall off tomorrow, rendering all of this moot, but also keep in mind that Pineda was a consensus top-25 prospect just three years ago. Based on what we’ve seen so far this spring, and his considerable upside, I recommend picking him up in all 12-team or deeper mixed leagues.
BONUS FUN FACT: Completely unrelated to Pineda, or even pitching, but nonetheless an interesting tidbit that I gleaned from looking over the Yanks’ depth chart: All of their projected starting position players are over 30 years old, and the average age of those players is 33.8 years.
Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.