The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of: Dellin Betances
Many popular opinions of pitching prospects are formed from general scouting reports. While these reports are invaluable resources, they can’t always be trusted. Hundreds of minor league hurlers are credited with “mid-90′s velocity,” but very few MLB starters actually have that grade of heat, for example. It’s incredibly frustrating to hear about a pitcher with “a mid-90′s heater and plus curve,” only to have him come up to the big leagues and show a fastball that averages 90.5 mph and a slider.
When a pitcher come up to the majors, we can finally get a foolproof reading on what exactly his arsenal is comprised of, thanks to the great Pitch F/X system. In this series, I analyze just that–the “stuff” of recently-promoted MLB pitchers. Now that they’ve achieved their big league dreams and thus factor directly into the MLB picture, it’s high time that we know exactly what these guys are providing.
Dellin Betances ranked as the #88 prospect in baseball on my top 100 prospects list this offseason, mainly on the strength of his size, stuff, and strikeout rates. However, he wasn’t higher on that list mainly due to his struggles at throwing strikes, a problem that was magnified in his brief MLB callup this September. Betances made a 2/3-inning, four-walk appearance in relief and then worked two scoreless innings with two walks and one hit allowed in a start on the final day of the regular season.
He’ll be 24 in March, so Betances isn’t all that young, and he’s at the point where he’s going to need to demonstrate some polish or get moved to relief. But before we look at his problems, let’s look at what he throws.
Betances is often credited with two plus pitches: a mid-90′s fastball and a power curve. Even though he was working in short stints in his two MLB appearances, his fastball wasn’t in the mid-90′s–he worked at 91-95 mph. I imagine that he’d probably be at 90-93 in the rotation, with the ability to reach back for the occasional 94-95 pitch.
That’s not to diminish the quality of Betances’ fastball, however. He’s got a fairly deceptive arm action and a high arm slot that causes the ball to explode up in the strike zone. Because of his height and deception, it’s tough to pick up the plane of the ball out of his hand. It’s easy to see how he could get a lot of batters to swing at shoulder-high fastballs in the minors.
Betances does boast an excellent curveball in the 81-85 range, with movement that rivals that of curves six mph slower. It’s a true 12-to-6 offering (and I don’t just throw that term around like some do) that can be devastating when located properly.
The righthander’s changeup is the one pitch that he never was really praised for. It comes in at 84-86 mph and is fairly straight, but it’s usable when played off of his other two offerings.
So, that’s the gist of Betances’ stuff–two plus pitches, one fringy one. If you read much about prospects, you probably knew that already–the only notable new information here is that his pure fastball velocity may be a bit less than advertised.
But what causes his struggles? A lot of it, I think, has to do with his mechanics.
It’s common knowledge that big pitchers tend to struggle more with their deliveries, as they have longer limbs to coordinate. At 6’8″, Betances obviously is not an exception to that rule, as he’s still working on finding consistency with his motion.
To his credit, Betances has found a delivery that is basically sound mechanically, and I don’t see a whole lot of injury red flags. His motion, like that of many tall pitchers, seems to be almost excessively simplified, in a sort of “alright, I’m going to just turn, raise my leg, lean forward, put it down, and throw” sort of way.
The problems start there, though. Betances collapses his back leg somewhat in his delivery, which means that he’s not releasing the ball that high even though he uses a very high arm angle. See his release points:
That’s fairly high, but not a maximization of his height by any means. 5’5″ Tim Collins of the Royals threw most of his pitches from a similar height, after all.
That’s fairly high, but not a maximization of his height by any means. 5’5″ Tim Collins of the Royals threw most of his pitches from a similar height, after all.
Because he’s collapsing his back leg and throwing straight over the top, Betances is not only costing himself some height leverage, but he’s also dramatically compromising his ability to get downward plane. Between the back-leg collapse and high arm slot, after all, his release is basically uphill, which is the exact opposite of where you want a tall pitcher to be throwing. The results of this problem were quite dramatic in his debut:
Basically, it’s physically quite difficult for Betances to throw the ball down in the strike zone. Part of the problem we see in this small sample is just him overthrowing some due to the high emotions of a big league debut (and subsequent first start), but part of it is very real and speaks to a significant problem with the righthander going forward. This is particularly true with regards to his curveball:
He might be able to get away with throwing the fastball high, higher, and even higher, but breaking/offspeed pitches don’t work that way. Just 4 of the 20 curves/changeups he threw were below the midpoint of the strike zone, and that’s got to come way up if he’s going to be successful, especially if he’s going to work so high with the fastball.
Ultimately, this all pretty much confirms what most think about Betances–he’s got enough stuff to have a very high ceiling, but some flaws that leave him a significant way away from reaching that upside. I’d suggest that he either cuts out his leg collapse or lower his arm slot to give him better access at changing hitters’ eye levels, because he’s going to have a very hard time gaining traction in the majors with his current approach.
This kid seems to have a HUGE upside (and he is a Bronx kid with a dream to play for the Yankees)... Why is so frequently the one in trade talks ?
I know Banuelos is a lefty and that gives him big points... and I know that Betances' height makes it more difficult to maintain that arm slot and has too many moving pieces... But he just COULD be a Randy Johnson type pticher once he figures it out like Johnson did. I would hate to see him being an ace for someone else. I know the Yanks will have to give up someone to get someone, but I don't really want it to be him...
There was an article in the NY Post today written by Dan Martin in which he claims that Yankees pitching prospect Dellin Betances had a “disappointing 2011″ season. In some respects that may be true, but within the overall context of Betances’ career, 2011 was certainly a big step forward in his development.
The biggest reason Martin likely called Betances’ year disappointing is because his ERA jumped from 2.11 in 2010 to 3.70 this year. His walk rate also jumped from 2.3 to an unimpressive 5.0 in his latest campaign.
Obviously both of those are bad trends, however it ignores the fact that he took a significant jump from High-A/Double-A to Double-A/Triple-A. It’s only natural that his ERA would go up a bit and that hitters would be more selective. It is certainly something he has to work on, especially his command.
Going into the 2012 season though, being able to dominate minor leaguers wasn’t exactly a goal for him. His biggest goal in 2012 he achieved, with flying colors I might add. That is to stay healthy and pitch a full season.
You might say, isn’t that the goal for every minor leaguer? It is, but it had more importance for Betances than the average prospect.
There are a lot of things to like about Betances, his size, his stuff, his power. However he has always lacked the ability to stay healthy. He struggled to stay on the field in 2007, had a good year in 2007, but also spent some time on the DL. He missed almost all of 2009 and started 2010 on the DL too. So the most important thing for him was to get through an entire season healthy.
He managed to do that in 2011 when he made 25 starts and tossed 126.1 innings. That’s a perfect jump from the 85.1 innings he tossed the year before and sets him up to throw 150 innings next year with no worry about his arm and 200 innings in what should be his first full season in the Bronx in 2013.
Yeah, that ERA and BB/9 did go up, he’ll have to work on that. But he should have plenty of time in 2012 as he isn’t expected to realistically compete for a rotation spot. Thanks to him completing his first and only full, healthy season in the Yankees organization he is perfectly on track to do so.
If there's one thing Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has made clear this offseason, it's that he wants help for the starting rotation.
He's open to trades or free agency, and he also has said that if need be, the Yankees would give some of their younger arms a chance.
Dellin Betances said he hopes that's the case.
"I feel like next year is a big year for me," Betances said. "There are definitely spots that are going to be open, and I need to show what I can do in spring training."
Betances suffered through a disappointing 2011 and was unimpressive in two appearances with the Yankees in the final weeks of the regular season, but the 6-foot-8 New York City native said he will look at Ivan Nova for inspiration.
"He had a chance to be the Rookie of the Year," Betances said of his former Gulf Coast League teammate who had 16 wins. "Those are the footsteps I want to follow in."
Chances are, Cashman will make some additions that will get in Betances' way, but the right-hander said he is confident the worst is behind him and he's working on his balance and conditioning this offseason.
"I learned a lot this year," Betances said while at a charity event with Yankees scout Cesar Presbott in The Bronx. "I have a lot more to prove."
Background A standout player at Bruton High School in Williamsburg, Virginia, Montgomery set a school record by striking out 107 batters in 60 IP as a senior. He was named to the All-District Team his final three years with the Panthers, and was also named to the All-State and All-Region Teams as a senior. Team MVP and Player of the Year honors from the Virginia Gazette and All-Daily Press followed his final year. He also ran track. Montgomery wasn’t much of a pro prospect at the time though, so he went undrafted in 2009 and headed to Longwood University.
Before heading to school, Montgomery pitched for the Fairfax Nationals of the Clark Griffith League (a wood bat collegiate summer league) after graduating. He earned a spot on the league’s All-Star Team by striking out 28 batters in 15 IP. Once at school, Montgomery started three games and came out of the bullpen in 17 others as a freshman with the Lancers. He pitched to a 5.57 ERA with 64 strikeouts and 24 walks in 63 IP, and he didn’t allow a single homer. Although he was recruited as a shortstop, he ended up on the mound.
Montgomery was installed as Longwood’s closer his sophomore year, saving six games in 22 appearances. He improved his slider and used it to strike out 45 batters in 35 IP. After the season, he headed to the Coastal Plain League (another wood bat summer league) and pitched for the Edenton Steamers. Montgomery struck out 33 and allowed just seven hits in 18 IP, prompting Baseball America (subs. req’d) to rank him as the eighth best prospect in the circuit.
Again serving as the Lancers’ closer, Montgomery allowed just a dozen hits and three earned runs in 30.1 IP as a junior. He struck out 48, and finished his career at Longwood as the school’s all-time leader in saves (16). Montgomery made a pair of appearances for the Peninsula Pilots of the Coastal Plain League after the season, striking out five of the seven men he faced. Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked him as the 18th best prospect in Virginia prior to the 2011 draft, and the Yankees selected him in the 11th round, the 359th overall pick. He signed quickly for an unknown bonus.
Pro Debut Assigned to Short Season Staten Island after signing, Montgomery was not long for the NY-Penn League. He struck out ten of the 19 men he faced across four appearances, then was promoted to Low-A Charleston. Montgomery made 22 appearances with the River Dogs, saving 14 games and striking out 41 batters in 24.1 IP. On July 1st, his first appearance with Charleston, he struck out five Rome Braves in one inning thanks to a pair of wild pitches. All told, he struck out 51 batters in 28.1 IP after turning pro (16.20 K/9).
Scouting Report Short and sturdy at 5-foot-11 and 205 lbs., Montgomery has a classic reliever’s profile. He’s a two-pitch pitcher, sitting 91-92 mph with the fastball and running it up to 95 on occasion. His bread-and-butter offering is a wipe-out slider that is just allergic to bats. In their draft report card, Baseball America (subs. req’d) said the pitch “grades as major league plus already.” There aren’t many kids out there touting an above-average big slider just a few weeks after their 21st birthday.
Montgomery’s biggest flaw his control, as he walked 13 batters in his pro debut (4.13 BB/9). His college walk rate was much better though (3.09 BB/9). The Yankees have made an effort to acquire players with strong makeup and work ethic in recent years, and Montgomery is no different. Earlier this summer he told Adam Himmelsbach that he’s a fan of 1am workouts, and he drinks a Red Bull in the seventh inning to get amped up for his appearance in the ninth inning.
2012 Outlook It was only 24.1 IP, but Montgomery manhandled the Sally League and should move up to High-A Tampa to open next season. He’ll be in line for a midseason promotion if he does well there. The Yankees have little reason to hold him back; relievers should move quickly and they won’t get a real read on how his stuff plays until he gets to Double-A. Single-A kids don’t have much of a chance against a big league slider.
My Take I think it’s impossible to not like Montgomery. He’s got the gaudy performance with the knockout pitch and scouting report to back up the stats. The Yankees have done a nice job of turning their middle-of-the-draft picks into useful players under scouting director Damon Oppenheimer, none better than David Robertson. Montgomery is cut from a similar cloth — a slightly undersized, high-strikeout right-handed reliever with a dominant breaking pitch — though he’ll probably have more of a platoon split than Robertson because of the slider. Either way, Montgomery is exactly the kind of guy that could shoot up the minor league ladder and force his way into big league consideration by 2013.
For a young man who won’t turn 19 until Friday, it feels like catching prospect Gary Sanchez has been in the Yankee organization for a while. Sanchez burst onto the scene as a 17 year-old in rookie ball, tearing up the league with a .353/.419/.597 line, drawing raves for his power and hitting ability. He was named the #30 prospect in all of the minor leagues by Baseball America after his 2010 season, an impressive ranking for a teenager who had yet to play in full season ball. With Jesus Montero‘s defensive ability in question, it wasn’t too hard to envision Sanchez as the Yankees’ catcher of the future.
Sanchez’s great 2010 debut was not without its warts, however. Reports on his defense were mixed, as he gave up 16 passed balls and threw out 26 percent of runners attempting to steal. However, many prognosticators believed that Sanchez had the defensive tools to become a solid defensive catcher, and were not too worried about his future behind the plate.
In 2011, things were not as rosy as the teenage phenom began the season with the low-A Charleston Riverdogs. As Sanchez graduated to the higher level, he began to face tougher pitching, and it was no longer as easy for him to succeed. He got off to a slow start, striking out at sky-high rates, showing little power, and hitting well below his 2010 level. Sanchez began the season with a pitiful .549 OPS in March and April. His frustration began to manifest itself on the field and in the clubhouse, as he allowed a ridiculous 26 passed balls on the season, and was disciplined for maturity issues. Sanchez’s stock began to fall among many of the same prospect rankers who ranked him so aggressively initially. Reports mentioned that Sanchez’s defense was regressing, with someone (Kevin Goldstein, I think?) referring to his defense as a 20 on the scouting scale (the lowest grade).
Near the end of the season, a light went on for Sanchez, and suddenly he began to mash. In August, Sanchez turned on #beastmode, crushing 7 homers in 9 games, en route to a 1.647 OPS. Of course, shortly after I wrote a post describing Sanchez’s breakout, he went down with a broken finger on August 13, which would sideline him for the remainder of the season. After getting off to a terrible start, the final line of .256/.335/.485 with 17 homers was pretty solid for an 18 year-old catcher in full season ball. The end of season hot streak was encouraging, but likely not enough to erase the doubts raised about Sanchez’s maturity, defense, and ability to make consistent contact (since he fanned over 27 percent of the time).
With a disappointing 2011 under his belt, Sanchez will have a chance to go somewhat under the radar in 2012 to regain his status as an elite prospect in the minors. 2012 will be an important crossroads season for him, as he will have the opportunity to prove that he has outgrown the maturity problems that plagued him this season, and that he has worked to fulfill his defensive potential. On the other hand, if he continues to struggle behind the plate and get into trouble with his manager, Sanchez could further confirm the doubters who question whether Sanchez’s immaturity will prevent him from maximizing his scintillating potential. It is perhaps premature to consider this a make-or-break year given Sanchez’s youth (he’ll presumably start in high-A at age 19). But if he is going to regain the elite prospect status he had after 2010, a strong, steady 2012 season would go a long way toward silencing the doubters, as well as giving the Yankees hope that they may have another star catching prospect rising in the minors.
It doesn’t appear the Yankees are too enamored with the pitchers available on the free agent market, at least not at current asking prices, and it seems very un-Yankee like to go through another winter looking for the next Bartolo Colon reclamation project.
So what happens when the Winter Meetings begin in Dallas on Monday? I still believe the Yankees are maneuvering for a trade, and the time is right for them to get creative with the prospects they have accumulated.
You’ve heard the all the names — Gio Gonzalez, John Danks, Matt Garza. Throw in a Dan Haren and a Matt Cain or anybody else if you want. Whoever it is, the asking prices are high and usually begin with Jesus Montero and Manny Banuelos. The Yanks have made it pretty clear they don’t intend to move either one, and Montero is actually going to be a big part of the major league roster in 2012.
I have maintained through most of the off-season that I have a gut feeling Brian Cashman is going to get aggressive with his prospects and try to pull off a trade for a starter. If he’s not willing to deal Montero or Banuelos, what’s it going to take to get the type of arm that the Yankees desire?
Well, if you consider Montero a part of the major league roster, we have to find the next great prospect in the Yankee farm system, the next great player whose name you will hear a thousand times before you ever see him play. Meet Mason Williams.
Coming out of high school in 2010 with raw first-round talent, Williams was holding a full ride to the University of South Carolina. The Yankees grabbed him in the fourth round and signed him for $1.45 million, a bonus equivalent to the middle of the first round. This past season Williams, a centerfielder who is now 20 years old, played in 68 games for the A-Staten Island Yankees where he compiled a .349/.395/.468 line (.863 OPS). Drafted at a rail thin 6’0” and 150 pounds, he has added about 25 pounds already, starting to look more like his pop Derwin Williams, a 6’1”, 185 pound wide receiver who played three years with the Patriots in the mid-1980’s.
Last week when an American League executive told me that Mason Williams is the second-best prospect in the Yankees organization behind Montero, I forwarded that evaluation to some of the Yankee higher-ups. One of them told me it was a fair statement, while another told me Williams could actually be better than Montero because of his potential as a Gold Glove centerfielder.
When I asked another executive from the National League about Williams, he began throwing out names like Mickey Rivers, Kenny Lofton, and Jacoby Ellsbury (minus this year’s power stroke). Plate discipline is still an issue (he walked only 20 times in 298 plate appearances), but that’s not unusual for a kid this young.
As the Yankees involve themselves in significant trade talks, not only this winter but over the next couple years, Mason Williams will be the name you will start to hear more often. Montero and Banuelos, and even Dellin Betances are so close to major-league ready that trading them away could have an immediate impact, something that isn’t as big a concern with a kid who hasn’t played in a full-season minor league yet. That doesn’t mean the Yankees will jump at the chance to trade Williams. It just means that his name is sure to be part of a lot of trade discussions for the foreseeable future.
Whether the Yankees are busy or quiet, there is always plenty to talk about from the Winter Meetings. You can hear me throughout the day on WFAN and wfan.com next Monday through Thursday from Dallas.
**Now that he has spent five full seasons retired (even if he’s never actually used the R word) Bernie Williams is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time. Bernie will get some support for his 16-year career that ended with a .297./.381/.477 line, five All-Star games, four Gold Glove Awards, one batting title, and—of course—four World Series rings.
But his chances of actually getting a plaque are not great. Of the top ten batters statistically similar to Bernie on baseball-reference.com, many are All-Stars (Bobby Abreu, Paul O’Neill, Will Clark, Reggie Smith, Edgar Martinez), but none are Hall of Famers.
Results for the Hall of Fame class of 2012 (which could include last year’s highest non-inductee vote getters Barry Larkin and Jack Morris) will be announced January 9th.
Meanwhile, Bernie is moving his annual fundraiser for The Hillside Food Outreach to Danbury, CT. The date is January 28th and his special guest and honoree is Don Mattingly.
I’ve had the privilege of hosting part of this event for the last several years. Its always a fun night for a great cause. Come out to support Bernie and Donnie by visiting www.hillsidefoodoutreach.org for tickets.
**Allow me to close by reminding you that there are still plenty of good things that happen at my alma mater, Penn State. Like the annual dance marathon held every February to raise money for the fight against pediatric cancer.
Known throughout the Penn State community simply as THON, it is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world (that is fact, not hyperbole). Last year alone they raised a record $9.59 million, of which nearly 97% went directly to the Four Diamonds Fund, which helps cancer patients at Penn State’s Hershey Medical Center.
If you’re able to be in the giving spirit this holidayseason, check them out at www.thon.org. When you hear “We Are…Penn State!” this is the kind of thing we are talking about.
Background The son of former big leaguer Dante Bichette Sr., Dante Jr. first popped up on the radar in 2005, when he helped his Maitland, Florida team to the Little League World Series. He went on to star at Orangewood Christian High School just outside of Orlando, twice being named the All-Central Florida Baseball Player of the Year. He also led the Rams to the state tournament his junior and senior years.
Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked Bichette as 15th best prospect in Florida and 108th best prospect overall heading into the 2011 draft, so it was somewhat surprising when the Yankees drafted him with their first selection, the 51st overall pick. They’d received that pick as compensation for the loss of Javy Vazquez to the Marlins. Bichette signed quickly for a $750k, passing on his commitment to Georgia for roughly $55k over slot.
Pro Debut The Yankees assigned Bichette to the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League after signing, though he got off to a pretty slow start. He was hitting just .151 about three weeks into the season, but then went on a 16-game hitting streak and didn’t stop hitting the rest of the year. Bichette led the GCL Yankees to the league title thanks in part to his game-tying homer in the title game, then was named the GCL MVP after the season. He finished second in the league in AVG (.342), second in OBP (.446), eighth in SLG (.505), fourth in OPS (.951), first in hits (67), first in doubles (17), first in RBI (47), second in total bases (99), and third in walks (30). That earned him the top spot on Baseball America’s list of the top 20 GCL prospects as well as a late season promotion to Short Season Staten Island, where homered and walked in eight plate appearances across two games.
Scouting Report Like his father, Bichette is a bat first player. He generates big raw power and bat speed from his 6-foot-1, 215 lb. frame, using a discerning eye to work deep counts and take walks when he doesn’t get anything to hit. He also makes a surprising amount of contact for a power hitter. The Yankees cleaned up some extraneous movement in his setup and swing after signing, changes he took to pretty quickly. Bichette has worked hard to improve his defense at the hot corner, specifically his arm angle and throwing. There’s a still a chance he’ll end up in a corner outfield spot or first base down the road. He’s pretty much an average runner at this point.
The Yankees seem to have focused on makeup and work ethic lately, and Bichette is the prospect poster boy for intangibles. George King (subs. req’d) wrote that he took on a leadership role with the GCL club this year, helping unite the young American and Latin American players on the team and making sure no cliques formed. He also takes extra rounds of batting practice regularly. Here’s some video.
2012 Outlook The Yankees rave about Bichette’s worth ethic and leadership qualities, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they get a little agressive and jump him into full season ball with Low-A Charleston next season. The Yankees have generally hold their best high school draftees back in Extended Spring Training before assigning them to Short Season Staten Island during their first full pro season, at least over the last few years.
My Take I’m not Bichette’s biggest fan, but the kid can hit, there’s little doubt about that. He fits right into the Yankees’ mold of patience and power, and right-handed pop is a little more valuable to the team since they can sign pretty much any lefty hitter and watch him hit double-digit homers to right field. Can’t do that with righties, they need legit pop to hit one out in the Bronx. The questions about Bichette’s long-term position and defensive value are real, but it’s a good sign that he’s already shown some improvement. The microscope will be on Bichette though, just because he was a surprise high pick.
A steal when he fell to the Yankees in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, Williams bring a very mature approach to the plate despite being taken out of high school.
He is a fantastic athlete, and that makes him an asset defensively, as he was originally drafted as a shortstop. Offensively, he is a terrific contact hitter who can hit it to all fields, and his power is the only real question at this point.
At 6' and only 150 pounds he could certainly develop 15-home-run power as he fills out, but at least should be a plus hitter with gap power.