Minor Matters: Kennedy Gets Another Chance
Ian Kennedy, who flamed out with the Yanks and was farmed out, is getting another chance. He’s been recalled to start Thursday afternoon against the AL East-leading Tampa Bay Rays (how weird is it to type that?). Kennedy didn’t waste any time getting his act together in Triple-A, tossing a superb 7 1/3 innings of one-hit, shutout ball with eight strikeouts and no walks in his first start. Monday, he started the first game of the doubleheader, but threw only one shutout frame before calling it a day, in anticipation of this start Thursday. The Yankees are scuffling, but aren’t in too big a hole yet. Salvaging a split against the Rays would be a good start, so there’s a lot of pressure on Kennedy. His control is obviously back, and assuming he has regained his confidence, hell play a very large part in whether or not this team is headed back to the postseason for a 14th consecutive season.
If Kennedy flops again, one name to keep an eye on is Steven White. The Yankees’ fourth rounder in 2003, White keeps improving his Triple-A numbers to the point where he’s sneaking onto the radar as someone who can help the big league team. Ranked by Baseball America as the fourth best prospect in the system in 2004, the 26-year-old slipped from the list the past few years, but his numbers this year are screaming out for attention. Smart owners will listen, as White has won his last three starts and is 4-1, 2.66 overall, with 35 Ks in 47 1/3 IP. I think he’s ready to at least get an audition, and given the holes in the Yanks’ rotation, that may be coming soon.
Another Yankee farmhand who is showing progress this season is outfielder Brett Gardner, the team’s third round pick in 2005. Gardner had an excellent season at Double-A last year, but found the adjustment to Triple-A somewhat challenging after a mid-season promotion. This year, despite some recent struggles, he’s picked up the pace, batting .285 through 36 games and 130 at bats. Gardner has displayed nice extra-base pop, good strike zone judgment, patience and speed. The highest drafted player in the history of the College of Charleston, the 24-year-old Gardner is someone with strong top-of-the-order skills who could carve out a major league career once opportunity comes knocking.
Andrew McCutchen, who we ranked 17th among our top 35 prospects heading into the season, is having some challenges at Triple-A recently, batting just .205 over the past ten games with 14 strikeouts. Let’s bear in mind that he’s still only 21, and overall, I like the progress he’s shown this year, both in terms of on-base skills (20 walks in 39 games after walking just four times in 17 games in his first taste of Triple-A last year) and power (ten doubles, six homers and 19 RBI). This guy’s got speed, developing power and can hit for average. Expect to see McCutchen rise into the top 10 prospects for 2008, assuming he isn’t in Pittsburgh long enough this year to lose his rookie eligibility. Right now, the Buccos don’t have any room for him with all three of their starting outfielders playing well. And with the Pirates actually hanging around .500 still, there’s no reason to start the youth movement quite yet. McCutchen is definitely a name to tuck away for the second half, however.
Remember Scott Strickland? The former Expo spent six seasons in the bigs, recording a 3.34 ERA through 236 games. But he hasn’t appeared in a major league game since 2005 with Houston. Now in the Yankees’ organization, this 32-year-old reliever is pitching pretty well so far in 2008, going 2-0 with a 4.19 ERA and over a strikeout per inning. He’s held righties to a .220 BAA, so perhaps he can still help a major league bullpen.
Still with the Yankees’ Triple-A bullpen, veteran minor leaguer Scott Patterson is starting to figure out this level after some early-season struggles. The 28-year-old righty was dominant at Double-A in 2007, recording a 1.09 ERA with 91 strikeouts and just 15 walks and 45 hits allowed in 74 1/3 IP, earning his first career Triple-A appearance along the way. Well, he started sluggishly this year, but is coming around with seven straight appearances without an earned run allowed, lowering his season mark to 3.00 through 16 games. He’s got good control and is striking out one per inning, so perhaps he’ll be considered as a possible injury replacement on the Yanks should it be necessary.
Billy Traber, who made the team out of Spring Training as the Yankees’ left-handed reliever, has struggled somewhat since his demotion back to Triple-A last month. He actually wasn’t awful in New York, but wasn’t exactly dominating southpaws, so the team felt no need to keep him around. Since his return to the minors, Traber’s numbers aren’t good (4.91 ERA), but his peripherals are strong (six hits and two walks with nine strikeouts in 7 1/3 IP). This 28-year-old could get another shot in the Yankee pen later this season.
Here’s another name to track in the bullpen of the Yanks’ top affiliate – David Robertson. The team’s 17th round pick in 2006 dominated at Double-A, earning a quick promotion to Triple-A. Since taking a beating in his debut, Robertson has settled down with three straight scoreless outings, even earning his first Triple-A win in his last appearance. He’ll need to sharpen his control to get a chance in the bigs, but considering this righty is just 23, let’s cut him some slack as he adjusts to the higher level.
Finally, Steven Jackson is also pitching very well in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre bullpen. Arizona’s tenth round pick in 2004, Jackson came to the Yankee organization in the Randy Johnson trade last year. He began the year at Double-A, but has since been promoted to Triple-A, and although his overall numbers the two levels aren’t eye popping (4.50 ERA through 14 games), his peripherals suggest he’s pitching much better than that, with just 24 hits and eight walks allowed while he’s fanned 28 in 28 IP. He even chalked up his first Triple-A save earlier this week after picking up one in Double-A.