Friday, January 23, 2009

Can a Relief Pitcher be a Prospect?

Recently, ESPN's Keith Law came out with a list of top prospects by organization.

The five on the Yankees' list:

1. Austin Jackson, CF
2. Jesus Montero, C
3. Andrew Brackman, RHP
4. Dellin Betances, RHP
5. Zach McAllister, RHP

While one familiar with the Yankees' farm system would expect to see Jackson and Montero on the list, a notable absence is Mark Melancon-who many predict is being groomed to take over for Mariano Rivera.

In this list from Baseball Intellect, the prospects are ranked:

1. Jesus Montero
2. Dellin Betances
3. Austin Jackson
4. Andrew Brackman
5. Mark Melancon

This got me thinking:

Not too long ago, no pitcher predicted to make his career in the bullpen would ever have made anyone's top list of prospects. It used to be that relievers were simply pitchers that weren't good enough to start.

How far we've come.

To be sure, relievers are still not (usually) seen in the same light as starters, and there's a good reason for it--a good starter theoretically means a relief pitcher will not have to be used in the first place.

However, that doesn't mean that baseball today hasn't figured out a way to turn relieving into an art. Players like Mariano Rivera and Francisco Rodriguez will sell more jerseys than Melky Cabrera or Maicer Izturis.

Relief pitchers might not seem like valuable commodities, but if you ask any Yankee fan about Mariano Rivera, they will tell you that few men in pinstripes have been as valuable to the team for so long.

Even so, when asked to rank top prospects, few will list relievers. Either the relief pitcher will be that good, or the rest of the farm system will be rather mundane, and it's not hard to imagine which is more common.

Although Baseball Intellect thinks Melancon will most likely project as a solid middle reliever, the common refrain--groomed to be Rivera's successor--would seem to illustrate that expectations for him are high, indeed.

Whether Melancon should be included in the top five Yankees prospects in terms of ceiling is hard to gauge, but in terms of major-league readiness, Melancon, who could potentially see action in late 2009, if not sooner, still has to be considered at the top.

1 comment:

  1. Wonder what would have happened if Rivera had remained a starter? (I don't think his first year with those few starts is very meaningful) No matter how many pitches a starter supposedly needs, he'd still have a killer pitch and Madduxesque control.