How do you choose a sleeper candidate from a New York Yankee roster that has a payroll of close to $200 million dollars this upcoming season? At first I thought the clear choice was pitcher Ivan Nova and although I believe he will be a productive fourth starter for the Yankees this year, his history of inconsistency and the fact that he is having a tough spring made me rethink my choice. I then considered Mark Teixeira, once one of the most consistent fantasy players who regularly hit 30 plus HRs and drove in over 100 runs every season. Tex was limited to just 53 at bats last season due to a wrist injury and I thought he might make a good sleeper candidate, but his stats had started to slowly decline even before his injury, and that caused me to scratch him off my list. After giving it more thought I believe I came up with the perfect candidate.
Who is Michael Pineda?
The one other obvious choice for me was pitcher Michael Pineda. When the Yankees acquired Pineda in a trade with Seattle for Jesus Montero, their highly touted catching prospect who has been a big bust for the Mariners, they thought they were getting a rotation-ready young power pitching stud. Unfortunately, instead of getting the pitcher who made the all star team as a rookie in 2011 (by pitching to a 3.74 ERA while striking out 173 batters in 171 innings and compiling a 1.099 WHIP), the Yanks got a pitcher who arrived at camp out of shape and with an injured arm that needed surgery. That injury would keep him out of the major leagues for the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
This year Pineda is battling for the fifth spot in the Yankee rotation against David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno and he is reportedly the favorite to win the job. He has enjoyed a fine spring, striking out 14 while giving up just one walk in his first 9 innings of work. And it seems he came to camp determined to do whatever it takes, including adjusting his mechanics, in order to justify and reward the Yanks for having the faith in his talent and trade for him after the 2011 season. Pineda is still only 25 years old, hasn't given up a run yet this spring, and he still possesses a fastball with great movement that can top out at 93 MPH. He also has a great change up and a slider that catcher Brian McCann referred to as "unhittable" at times. He is a 2014 fantasy baseball draft day sleeper.
2014 Season Outlook
The Yankees have been very careful in easing Pineda back into a potential rotation spot. He spent the latter part of last season in the minor leagues where he punched out 41 hitters in 40.2 innings of work while compiling a 3.32 ERA and 1.107 WHIP, all encouraging signs.
If Pineda does win the competition for the fifth spot in the Yankees rotation, one concern for fantasy baseball owners is how many innings the Yankees will allow Pineda to pitch this season. Is his surgically repaired arm going to be able to withstand the rigors of pitching every fifth day after missing the 2012 and most of the 2013 season? In 2011, his last full season, Pineda only pitched 171 innings and Yankee manager Joe Girardi has acknowledged that Pineda likely will not pitch more than 200 innings this upcoming season.
What Else We Like
In the small sample we have seen from Pineda this spring, the good news is that he still has the ability to strike batters out and he also still has excellent control. He appears to have come into camp in good shape and he is armed with a positive mental attitude, but only time will tell if Pineda's arm is physically ready to help him develop into the talented pitcher the Yanks thought they were getting when they traded for him two years ago.
The Yankees have publicly stated the decision as to who will be their fifth starter will not be announced until the end of March. Although all combatants have pitched well at times this spring, Adam Warren and David Phelps’ ability to work out of the bullpen could help them to make the Yankee roster - however it may also hurt their chances of beating out Pineda for the fifth spot in the rotation. Having a young talent like Pineda at the back end of their rotation will definitely help the Yankees chances to battle for a title this season. If you take a chance on him this season, and he will be available in the later rounds of your fantasy drafts, Pineda just might be the missing piece on your fantasy team that will help you to win a title in your league.
2014 Fantasy Projections: 28 G, 185 IP, 3.25 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 13 W, 8 L, 189 K, 56 BB