The New York Yankees have done a lot of spending this offseason – so much, in fact, that some are calling them the early favorites to win it all in 2014. If the Yankees do have a successful season, it will no doubt be thanks in large part to the new acquisitions they’ve signed.
Lost in the hoopla are a few young building blocks that are already in place in New York. One such building block is left-handed pitcher Vidal Nuno. Nuno was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 48th round of the 2009 MLB Draft. He pitched with their Class-A affiliates for two seasons before moving to the Frontier League in 2011.
After only six games of independent baseball, the Yankees scooped him up. He spent the next two seasons bouncing around the farm. In 2012, Nuno played for the class-A Tampa Yankees and the double-A Trenton Thunder. He compiled a 10-6 record over 138.1 innings with a 2.54 ERA – good for the best performance of all Yankees minor league pitchers.
That performance earned him an invitation to Spring Training in 2013. He promptly won the James P. Dawson Award for best rookie in camp and was assigned to triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre. An injury to Ivan Nova catalyzed Nuno’s short-lived promotion to the majors, where he tossed five scoreless innings and recorded a win against the Indians in his first career start on May 13.
He was sent down and called up once more in late May, but was again demoted to create roster space and unfortunately suffered a season-ending groin injury.
Where do things with Nuno stand now? Well, he’s holding an invitation to camp and ready to compete for a starting job. Despite the fact that some teams would call the 26-year-old too old for this stage of his career, Nuno has shown a lot of potential during the last few years.
His fastball tops out at 88 mph, but he has demonstrated precise control, allowing him to have some success against left-handed hitting. His strikeout pitches are a changeup and curveball, both of which are incredibly deceptive and effective against right-handed hitters.
Does that sound like anyone else you know? Andy Pettitte, the Yankees legend and the winningest postseason pitcher of all time, was also molded by the Yankees’ farm system. Pettitte’s fastball averaged 89.1 mph for his career, and he also used a changeup to fool right-handed batters.
Nuno and Pettitte differ tremendously in size, measuring 5-foot-11 and 6-foot-5 respectively. However, Nuno’s style and repertoire are quite similar to Pettitte’s, and both have been described as finesse pitchers. Nuno will only learn to evolve and hone his skills over time. Former teammate Nick Swisher called Pettitte’s demeanor on the mound “fierce,” and Russell Martin said, “He just bears down. He’s a natural competitor … he just never gives in.”
After Nuno’s first career win against the Indians, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, “He did an unbelievable job considering he hasn’t pitched in a while. He’s very poised out there. Nothing seems to bother him.” Once again, sounds a little like someone I know.
With Pettitte joining Mariano Rivera in retirement after last season, the Yankees could use a young southpaw to complement their shiny new right-hander from Japan. The similarities between Pettitte and Nuno can only make Yankee fans feel hopeful about the things to come.