As the 2014 MLB season approaches, the reality that Mariano Rivera will not be showing up for Spring Training this year is beginning to settle in. The departure of Mo causes a panic among the New York Yankees and their fans. The Yankees bullpen has been a real strength of theirs in the past, Mariano’s consistency is part of what made him so special. However, now the state of the Yankees bullpen is a huge question mark.
David Robertson will slide into the closer role, so who will be the new eighth-inning guy? The front-runner to be the setup man is right-handed pitcher Shawn Kelley. Kelley is a hard thrower with a devastating slider. Like Robertson before him, Kelley is a strikeout pitcher. He had a 9.6 K/9 in his first season with the Yankees last year.
His ERA was too high for an effective setup man at 4.39. In Robertson’s last three seasons as the setup man, he had ERAs of 1.08, 2.67, and 2.04. Kelley has big shoes to fill if he gets the nod.
If Kelley is not chosen as the setup man, there are a few other guys who have a good chance to compete for the job. Preston Claiborne, another right-handed pitcher for the Yankees, was impressive for most of the 2013 season. As a rookie last year, Claiborne had a strong first half and then tapered off as his workload increased late in the season. He finished with a 4.11 ERA, but showed definite promise for the future.
Lost in the Yankees’ monster contract signings this offseason was the underrated signing of veteran left-hander Matt Thornton. Thornton still throws in the upper 90s and is very effective against lefties. With an up-and-coming southpaw Cesar Cabral on the rise for the Yankees, it is possible that Thornton will be the setup man and Cabral the lefty specialist in this year’s bullpen.
There’s also the youngster Dellin Betances. Betances has been a highly-touted prospect for a few years now. He is physically imposing on the mound, standing at 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds. HE is a flamethrower with fastballs in the high 90s, and has added a 12-6 curveball to his repertoire as well.
It is unlikely that he will start the season as the setup man, but he very well may end the season as the team’s eighth-inning man. Look for the setup role to be an intense competition this upcoming Spring Training.