Minors report: Clippard plugging away
Young right-handed prospect not bothered by lack of attention
Hot topic: Overshadowed by some of the more hyped hurlers in the Yankees organization, Tyler Clippard reported to Spring Training without a great deal of fanfare.
His fastball doesn't crackle in the high 90s like top prospect Phil Hughes and his physical stature doesn't cut an imposing figure like Humberto Sanchez or Ross Ohlendorf.
In any event, the 22-year-old right-hander has quietly continued to plug away and throw strikes, picking up where he left off last season at Double-A Trenton.
"I'm happy with what I've been able to do so far in my outings," Clippard said. "Last year, I had a lot of success later on in the season, because I was able to command my fastball. I've been able to do that early on this spring, so I'm excited about that. If I can continue to do that, I think I'll be fine."
Clippard has allowed one hit through his first four spring innings, retaining the same muscle memory from when he finished 9-0 with a 1.91 ERA in his final 12 Eastern League starts, including a no-hitter.
He was pleased to report to camp and find that he recalled tweaks made by coach Dave Eiland. Clippard said he is still able to locate his fastball to all four quadrants of the plate, a major reason for his improvement late last year.
Clippard pitches off his curveball and a changeup that may be the best in the organization, but their value drops dramatically when his fastball -- normally clocked between 88 and 91 mph -- is erratic.
"You have to have it," Clippard said. "You have to keep guys off your pitches. If you're just throwing offspeed stuff up there, they're going to sit on it. You've got to show them that you can throw it all for strikes, especially because I'm a guy who isn't going to overpower anybody. I've got to key off of my fastball and change speeds more so than other guys."
Ranked as the Yankees' seventh-best prospect by Baseball America entering 2007, Clippard is not surprised by the smaller amount of attention being paid to him. He said it doesn't deter his goal of eventually getting to Yankee Stadium.
"That's what we're working for, so it's not ever going to leave my mind," Clippard said. "I understand where I'm at in this organization. My time will come."
On the move: Left-hander Chase Wright was thrilled when he was added to the Yankees' 40-man roster in the offseason, protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft. He's had even more fun in his first big-league Spring Training.
"It's been great," Wright said. "I can't even really explain it. I love everything about it; getting here early in the morning, the atmosphere. All the players and coaches have been helpful."
Wright, 24, got an added boost on Friday when he pitched under the lights against the Devil Rays at Legends Field.
Wright struck out four in a 2 2/3-inning performance. That prompted a group of Yankees Minor Leaguers -- including Joe Burke, Jared Greenwood and P.J. Pillittere, the catchers last season at Class A Tampa -- to cheer wildly in the stands.
"They said it was awesome," Wright said. "They were loving it, going crazy."
On the pine: The wrap on Sanchez's right forearm is almost becoming part of his daily uniform. The right-hander has been sidelined with soreness for most of Spring Training, which cost him any chance of breaking camp with the Yankees. He is considered likely to begin the year at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, with a reassignment to Minor League camp likely in the very near future.
Names in the game: Mickey Rivers -- "Mick the Quick" -- can't help but be impressed by Brett Gardner. The 23-year-old center fielder bunts for hits, steals bases and runs down fly balls with abandon.
"He's kind of like me out there," said Rivers, a guest instructor at Spring Training. "I love him. He's got speed, got tools, got himself a frame. He can do the transitional stuff."
They're No. 1: Hughes (2004) pitched better in his second appearance of the spring against the Indians in Winter Haven, firing two scoreless innings on Tuesday. But after his tough outing on Sunday, he has allowed four runs on six hits and six walks in 4 2/3 innings this spring. ... Eric Duncan (2003) made his first hit of the spring count. Duncan slugged a two-run homer against the Pirates on Saturday in Bradenton, Fla., lifting the Yankees to a 5-3 victory. Duncan has appeared in eight spring games through Sunday, playing first base while remaining sharp at third base in drills, and is batting .111.
Class of '06: Across the way from Legends Field at the Minor League complex, intrasquad games are set to get under way on Wednesday. One of the more intriguing pitchers in action is sure to be right-hander Ian Kennedy, the Yankees' first-round selection last year from the University of Southern California.
What they're saying: "He's got a legit swing. He's got an idea when he goes up there. He has a real good swing for a left-handed hitter." -- Yankees manager Joe Torre, on outfield prospect Bronson Sardinha
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.