Early impressions of Pineda quite positive
Righty teams with Martin in bullpen session, gets rave reviews
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees' pro scouting department had experienced eyes trained on Michael Pineda's rookie season, but all the hurler's future teammates were able to witness first-hand was a May 27 start at Safeco Field.
Pineda was out there for five innings that night, and truth be told, they weren't Pineda's finest of the year. He threw hard but was wild, and that no-decision created a bare-bones scouting report that Russell Martin carried to camp this year.
"He was a little erratic that game and got himself in trouble walking guys, so I was expecting to see a guy that didn't have great command," Martin said after catching Pineda in the bullpen. "But I was wrong."
It is early, and Spring Training has a funny way of helping imagination project greatness. But the Yankees' initial impressions of the 23-year-old Pineda have been promising, and it is clear they are banking on the 6-foot-7 hurler establishing a big presence.
"I'm working hard in Spring Training," Pineda said. "I want to help my team to the playoffs and the World Series. This is a very good team."
Pineda came at a high price, having been acquired in a four-player deal with the Mariners last month that included top prospect Jesus Montero, but the Yankees are optimistic that the deal will be a success.
It's obvious Pineda can't wait for the chance to prove them right. He glows as he recounts the phone call from general manager Brian Cashman, ringing his house in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic to welcome him to the Yankees organization.
"It was a surprise," Pineda said. "I said, 'Oh my God, I don't understand.' Cashman told me. I ran to my mom, talking to my father, and they said, 'Really? Yeah!' Everybody was excited."
From an explosive fastball to a plus slider that impressed manager Joe Girardi this week, there is a lot the Yankees like already. Girardi noted with some delight how he had to crane his neck to take in the sight of Pineda standing next to CC Sabathia.
"We almost have a basketball team in there," Girardi said, adding, "I've got to get a footstool when I go to the mound."
Yes, Pineda is impossible to miss, and it's no accident that he seems to be spending a lot of time around Sabathia. Once a hard-throwing prospect himself coming up through the Indians' chain, Sabathia has been tapped by the Yanks to help Pineda nick some corners on the learning curve.
"He's a big guy, so we've got a few things in common," Sabathia said. "He's electric. To be that young, throw that hard and be able to throw the ball over the plate is impressive."
But the Yankees also see development that needs to take place, and so their enthusiasm has been tempered at times. Immediately after the trade, Cashman made statements to the effect that Montero might wind up turning into Mike Piazza or Miguel Cabrera someday.
Yankees fans didn't necessarily enjoy hearing that, and Cashman has admitted that he is a pessimist by nature. Pineda isn't in pinstripes by accident, but the Yankees are cautious to squelch any hype that he is a finished product.
"I made the trade for a reason," Cashman said. "I'm dreaming on the guy, obviously, and we're dreaming on the guy. But the fact of the matter is there's work to be done still."
Cashman seems to have made it a personal mission to correct predictions that Pineda will be New York's No. 2 starter to open the season. Perhaps that will be the case someday, but Cashman does not believe Pineda is ready yet.
"He's got to develop his changeup," Cashman said. "It's a below-average pitch for him right now. I don't think there's a No. 1 or 2 starter in the big leagues right now with only two pitches."
Pitching coach Larry Rothschild had Pineda adjust his changeup grip slightly, and though Grapefruit League hitters will be able to tell a more complete story in a few weeks, the work has earned positive reviews so far.
"Last year, sometimes when I threw my changeup, I opened my right shoulder," Pineda explained. "This year, I'm focused a little more on keeping it closed."
Martin said that after the Yankees pulled the trigger with Seattle, Girardi told him to be ready to work with Pineda this spring. Thus far, Martin has seen plenty to dream on.
"The guy is a quick learner and he's able to make adjustments on the mound," Martin said. "That's pretty impressive for a young guy."