With improvement, Betances' role could grow
Right-hander has shown his potential in Yankees' bullpen after 2013 callup
Pitching at Grand Street Campus High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., Dellin Betances drew huge crowds of fans and scouts. It isn't often a pitcher who was 6-foot-4 as a sophomore in high school can throw a fastball more than 90 mph. But that was the case with Betances. He was an exciting pitcher to watch.
In one high school game, Betances struck out 20 batters. And the game lasted only seven innings.
Originally intending to accept a baseball scholarship to Vanderbilt University, Betances instead signed with his hometown Yankees following his selection in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.
Now 6-foot-8, 260 pounds, the 26-year-old Betances is a towering figure on the mound. Some have compared him to a right-handed version of Randy Johnson. Like the southpaw, Betances had control issues early in his career. The Yanks certainly hope he can gain the type of command and control that turned Johnson into an All-Star and likely Hall Of Fame pitcher.
I scouted Betances in the 2012 Arizona Fall League as well as in several Spring Training outings. I came away impressed with his repertoire, his velocity and his ability to miss bats. But it was evident even then that Betances had trouble making all the parts of his huge body move in sync. It was difficult for him to consistently repeat his high three-quarter delivery. It looked as though Betances could never get loose, showing some stiffness in his mechanics. With his height, the hitter would see arms and legs coming at him from a downhill plane. That's difficult to hit. But Betances couldn't always throw strikes.
Betances moved along as a starting pitcher, learning the nuances of the game until an elbow issue interrupted his career in the summer of 2009. He had to have a form of Tommy John surgery performed by Dr. James Andrews. Betances had one ligament repaired and another ligament added. So 2009, his fourth season, was almost a lost year. Betances made 11 starts and threw 44 1/3 innings.
In 2011, Betances completed a full campaign. He pitched for both Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Betances walked 70 batters in 126 1/3 combined innings, or an average of five hitters per nine innings. But he was striking out 10 hitters per nine, so his lack of control wasn't glaring.
Betances' control problems became more of an issue in 2012. He walked 99 batters as he went from Triple-A back to Double-A during the season.
That same year, however, Betances got his first exposure to working out of the bullpen. That's where he pitched in the AFL when I scouted him.
In my opinion, moving Betances to the bullpen was an outstanding decision. As a reliever, his repertoire and his velocity could become a major weapon if he were focused only on a limited repertoire with a shorter duration of time on the mound. Betances could become truly dominant for limited innings as opposed to navigating through a lineup inning after inning.
As a reliever, Betances began to see his fastball touch 99 mph. His arsenal includes a changeup and a curveball that alters the eye level and balance of the hitters. It just seems Betances gained confidence in his abilities as his role changed.
Betances showed enough improvement and promise to earn a promotion to the big leagues in September 2013.
In the bullpen, Betances has seen his strikeouts and ground-ball rates increase. His mastery over right-handed hitters is a focal point of his presence in his new role. Last season, righties hit only .168 against Betances in Triple-A. Left-handed hitters didn't do much better, at .219.
This season, Betances is once again working out of the bullpen for the Yankees. He has shown that dominating fastball, and he's limiting both hits and runs. Betances' problem remains inconsistent control and command. But those, too, are improving.
I believe Betances has the ability to close for the Yanks at some point. Of course, that will depend on his ability to throw strikes.