Friday, March 28, 2014

New York Yankees: Cesar Cabral, not Vidal Nuno for final bullpen spot

The New York Yankees are in the process of winding down their final selections for the 2014 Opening Day roster. They have two infield bench roles which you can read about here, and one slot left in the bullpen.

That spot looks to be for the second left-handed option after veteran Matt Thornton. The battle is between Cesar Cabral and Vidal Nuno.

Cabral was purchased by the Yankees from the Kansas City Royals in 2011 after they snagged him in the Rule 5 draft from the Boston Red Sox. Cabral, 25, unfortunately suffered a stress fracture in his left elbow in 2012 but is now fully healthy. He climbed three minor league levels in 2013 before reaching the Bronx in September. Cabral appeared in eight major leagues games, striking out six batters in 3.1 innings.

Nuno was a fifth starter candidate for much of this spring training. He pitched well, but eventually lost out to Pineda. Nuno made three spot starts for the Yankees in 2013 and was very effective. He spent the other part of his season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In 2012, Nuno was with Double-A Trenton for a majority of his time and went 9-5 with a 2.45 ERA in 114 innings, all as a starter.

As the Yankees ponder this decision, it might be simple enough to say Nuno is a starter, and Cabral is a reliever so that’s that. Obviously it is not that cut and dry or else the Yankees would have made this decision a couple of days ago. Nuno might be the better pitcher right now especially with his control versus Cabral who has had difficulty limiting walks. So why Cabral?

What is clear is that the Yankees as a whole received very good pitching from many players this spring. Each of the final four members of the fifth starter competition pitched well and many of the bullpen candidates had very successful springs. This should make the decision easier for the Yankees.

I think it is best that the Yankees send Nuno to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and keep him stretched out and it has to do with depth and the future. With David Phelps and Adam Warren, the other losers of the fifth starter competition, on the major league roster, they couldn’t be counted on for more than two to three innings on short notice. Nuno will not need to have time to work his pitch count back up in case there is a need for a spot start. While none of the current Yankees starters are experiencing any physical issues, the team can never be overly prepared for an injury situation.

I believe the Yankees have to maintain a clear career path for Nuno and that is as a starter. Beyond Nuno being better suited as a starter, do the Yankees want him sitting in the pen for the random lefty that they don’t need Thornton to face or because Thornton has already been used? How often will that happen?

Additionally, Cabral has the ability to be a very good power option out of the pen especially against lefty hitters. Thornton is aging and his performance over the last couple of seasons has not been nearly as dominant as it was years ago with the Chicago White Sox. Cabral could slide into the top lefty spot if Thornton was to completely fail or get hurt. Also, the Yankees received good work from lefty Fred Lewis this spring, so if something was to happen to Thornton and Cabral took his spot, Lewis could be brought up if the Yankees still wanted a second lefty at that time. Or there are a slew of righties at the ready. There is depth.

To me it is all about what the team needs first, preparing its players for the mindset of their role, giving players the chance to succeed long term and allowing them to be ready to help when called upon. There will come a time when the Yankees require a spot start or several consecutive starts and Nuno will be ready to make them without worrying about pitch count and being stretched out.

Nuno could factor into the Yankees long term rotation plans in years to come. Cabral has shown this spring and in his short stint last season that he can be productive in this very specific role and has the potential to grow into a high leverage reliever.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.