Friday, March 4, 2016

For Yankees’ Mitchell; starter or swingman, that is the question

New York Yankees right-handed pitcher Bryan Mitchell holds an important key to the club’s success this season. The question is which door will his key unlock; the one for starters, or the one for swingmen?

Mitchell has long been a promising arm in the Yankees system. He spent a good deal of the 2015 season bouncing back and forth between Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and the Yankees. He started 15 games with the RailRiders compiling a 3.12 ERA across 75 innings. With the Yankees he made 20 appearances, 18 of them out of the bullpen.

His stints with the Yankees in 2015 proved to be an up and down affair. Before being hit in the face with a line drive August 17, Mitchell had tossed 19.1 innings with a 3.72 ERA. He struck out 20 batters and walked six. He was not electrifying, but he was more or less effective. However, once he returned to the mound after missing nine games recovering from a nasal fracture Mitchell was awful – 10 G, 8.2 IP, 12.46 ERA.

It’s certainly possible the line drive affected his performance, but regardless, he’s in camp with something to prove and this season could be a turning point in Mitchell’s career.

The Yankees have discussed seeing if Mitchell can claim the role Adam Warren held the last couple of seasons as reported by Chad Jennings of The Journal News; in the bullpen for long relief, but ready to start games in an emergency. The other option for Mitchell would be to keep him stretched out in Triple-A and simply call him up to make spot starts or take over a rotation spot in case of a lengthy injury to one or more players (Ivan Nova would seem to have the upper hand for extended runs as the sixth man in the rotation depth chart). Warren did a great job as a swingman, but he often said it was not easy. It remains to be seen if Mitchell can comprise the role.

In my view Mitchell might be better off staying in Triple-A in order to hone his skills as a starter. He’s only logged 116.2 innings (23 starts among 24 appearances) at the level. It would seem to me that he’s got much more to learn as a starter, and that his value will be better served as such. I don’t want to say that the Yankees should abandon the idea of using Mitchell as a swingman, but I would be testing it in the spring and gauge how he looks and reacts to the circumstance. I assume that’s something the Yanks will try to do.

Keeping Mitchell stretched out would also allow him to raise his innings total (he tossed just 113.1 innings in 2015) so that if he is successful this season, he could be looked at as a viable starter who is ready to contribute substantial innings next season. If Mitchell is used as a swingman for much of this season, it will be difficult to get him to provide the necessary number of innings as part of the rotation in 2017.

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds, and of course a lot of what happens with Mitchell is completely reliant on the top five starters and their health. Whatever role he is assigned, Mitchell could be a pivotal cog in the Yankees pitching staff in 2016. Is he up for the challenge?

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a featured Yankees writer for His baseball commentary has also been published on The Cauldron via Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.