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First Things First: In the long run, a few of the Yankees' and Mets' current starting pitching prospects will eventually find their way into Major League bullpens, at least, to get their foot in the door initially. Let's not forget that even Mariano Rivera, a sure-fire Hall of Fame closer, came up through the minor league ranks as a starting pitcher. But for the purposes of this article, we'll focus just on the relief pitching prospects who have been relievers at the minor league level.
The Two Farm Systems: The Yankees have successfully begun restocking what was once a very depleted farm system, building it around pitching. While starting pitching remains the strength of their player development right now, the Yankees have a pretty deep corps of relief pitching prospects as well. The drafting of J. Brent Cox in the second round of the 2005 MLB Draft out of the University of Texas gives the Yankees the most polished relief pitching prospect in either farm system.
Cox possesses two plus pitches with his two-seam fastball, clocked between 88-93 MPH, and his slider, his out pitch. The former standout closer for the Longhorns induces many groundballs and has a propensity for keeping the ball in the ballpark, a key ingredient to being a successful reliever at the Major League level. He'll most likely be the first relief pitching prospect from the Yankees organization to reach the Major League level and he's arguably the safest pick from either farm system to have a successful Major League career.
As good as he is however, he's not the relief pitching prospect with the highest upside from either farm system. Right-handed hurler Jesse Hoover of the Yankees, armed with a fastball that regularly sits in the 93-95 MPH range and tops off at 97 MPH, has the most electric stuff of any relief pitching prospect between the Mets and Yankees. He compliments his fastball with a plus curveball, a pitch that baffles hitters after seeing his tremendous heat. His command is also second to none, but a back injury that forced him to miss the entire 2004 season has put a big question mark next to his future.
Matt Lindstrom of the Mets also has a very high ceiling among the relief pitching prospects between the two New York teams. Outside of Hoover, Lindstrom might have the second highest ceiling amongst all the relief pitching prospects. But like Hoover, Lindstrom has some major obstacles to overcome to harness his tremendous talent. Lindstrom, who has been clocked consistently in the 94-97 MPH range and topped out at 99-100 MPH, is the hardest thrower between the two farm systems. But the slow development of his secondary pitches and erratic control of his fastballs has forced the 25-year old to the bullpen permanently after the Mets tried to keep him in the starting rotation the last few seasons.
Outside of the big three of Cox, Hoover, and Lindstrom, the Yankees and Mets have some intriguing relief pitching prospects with good upside. Jeremy Hill and Kole Strayhorn of the Mets are extremely hard throwers that have had health issues cloud their futures within the last two years. Hill, like Jesse Hoover, averages 93-95 MPH with his fastball but he doesn't have that plus second pitch to help compliment his heater. Strayhorn averages 93-96 MPH with his fastball and he has drawn comparisons to Yankees' reliever Tom Gordon because of his ability to bring the heat despite his small size.
T.J. Beam of the Yankees is an intriguing relief pitching prospect as well. Consistently clocked in the 91-94 MPH range and topping out at 97 MPH. He compliments his fastball with a good slider. Beam struck out 105 batters in 2005 coming out of the bullpen, but was quite old for the levels he pitched in this past season. He turned 25 years old in August and he'll need to move through the system quickly.
The relief pitching prospect from either system with the best changeup is Mike Martinez of the Yankees. The Cal-State Fullerton product was the Charleston closer in 2005 despite the lack of a plus fastball, his changeup was that good. Right-handed pitcher Robert Paulk, kept in Brooklyn this past season to rehab an injury, has the best curveball of any relief pitcher between the two farm systems. Neither Martinez nor Paulk projects to be a closer at the Major League level, but both could be excellent additions to the bullpen.
Finally, both the Mets and Yankees each have a relief pitching prospect with very good upside that have a combination of age and injury question marks surrounding their futures. Left-handed reliever Shane Hawk is arguably the top left-handed relief pitching prospect from either farm system. Hawk has a very good fastball as well, averaging 91-93 MPH, and compliments it well with good command of plus slider and changeup. Tears in his labrum and his rotator cuff not only lost him the entire 2004 season, but a lot of velocity on his pitches. The good news for the 24-year old southpaw was that he was able to add some much needed weight (15 lbs) to his 6'6" and 185 pound frame.
Former shortstop Ferdin Tejeda, blessed with one of the best infield arms but a less than potent bat, was moved to the mound by the Yankees in 2005. The results sent shockwaves throughout the organization. Tejeda was clocked at 96 MPH with regularity on his fastball and showed a plus curveball before Tommy John surgery ended his quick trial on the mound. The Yankees feel that, despite being 23 years old with just 18 professional innings under his belt, Tejeda will quickly rise through their system after successfully rehabbing his injury because of his advanced feel for pitching.
How Do They Compare In...
Fastballs: Jesse Hoover and Ferdin Tejeda are the hardest throwers in the Yankees' farm system currently, and while questions arise because of their injuries, neither of them can bring the heat as quickly as the Mets' Lindstrom. Considering the effectiveness of J. Brent Cox with his two-seam fastball and throw in the speed Jeremy Hill, Kole Strayhorn, and Shane Hawk of the Mets, the combined talent is pretty close among the top relief pitching prospects from both organizations.
Lumping all the relief pitching prospects from both systems into one large talent pool, the Yankees and Mets compare very favorably with their fastballs. Outside of the names mentioned above, the Mets have two other flame throwers that are further down in their development that throw very hard and project very well down the road. Right-handed pitchers Marcelo Perez and Jorge Reyes each throw in the 88-95 MPH range, consistently throwing 92-95 MPH on their good days. They are both young enough where they project to gain more consistency with their fastballs as they mature and possibly even get a littler faster with more coaching and refinement of their mechanics.
The Yankees have young hurlers Anderson Amador, a high-priced International free agent that did not pan out as a position prospect, and 22-year old right-hander Jorge Morales each hitting in the low to mid 90's with their heaters as well. Like Reyes and Perez of the Mets, Morales and Amador have a ways to go into their developments on the mound. All four pitchers are names to remember for the future. It just however proves that there isn't a distinct difference between the Mets and Yankees in this category. Advantage: Even
Secondary Pitches: LHP Shane Hawk has the most complete repertoire of any of the relief pitching prospects between the Mets and Yankees. He has a plus fastball, slider, and changeup. Hawk, along with Yankees' right-handed pitcher Josh Schmidt, have the two best sliders among the group. As noted above, Mike Martinez of the Yankees has the best changeup and Robert Paulk of the Mets has the best curveball among all the relievers.
However, the depth of Yankees' relief pitching prospects with good secondary pitches gives the Yankees an edge over the cross-town rival Mets. Right-handed pitcher Cory Stuart is also blessed with a plus slider as is fellow Staten Island teammate Steve Schroer. Throw in the plus curveballs of Jesse Hoover, Matt Smith, Jeff Kennard, and Saydel Beltran of the Yankees, the Mets just don't possess the same depth of good breaking pitches at the relievers' position. Advantage: Yankees
Overall Potential: J. Brent Cox is clearly the safest bet among all the relief pitching prospects to have a long and prosperous career at the Major League level. With a good combination of poise on the mound, battle-tested experience at the highest collegiate level, excellent command, and two plus pitches, Cox is as polished as they come out of the bullpen.
Jesse Hoover of the Yankees, and Matt Lindstrom and Shane Hawk - the best left-handed reliever between the two systems - of the Mets, it appears to be a close race between the Yankees and Mets among the relief pitching prospects. But the overall depth of the Yankees' relievers is far too good to ignore. The Mets can't touch the depth with the likes Beam, Beltran, Tejeda, Martinez, Kennard, Justin Pope, Jason Anderson, Erick Morrison, Josh Schmidt, Cory Stuart, and a host of others in the Yankees' organization. Advantage: Yankees.
Highest Ceilings: Jesse Hoover (Yankees), Matt Lindstrom (Mets), J. Brent Cox (Yankees), Shane Hawk (Mets), Ferdin Tejeda (Yankees).
Best Fastballs: Matt Lindstrom (Mets), Jesse Hoover (Yankees), Kole Strayhorn (Mets), Ferdin Tejeda (Yankees), Jeremy Hill (Mets)
Best Curveballs: Robert Paulk (Mets), Jesse Hoover (Yankees), Matt Smith (Yankees), Saydel Beltran (Yankees), Blake McGinley (Mets)
Best Changeups: Mike Martinez (Yankees), Blake McGinley (Mets), Shane Hawk (Mets), Justin Pope (Yankees), Erick Morrison (Yankees)
Best Sliders: Shane Hawk (Mets), Josh Schmidt (Yankees), Cory Stuart (Yankees), J. Brent Cox (Yankees), T.J. Beam (Yankees).
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