Yankees Look to Mix it Up with D.J. Mitchell

With the big league pitching staff under performing, the New York Yankees front office has been forced to shake things up. In the upheaval, minor league starter D.J. Mitchell finds himself added to the 25-man roster for the first time in his four-year pro career.

Mitchell, who was omitted from the Yankees pre-season Top 15 prospect list, was out-performing – and earned the promotion over – fellow prospects Dellin Betances (ranked third) and Adam Warren (14th) at triple-A. Rookie hurler David Phelps (12th) was pitching well enough in the big league bullpen to earn a shot at replacing disappointing veteran Freddy Garcia in the starting rotation.

Mitchell was originally selected in the 10th round of the 2008 amateur draft out of Clemson University. Interestingly, the right-hander began his college career as an outfielder and did not focus on pitching until his final year of school. Despite the late position switch Mitchell has moved through the Yankees system at a brisk pace and has now spent parts of three seasons in triple-A.

The soon-to-be-25-year-old made four starts in 2012 and gave up just 13 hits in 23.0 innings of work. He walked seven and struck out 21. Right-handers were hitting just .136 against him compared to lefties at .214. Mitchell worked more than 160 innings at triple-A in 2011 so he has the ability to provide a lot of innings out of the big league bullpen if needed. The move to the ‘pen might help the athletic pitcher’s stuff play up a bit. His fastball currently sits in the 87-91 mph range and he also features a decent slider and changeup. He has average control. At just 6’0” and with a slender frame, the North Carolina native has been long considered a future reliever at the big league level.

How long Mitchell sticks in New York naturally depends on his results, as well as the success of those around him. If the pitchers in the starting rotation continue to struggle – and there is no reason to expect that they will long term – then even more drastic measures may have to be taken. Who knows, perhaps even Mitchell will receive a shot at the starting rotation before the season ends.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

13 Responses to “Yankees Look to Mix it Up with D.J. Mitchell”

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  1. Preston says:

    The Yankees 12-9 start is pretty amazing when you consider that their starters era is over 6. This team will continue to have an elite offense and an elite bullpen, but if they are to have continued success, they need to have at least adequate starting pitching. Freddy Garcia needed to go. Phil Hughes may soon join him. While he is no longer struggling from a dead arm, and his K rate has been impressive, nothing else has been. He hasn’t been able to pitch efficiently or effectively through an order multiple times. When Andy Pettitte is ready I wouldn’t be surprised if David Phelps stays on in his role as 5th starter, Phil moves to the pen, Mitchell is used as the long-man and Freddy Garcia is DFA’d.

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    • Tom says:

      I think this is the optimal decision process (assuming current results pretty much hold).

      However Girardi relies on past perception of players and it takes a while for him to change his opinion so I can easily see him giving “Hughesy” more shots in the rotation if/when Pettitte comes up and putting “Phelpsy” as the long man as he has “been solid for us in that role”

      The other issue is that at some point the Yankees have to cut 2 pitchers as they are playing with an 8 man pen. So if they keep Mitchell as the long man, put Hughes as a reliever they will need to cut someone beyond Garcia. Barring injury I imagine that would be one of the 2 LOOGY’s as Mo,Soriano, Robertson and Wade have all been good.

      Of course injury / effectiveness will probably sort this out anyway.

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      • Preston says:

        I don’t know that Girardi has the decision making power in this regard. I think that Cashman is the one who is still on the Hughes train. I understand the thought process. Hughes is the same age as Phelps and was definitely the superior prospect. He also has one successful season as a ML starter under his belt. But at some point you have to realize that a guy just can’t harness his talent to be a starter. I still think that Hughes fastball is good enough to be a really good back end reliever, but his secondary stuff will never allow him to be a good starter (unless he pitched at Petco). The eighth reliever being sent down doesn’t really have anything to do with who starts, when Brett Gardner returns somebody will be cut loose, my moneys on Clay Rapada. That will probably happen before Pettitte is ready.

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      • MC says:

        I think it’s way too early to give up on Hughes, especially for a club like the Yankees and their rotation. True the numbers look awful, and I haven’t watched him pitch, but give the guy a break, he’s 25. I would give him 70 innings or so as a starter to sort things out, and take it from there. I don’t know what the problem is with Hughes, but if he has the same stuff he’s always had, then his stuff ain’t the problem.

        And I’m not even a Yankee fan.

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      • Preston says:

        I have been eagerly awaiting Phil Hughes, future ace to arrive since we drafted him. It just isn’t there. His curveball has regressed as a pitch since 2007, he cannot throw it for strikes, and even when he does it isn’t overly effective. His change-up is basically batting practice. Anecdotally his early season success in 2010 can be attributed to his use of a cutter, which finally gave him something to keep hitters off of his fastball. However by mid-season hitters had adjusted and he struggled in the second half. It isn’t different enough from his fastball or a quality enough pitch in it’s own right to help him get through line-ups multiple times. He is what he is a 25 year old pitcher with an electric fastball. But without anything to supplement it he is not ever going to be a quality starter.
        I hope that I am wrong. I hope that his curveball regains the bite scouts saw in 2007, and that he controls it enough to be effective. I hope that his changeup finally becomes useful. I hope that he starts to put some balls on the ground. But it hasn’t happened. And I’m done holding my breath. If he was anywhere approaching adequate as a starter, I’d prefer he stayed there. But if my choices are an effective reliever or a putrid starter, I’ll choose the former.

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  2. Raf says:

    Chamberlain’s and Hughes’ development has been nothing short of disappointing. I’m looking forward to seeing what Mitchell has to offer.

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    • Cliff says:

      Chamberlain’s fine, they just won’t let him start so he injured himself on a trampoline in protest.

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      • Sam Samson says:

        That’s ridiculous. The trampoline thing was an accident, caused by a large cloud of midges which had been attracted to Joba’s meat-sweat.

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  3. Clemsonuee says:

    I may not be a Yankees fan but I always support ex-Tigers wherever they pop up so I’m hoping to see DJ have some success.

    DJ was interesting because he really wasn’t doing that bad as a outfielder when he made the move to pitcher.

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  4. Yankee Fan Dan says:

    Why not sign Roy Oswalt? Sure the thought of Roy Oswalt in the AL East is bad to think about, but at least he’s not Freddy Garcia.

    et tu, Brian Cashman?

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  5. I am a Red Sux Fan says:

    They ripped the colon right out of the rotation when they resigned Garcia.

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  6. andrew says:

    Hughes has been given a long enough leash as a starter, much longer than Joba was given. Hughes is the one who should be chucked into the pen his fastball is his only above average pitch at this point and it is an explosive weapon playing up out of the pen.

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