Tyler Kepner, the esteemed baseball columnist for The New York Times, penned one of his best in Sunday morning’s editions.
Kepner caught up with pitchers Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain. Turn back the clock 10 or so years. This trio was supposed to be the heart of the Yankees’ pitching rotation.
A few years later, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos came through the system. Of the five, only Betances, who has developed into an All-Star reliever, still performs in Pinstripes. It goes that way more often than many realize.
We got to know all five as they passed through Double-A Trenton. All flashed brilliance at the time. All were still learning at the time as well.
Hughes, a talented right-hander who is a great guy, looked like a man among boys in Double-A in 2006. He dominated Double-A hitters en route to reaching the majors in 2007. His halcyon days with the Yankees were in 2009, when he was a dominating setup man on a World Championship team, and 2010, when he put together an 18-8, 4.14 mark with strike-out-walk ratio of 146-58.
The California native would have one more solid season with the Yankees, a 16-13, 4.19 effort in 2012, but did allow 35 homers, before slumping to 4-14, 5.19 in 2013. A fly-ball pitcher, he had issues in the new Yankee Stadium before signing what turned into a 5-year, $58 million pact with Minnesota before 2014, where he has gone 27-19 in two seasons.
Kennedy, to be honest, was cocky in his time in the Yankees system. He made his debut with the Bombers in 2007 as well, but made just 14 appearances with them before being traded to Arizona Dec. 6, 2009, in the three-team Curtis Granderson swap. He had a spectacular 21-4, 2.89 mark in 2011 and won 15 games in 2012 before stumbling and being traded to San Diego, where he was 26-31 in three seasons. Kennedy signed a 5-year, $75 million contract with the Kansas City Royals this past offseason.
Chamberlain never took anything for granted when he arrived in Trenton in 2007.
”There is always work to be done,” he said. Chamberlain, who would begin his yo-yo existence with the Yankees later that season, adhering to Joba Rules as both a reliever and starter until 2013, He signed with Detroit in 2014, had some success, ended 2015 in Kansas City and is trying to catch on in Cleveland for 2016.
Betances struggled with control in the minors, but always had the right attitude and made no excuses.
“I just have to do better and I will,” he said. “I know what I need to correct.” He did, and has established himself, going 11-4, 1.78 with 266 strikeouts in 174 innings over the last two seasons.
Banuelos had great stuff, but control problems in the minors after being signed out of Mexico with Alfredo Aceves in 2008. He never appeared with the Yankees and missed time with appendectomy in 2010 and had Tommy John Surgery that caused him to miss the 2013 season. After a 6-2, 2.18 mark on 17 starts among Tampa, Trenton and Scranton, he was traded to Atlanta Jan. 1, 2015, for relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.
He made his major-league debut with Atlanta in 2015, putting together a 1-4, 5.13 mark in seven appearances (six starts) and is slated to be the Braves’ fifth starter in 2016.
Will James Kaprielian be a 15- to 20-game winner? Will Aaron Judge hit 30 or more home runs five times? Will Jorge Mateo steal near 100 bases in a season? Hughes, Kennedy, Chamberlain, Betances and Banuelos were all predicted to be Yankees stars a few years ago. Betances alone fulfilled the predictions.
Then, did Starlin Castro picture himself with the Yankees a few years ago? Likely not.