If you grew up in Brooklyn, your favorite team growing up was the Yankees, and you had the stuff to be a Major League pitcher, where would you want to spend your career?
With the Yankees, of course. And that's how the story of Dellin Betances begins. He may or may not spend his career in the confines of the New Yankee Stadium, but he'll pitch there at some point, and he'll be pretty good at it. But even as I type up this post, I can hear Yankees fans saying, "Yeah, but how good?" And I can't blame them for wanting to know.
Betances has the pure talent to be a stud. Before I get into all the details, I want to suggest a few comparable pitchers, and then discuss what kind of stuff Betances brings to the mound.
Betances compares really well to Kerry Wood, followed by Billingsly, and then Harden. By the age of 22, each one of them posted an ERA at or below 3.40, so that's a great set of pitchers to be grouped with, and I think Betances has just as much potential as any of them. None of them was particularly good at keeping the ball on the ground, but they don't give up a lot of home runs, indicating that even when they leave a ball high in the zone, hitters don't usually catch up with it. In a perfect world I would like to see Betances post a GB% closer to 50%, but I'll take his current rate since he is relying so heavily right now on his fast ball to avoid contact.
Speaking of contact, I want to outline Betances pitching repetoire for just a moment. While most scouting reports say that his fastball sits in the low to mid 90's, I've read from several sources that he can reach 97 or 98 mph. Betances also has a change up and a curve that he has been working on since being signed by the Yankees, but it looks like both pitches are still very much works-in-progress. His future development of a good secondary pitch will probably dictate his ability to maintain his K/9 rate while keeping his GB% at acceptable levels. The pace that he is able to locate a curve or change up for strikes will probably determine how quickly he establishes himself in the majors, although I think his fastball is good enough to at least get him there in a couple of years.
While I don't like to deem a pitcher's body as "projectable", Betances has plenty of size, standing 6'7" and weighing in at somewhere around 230 pounds. His ability to repeat sound mechanics will likely determine his durability, but it doesn't hurt to be a 20 year old in a giant's body if you want to be a professional athlete, so he gets a plus for simply being a huge guy.
Anyways, now that we've covered the basics, let's talk about projections. If we follow the path of progression followed by Harden, Wood, and Billingsly, Betances could find his way to AAA by the end of 2009 with perhaps a chance of a call-up late in the season, and a shot at a starting spot in 2010. By then the Yankees should have a rotation that includes a much improved Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Chien-Ming Wang, and Ian Kennedy. That would give the Yanks a very solid front 3, with nice depth at the #4 and #5 spot.
If Betances stays on track, he should be fully capable of posting an ERA under 4.00 in the majors by 2010, and possible below 3.50. That would make him at least a 12-14 game winner, with a chance at 15 or more. It's hard to say how he'll do long term since both Wood and Harden have been injury prone, but he definitely has a chance at being a #1 starter, and possibly a Cy Young caliber pitcher. I don't want to over extend my projection, but I like what I've seen from Betances so far, and I think the best is yet to come.