Leading up to the 2006 MLB Amateur Draft, the 6’8″ high school right-hander Dellin Betances was considered by many MLB clubs to be a first-round talent. On draft day however, due (in part) to his strong commitment to Vanderbilt University, Betances fell to his hometown (he’s from Washington Heights) New York Yankees in the eighth round (254th overall). In July of that summer, the Yankees would eventually hand Betances a seven-figure contract, including an eight-round record $1 million signing bonus, and pried him away from his Vandy commitment.
In spite of the worrisome ligament reinforcement surgery he underwent in 2009, Betances has continued to live up to his lofty pre-draft expectations. With his gigantic stature and mid 90′s heat Betances has sailed through the minors to the tune of a 3.21 ERA and 421 strikeouts in 364 career innings pitched. Returning from his arm injury last season, Betances restored his top-prospect status and managed to surpass expectations with an eye-opening performance in the Florida State League. Pitching with the Tampa Yankees, the big righty posted a 1.77 ERA, 88 strikeouts, and a flashy 4.63 K/BB through 71 innings. After his promotion to the Eastern League, he’s continued to dominate opposing hitters and he now ranks fourth among the league’s starting pitchers with a 2.37 ERA this season.
Betances profiles perfectly as a classic power-arm. Standing at 6’8” and weighing in at (listed) 255 pounds, his massive stature not only makes him an intimidating presence on the mound, but also allows him to produce the big-time velocity and movement. Beginning with his fastball, Betances’ arsenal is nothing less than phenomenal. His fastball is a plus-plus offering at present, with his four-seamer sitting between 92 mph and 96 mph and occasionally touching the 97-98 mph. Unlike many young power pitchers that have mid 90’s heat, Betances’ fastball sits consistently around 95 mph and into the latter innings of his starts. His heater gets on top of opposing batters quickly and they rarely catch up to it. While he can dial his fastball up to the high 90s, the pitch’s bowling-ball weight makes it a plus-plus offering even when he throws it at 92 or 93 mph.
Betances’ imposing stature makes his power repertoire even more effective. The twenty-three year-old right-hander has great mound presence and he uses his brute strength—something he has plenty of– to overpower big sluggers as well as he mows down contact-hitting table-setters. Trenton Thunder pitching coach Tommy Phelps has helped add more aggressiveness to Betances’ approach and the results have been fantastic. Instead of using his previously inefficient approach and solely pitching for K’s, he’s now comfortable using his heater to attack opposing batters on the inner-half of the plate. When he’s at his best, he challenges his competition with his stuff and keeps hitters off-balance and uncomfortable.
Though his stiff mechanics and inconsistent release still need refinement, Betances’ size, grip-strength and delivery add devastating movement and angle to his fastball and other pitches. His explosive four-seamer’s ridiculous rise resembles that of a young Mariano Rivera. His newly developed razor-sharp cutter and hard-tailing two-seamer show plenty of movement as well. Sitting a few ticks slower than his four-seamer, both pitches feature hard, late, boring action. His height and arm angle add further sink to his two-seamer, making it extremely difficult for opposing batters to square up. Since developing the pitch during his rehab in ’09, Betances has kept his BABIP below .251 and has allowed just 8 homeruns in his last 150 innings pitched.
After a couple of years of seasoning, Betances’ secondary pitches now rate with his fastball. He’s harnessed command of his knuckle-curve and the pitch now grades well above-average– a “70” on the 20-80 scale. He throws his curve in the 80-85 mph range and he does a great job disguising it by using a similar arm-slot and release to that of his fastball. He throws a true knuckle-curve with hard, late 12-6 movement. The pitch drops off the table just before the batter recognizes it and it draws swinging strikeouts and awkward swings. While his curveball command is far from precise, he has solid feel for the pitch and he can backdoor it low-and-away from lefties. His curve is (often) downright devastating and will continue to generate strikeouts into his big league career.
Previously grading below-average, Betances’ circle changeup now rates as average– to a tick above. He throws his change between 82 and 87 mph with outstanding two-seam movement. He does a good job of staying on top of the pitch, and his change’s natural fade and sink makes it an effective offering against right-handed pull-hitters. If he can develop more confidence in the pitch and some level of comfort using it in difficult counts, it will grade as a third above-average offering, joining the two plus-plus pitches in his arsenal.
Betances’s size and his lack of athleticism have always made his mechanics and durability a concern. His height and long legs makes his balance an issue and he still loses his release and arm slot from inning to inning, pitch to pitch. He doesn’t do a good job employing his legs in his delivery and is still more of a thrower than a pitcher. His simple, upright mechanics may help him to throw strikes, but they also force his arm and shoulder to pick up more slack and generate the power that his legs should be. This issue– paired with his poor athleticism– causes him to tire much quicker than most lanky, big-bodied hurlers. Though he still has more than enough stamina to be a big league starter, he’ll either have to focus on improving his efficiency or employing his legs in his delivery if he wants to survive at the front of an AL East rotation.
While his control is MLB-average, Betances’ command remains iffy. He’s done a better job of throwing strikes this year, but his arsenal’s sharp movement often exacerbates his command issues. He generally has trouble spotting his fastball consistently and he tends to lose the strike zone when he’s rattled or with men on base. Because Betances’ command still needs more polish, Yankees GM Brian Cashman passed on calling him up to the Yankees despite the young pitcher’s inspiring performances in the Eastern League.
Arguably the most exciting of the three “Killer B’s”—a group that also includes Yankees top pitching prospects Manny Banuelos and Andrew Brackman — Washington Heights native Dellin Betances could find plenty of big league success on his pure stuff alone. If he can work with the organization’s wealth of coaches and iron his game out, however, he has the talent to develop in to the Bombers’ number-two or three starter. Even if he can’t improve his stamina and durability, his golden arm and exciting profile could make him the eventual heir to Mariano Rivera as the club’s closer.
With many other ball clubs, Betances would already find himself busy striking out major league hitters. With the Yankees however, he’s been held back a bit in favor of developing him into a more durable, complete pitcher. Especially in light of Joba Chamberlain’s well-publicized struggles and eventual Tommy John surgery, New York’s front office and management is making sure to handle the arms of Betances, Banuelos and Brackman with care. Consequently, baseball fans will have to wait to see Betances on the big stage– at least until rosters expand in September.
Betances’ towering build and gaudy stuff makes him a rare and valuable find. His tremendous potential makes it difficult to find a valid big-league comparison. In terms of pure stuff, build and pitching style, he’s similar to the Marlins Josh Johnson. As a 6’8″ 255 pound guy who falls well short of a workhorse, he’s also similar to Johnson in his size-to-durability ratio. Betances’ ceiling is certainly on-par with a vintage JJ, though his suspect command suggests he may be closer to an A.J. Burnett or Carlos Zambrano-type starter. Even if he doesn’t improve his stamina and smooth out his mechanics he should still be a plenty useful bullpen arm in line with Mark Wohlers or Joel Hanrahan.