Due to the rash of injuries that have placed Mike Mussina and Carl Pavano on the disabled list alongside Chien-Ming Wang and Jeffrey Karstens, the Yankees were forced to dip into their minor league system for a starter for tonight's (and likely Sunday's) game. The three pitchers whose turns fell on the right day were Tyler Clippard and Steven Jackson in triple-A and Chase Wright in double-A. Of the three, Wright was both the only one already on the 40-man roster and the pitcher who'd had the most success in his two starts thus far this season. Clippard's had two middling outings for Scranton. Jackson has faired a tad better, but neither has lasted more than five innings in either outing. Wright, meanwhile, has dominated in a pair of seven-inning outings and will make his major league debut tonight in the Bronx against the Indians.
Here's what I wrote about Wright back in February:
L - Chase Wright (24)
A third-round draft pick in 2000, Wright has spent six years in the Yankees system without cracking double-A. He's made large strides over the last three seasons however. Check these trends:
Wright claims the difference has simply been an uptick in confidence. I suppose it could be that after bottoming out in 2004 he figured he couldn't do any worse if he just challenged hitters. If so, it worked. Wright's best pitch is a changeup that works off his low-90s fastball, and he's working on developing his curve. He's still a work in progress, but it's certainly encouraging to see such rapid progress by a lefty starter. Indeed, he's come far enough that the Yankees had to add him to the 40-man to protect him from the Rule 5 draft last fall.
To that I'll add his spring training and double-A lines from this year:
Those 14 innings at double-A are divided evenly between two equally excellent starts in which Wright has posted a fantastic 2.29 groundball-to-flyball rate. Accordingly, Wright hasn't allowed a home run in any of his 26 2/3 innings thus far this year and allowed just one round-tripper in 119 2/3 innings last year.
After I wrote the above, I received a note from Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus's minor league guru. Kevin said that one thing he felt I got wrong was my estimation of Wright's velocity (which I got from assimilating various on-line scouting reports). According to Goldstein, Wright's fastball tops out in the high 80s, adding something to the effect that if Wright did throw in the low 90s, he'd be a world-beater. Judging by his recent results this season and last, I tend to wonder if Wright's recent improvement has had as much to do with an uptick in velocity as with an increase in confidence. I'll certainly be keeping an eye on the YES radar gun tonight. If it turns out that he is indeed working in the low-90s . . . look out world.
Wright's promotion has conjured up memories of fellow lefty Sean Henn's May 4, 2005 major league debut, in which he made the leap from double-A at the age of 24 to start in Tampa Bay in place of Randy Johnson, who had tweaked his groin in his previous outing. The comparison is unavoidable, but here are two key ways in which the two differ:
Sean Henn pitched a full season (27 starts) in double-A in 2004 and was repeating the level in 2005 when he was called up. Chase Wright had never pitched above A-ball prior to his two starts for Trenton earlier this month.
Sean Henn had (and still has) never dominated any league in any season the way Wright dominated the Florida State League last year (he was named the league's pitcher of the year). Part of the reason for that is that Henn missed the 2002 season due to Tommy John surgery, spent 2003 rehabbing in the FLS after starting out in Rookie ball, and was thrust into double-A in 2004 despite a middling performance the year before only to see his effectiveness decline in Trenton. Wright, on the other hand, has been brought along exceedingly slowly as the Yankees waited for the sort of breakout he had last year before having him make the leap to double-A. Between that careful development pace, the results above, and especially his stellar groundball rate, I think it's safe to say that the Chase Wright who will start tonight for the Yankees is a clearly superior pitcher to the Sean Henn who made his debut almost two years ago under similar circumstances.