No Yankees fans or personnel in the organization wanted to trade Jesus Montero.
The catcher was ranked the organization’s top prospect by several outlets for many years. But a deal came along early in 2012 that the team couldn’t pass up when at the time 22-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda became available.
Today, New York seems to have got the best of that deal as Pineda is currently refining his skills with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders and Montero is sitting out with an injury after being demoted from Seattle to Triple-A Tacoma.
Organizations were salivating over Pineda because of the incredible 2011 season he had for the Mariners. He made a grand entrance onto the Major League scene winning four of his first five decisions with the Mariners in April of that year en route to winning the American League Rookie of the Month and earning a spot on the A.L. All-Star Team.
“He was dominant. I remember facing him and Felix (Hernandez). That wasn’t a lot of fun for me,” said Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. “He was throwing 96-97 and I think he hit 100 a couple times that night in Seattle. He’s a very special talent for the Yankees.”
Sure his superb April helped him gain recognition, but during his best games in Seattle, Pineda, now 24, was throwing his fastball with high velocity late in games. He could be clocked as high 98 MPH in the sixth or seventh inning. Returning from a shoulder injury that cost him all of the 2012 season, the velocity isn’t all the back yet. The highest he’s reached has been 96. But he doesn’t need that right now because he’s been getting out batters on his devastating slider. In a start on July 18, he struck out eight, all were swinging on sliders.
“That’s my baby. I’ve always had a good slider,” said Pineda, who was ranked as the No. 13 prospect by MLB.com entering the 2011 season. “The thing is when I keep my left shoulder closed my slider is better, that’s where I want to be.”
Pineda, who was originally signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Mariners in December of 2005, has said many times that he’s missed playing the game because of the shoulder injury. He was shut down at the end of spring training in 2012 after being hit with an anterior labral tear in his pitching shoulder. He had surgery for that on May 1 and saw his first action coming back from that on June 9 with High-A Tampa.
“It’s hard (getting back into form) because I have almost two years of working hard everyday, everyday,” he said. “Because I need work in for my shoulder and everything is good.”
He appears to be getting back into form. In three of his four starts with the RailRiders, he has allowed two runs or less and currently has a 4.15 ERA with the team. He’s also been racking up strikeouts with 23 in 17 1-3 innings. That’s reminiscent of his 2011 form when he whiffed 173 in 171 frames with the Mariners, which included a career-high 10 against Tampa Bay in July of that year and five in five innings against the Yankees earlier in the campaign. He recently started a game with Rodriguez in the same lineup and the successful slugger praised the 6-foot-7, 260-pound Pineda.
“Let me tell you something about Mike: he’s one of the strongest and fastest pitchers in the whole organization from Rookie ball to the big leagues,” A-Rod said. “And it’s hard to believe because he’s such a big man. If there was a combine like football he would be really high in the grade. You can’t believe how fast this guys is. He’s as fast as anybody. And in the weight room he’s just a monster.
“It’s going to take time for him, especially being a power pitcher. But I see him next year pitching 94-98 getting back to that velocity. I think this year he’s going to be a factor at some point.”
While in Seattle, Pineda played with stars like Ichiro Suzuki and Felix Hernandez – who may someday end up in the Hall of Fame. In two of his four starts with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he played alongside Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. His first rehab start came in Jeter’s first rehab game with the RailRiders and he was in awe.
“When they made the trade I was thinking ‘wow I want to pitch in the same game this guy is at shortstop,’” Pineda said.
Pineda’s last outing Came on July 23 when he only lasted three innings and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was reported as saying it was due to “innings management.”
That has riled up speculation that Pineda could be used in New York’s bullpen at some time this season in an attempt to save his arm and shoulder for more workload as a starter next season.
“I don’t know. I don’t have any control over the situation,” Pineda said about possible being put in a relief role. “All I can do is be ready for pitching every five days.”
And if he keeps throwing the way he has recently, that time could be soon.