A native of Los Mochis, Mexico, right-hander Luis Ayala made quite a splash as a big league rookie in 2003. He appeared in 65 games that year out of manager Frank Robinson’s Montreal Expo bullpen and posted a 2.92 ERA, while winning ten of thirteen decisions and getting five saves. He proved he was no fluke in his sophomore season, appearing in 81 games and posting a 2.69 ERA. He was well on his way to becoming one of MLB’s best middle relievers when he blew out his elbow pitching for Mexico in the 2006 World Baseball Championship.
He underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the entire ’06 season. He did OK during his first season back from the injury but it went downhill fast from there. During the next two seasons he pitched for four different clubs and his ERA skyrocketed to almost six runs for every nine innings he pitched.
Things looked bleak for Alaya after the Marlins released him in ’09 and he spent the entire 2010 season back in the minors. The following February, the Yankees signed him to a minor league contract. Though New York’s bullpen appeared to be loaded with middle and late inning relievers, Ayala pitched well enough in spring training to make the team’s Opening Day roster. He then got hit hard in his first Yankee appearance and after two decent outings, landed on the DL with a strained muscle in his back.
After a short rehab tour at Scranton/Wilkes Barre, Ayala returned to New York’s bullpen and for the rest of the year, he was one of Joe Girardi’s best and most trusted middle relievers, coming up especially big when injuries shelved both Joba Chamberlain and Rafael Soriano. He ended the regular season with 52 appearances and an excellent ERA of 2.09.
His ERA would have been even lower, but in his last regular season appearance, Tampa got three earned runs off of him. He then didn’t look sharp in either of his two appearances against the Tigers in that year’s ALDS. It could very well have been those last three consecutive sub par outings that caused the Yankee front office to let Ayala sign with the Orioles instead of bringing him back for another season in the Bronx. I remember being surprised they let him go. He put together a good season for the O’s in 2012 and then did the same for Atlanta in 2013, after Baltimore traded him to the Braves early in the season.
|WSN (5 yrs)||27||32||.458||3.33||320||0||93||0||0||9||332.1||338||137||123||32||76||213||1.246|
|BAL (2 yrs)||6||5||.545||2.81||68||0||15||0||0||1||77.0||85||29||24||8||14||53||1.286|
|MIN (1 yr)||1||2||.333||4.18||28||0||11||0||0||0||32.1||38||18||15||4||8||21||1.423|
|NYM (1 yr)||1||2||.333||5.50||19||0||13||0||0||9||18.0||23||12||11||3||2||14||1.389|
|ATL (1 yr)||1||1||.500||2.90||37||0||7||0||0||0||31.0||34||10||10||1||13||20||1.516|
|NYY (1 yr)||2||2||.500||2.09||52||0||20||0||0||0||56.0||51||17||13||5||20||39||1.268|
|FLA (1 yr)||0||3||.000||11.74||10||0||2||0||0||0||7.2||12||10||10||1||6||7||2.348|
Let me explain how difficult it has been for the Yankees to use their top pick wisely in the MLB Amateur Draft. Steve Chilcott; Dave Cheadle; Doug Heinhold; Dennis Sherrill; Jim McDonald; Steve Taylor; Todd Demeter; Steve Madden; Tim Birtsas; Jeffrey Pries; Rick Balabon; Brien Taylor; Matt Drews;Brian Buchanan; Shea Morenz; Scott Bradley; Tyler Godwin; Andy Brown, Dave Walling; Dave Parrish; Jon Skaggs; Bronson Sardinha; Eric Duncan; Jon Peterson; should I keep going? These are the names of Yankee number 1 draft picks most of you have never heard of. There will be many more in the future.
Its why when I hear or read Yankee fans insisting the team needs to stop signing high-priced free agents and start building from within, I take it with a grain of salt. I’ve been a Yankee fan since 1960 and I can remember reading articles in the Daily News, Sporting News and Street and Smith’s Annual Baseball Season Preview in which some Yankee front office exec or another insists the team’s number 1 draft pick has all the tools to make it on the big stage. Some have. Derek Jeter and Thurman Munson proved that. Most have not and there have been several who, though they did not become bonafide all-stars, they did eventually put together some productive years in the big leagues.
That was the case with today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Terry Whitfield. The Yankees drafted the Blythe, California native with their number 1 pick out of high school in 1971, when he was just 18-years-old and assigned him to their Class D Appalachian League farm team in Johnson City, Tennessee. In just 67 games, the young outfielder belted 10 home runs and drove in 43 runs. Two seasons later, he put together a .968 OPS for the Yankees Class A affiliate in Kinston, North Carolina. He got his first cup-of-coffee look by the parent club in September of 1974 and his first big league and Yankee hit, a single off of Milwaukee Brewer right handed Jim Colburn.
Whitfield spent most of the next three years in Syracuse, but when Elliott Maddox suffered his devastating knee injury while playing a slippery Shea Stadium outfield during the 1975 season, the Yankees brought Whitfield back up and he got to play in 28 games and averaged .272. But he went homer-less during that stretch and his power numbers in general during his final years in the minors were not that impressive. That’s probably why when the Yankees felt they needed to shore up their infield depth during the team’s 1977 spring training season, they traded Whitfield to San Francisco for middle infielder Marty Perez.
Whitfield then put together four decent but unspectacular seasons as an outfielder for the Giants. His best year would be 1978 when he averaged a career-high .289 with 141 hits. Two seasons later he made national headlines when he moved to Japan to play for the Seibu Lions. He returned three years later and finished his big league career with three seasons as a Dodger fourth outfielder.
|SFG (4 yrs)||514||1688||1529||201||442||77||11||26||138||16||109||206||.289||.338||.405||.743|
|LAD (3 yrs)||185||329||298||23||72||15||0||7||34||1||28||64||.242||.309||.362||.671|
|NYY (3 yrs)||31||89||86||9||23||1||1||0||7||1||1||18||.267||.270||.302||.572|
Ivan became the Yankees’ Super Nova during the 2011 season. I’m the first to admit I was skeptical that spring when New York made the decision to include this 6’4″, 225 pound Dominican right-hander as the fifth starter in the team’s regular season pitching rotation. He changed my mind! In fact, when this kid went 8-4 during the first half of 2011 and then was demoted back to Scranton to make room for Phil Hughes’ return from the DL, I strongly disagreed. What impressed me most about Nova two seasons ago however, was the fact that he understood those circumstances, accepted that demotion and just kept pitching and getting better. When he was called back up to New York, he was a beast on the mound, winning each of his eight final decisions to finish the year, 16-4. His hot streak was huge for the Yankees’ drive to the AL East Division crown because Bartolo Colon, Freddie Garcia and even CC Sabathia all experienced bad streaks in the second half of the 2011 season.
Nova continued to impress in that year’s ALDS versus Detroit. Scheduled to start Game 2, instead he found himself finishing the rain-delayed Game 1 in place of CC Sabathia. He went out and pitched seven and a third solid innings to help New York capture that first game. In fact, the only time all season he failed to deliver more than expected turned out to be Game 5 of that same Series. He gave up back-to-back home runs to the Tigers in the first and left the game after completing the second inning with a “tight forearm.”
I remember when the Yankees first brought Nova up in 2010, when both AJ Burnett and Javier Vazquez were pitching like crap. There was a story in the media at the time that the kid was being investigated for taking vitamin B12 shots before his minor league starts. I’d read about how players from the Dominican Republic were big B12 users and how often-times the substance they are told is B12 is laced with PEDs. Nova was eventually cleared of any wrong doing but I was definitely put off by the fact that he hadn’t even gotten started with the Yankees and already rumors about steroid use were circulating. I’ve kept my fingers crossed since that the kid is and remains PED clean.
If he was using the juice the following year, he must have gotten a bad batch. Even though he won ten of his first 13 decisions in 2012, he really struggled with his consistency from start-to-start and even inning-to-inning. Sure enough, those struggles got the best of him in the second half. He went 2-5 during from July 9th on, his ERA climbed to over five and he was even dropped from the rotation by Joe Girardi, in favor of then Yankee rookie, David Phelps.
The Yankees were counting on him to bounce back strong in 2014 but in his fourth start of the regular season, he got absolutely shelled by the Rays and after he was lifted by Joe Girardi, he complained of soreness in his pitching elbow. Doctors discovered a torn ligament which required Tommy John surgery. He was lost for the rest of the year and is not expected back until sometime during the 2015 regular season.
Nova turns 28-years-old today and the Yankees have him wrapped up through 2016. If he can rehab his elbow back into shape and then rebound to his form of four seasons ago, that will be good news for the Yankees and a big boost to their chances of returning to postseason play. But those are two big “if’s.”