The spotlight has been bright on Dellin Betances ever since he hit 90 MPH as a junior in high school. The Yankees drafted him at 18 with an over slot bonus of $1 million to lure him away from his commitment to Vanderbilt. His huge 6’8, 260 pound frame is used to overpower hitters with a high 90s fastball and a devastating curveball. The sky high projections for him helped fuel the hype train around the “Killer B’s,” a trio of Yankees prospects including him, Manny Banuelos and Andrew Brackman who moved through the organization together and all projected as top of the rotation arms. Unfortunately they all seemed to prove the adage that there really is no such thing as a pitching prospect and spent years battling injury, wildness and lack of effectiveness until the book finally closed, adding another disappointing trio of young Yankees pitchers to the list. Betances’ inability to throw strikes with any level of consistency blew up in 2011 and has been all but written off as a high ceiling pitcher.
Enter Spring Training 2014, where Betances enters camp hopeful to prove he’s a changed man. He worked hard over the offseason to fix his mental issues, which he says plagued his mind on the mound and made it hard to throw to his true potential. Gaining confidence was a key step for him, but Dellin Betances also had to make some mechanical adjustments as well. Because of his enormous body, he has trouble repeating his delivery, namely staying back through the process and letting his arm catch up to his torso. To help with this, he moved his set up stance closer to the center of the rubber and lowered his arm slot.
He still falls off heavily after release, but it’s less pronounced now. He keeps his hips closed better to avoid yanking the ball glove side, although he still targets that area more than any other. His insane wing span lets him release the ball closer to the plate than most pitchers, making his 98 MPH fastball appear to hit warp speed.
Another benefit of the new arm slot is that he’s able to stay on top of the knuckle curve much easier. This has led to an 18.9% swinging strike rate on the pitch, one of the best in the league. The tight spin and late break makes it almost impossible for a hitter to pick up, and the movement is otherworldly. Below is a zoomed in and slowed down gif of his curve, thanks to the wonderful cameras at Citi Field:
The new and improved Dellin Betances has rejuvinated himself partly because of the bullpen role. As said to John Harper of the New York Daily News:
“As a reliever I go out there trying to be aggressive. As a starter I kind of worked my way into it. You’ve gotta go out there and give it your all right away. When I was starting, I didn’t have that approach.”
The new mindset has him down to a 9.6% walk rate, which is still high but miles better than his major league average mark of 19%. He’s also been striking out an absurd 44.7% of hitters, good enough for a tie with Wade Davis for first among all relievers. His peripherals are helping drive his sparkling 1.85 ERA, and his 1.16 xFIP is also first for relievers.
Even though Betances is developing into one of the games’ best relievers, there’s still some hope between him and the Yankees organization that he may end up starting again in the near future. If his maturity can build up enough to take the mental beating that comes with the role, the Bronx may very well be home to another ace. When asked about his future of either closing or starting, Joe Girardi stayed diplomatic, but still couldn’t hide his excitement:
I don’t want to get too far ahead of how we project where he’ll be. But I will say this: He’s got a gift. If you’ve ever seen Dellin it’s different because he’s 6-foot-9 or whatever he is and it’s a long stride. It’s nothing you see every day.
There’s undeniable talent in the arm of Dellin Betances. He’s riding a long and winding roller coaster of career and he’s still just 26. He’s still working on getting more higher leverage opportunities, but his manager believes in him and the door is wide open to pitch late in games. The Yankees are taking the training wheels off of Betances and the beast is beginning to show. Unfortunately for American League teams, this is just the tip of the iceberg for Betances.