TAMPA, Fla. – So much good has happened for Dellin Betances over the past year that he hopes it never stops.
Ever since he required Tommy John surgery in 2009, he has made outstanding progress. His mechanics have smoothed out. His understanding of pitching itself has improved dramatically. He is moving toward being a finished product.
“I now know how much work has to be done to make myself the pitcher I can be,’’ said the 6-foot-9, 245-pound right-hander who will turn 23 this week. “That’s the best part about being with the Yankees these few weeks in spring training.
“The big-league pitchers have given me a lot of help and showed me what their work habits are, and the coaches have helped me in my learning to adjust to situations.’’
Betances, who surprised many by dominating Florida State League hitters after he returned to the mound last summer for the Tampa Yankees, putting up a dazzling 8-1, 1.77 mark before earning a late promotion to the Thunder. He seemed to quickly grasp what the Double-A level is all about, and had confidence in pitching to contact.
After striking out 20 batters in 14.1 innings, making effective in-game adjustments when needed, Betances was also effective in the Eastern League playoffs.
“I got a taste of what the Eastern League was about, and that certainly helps me going into this season,’’ said Betances, who will form an impressive one-two pitching punch for the Thunder with Manny Banuelos at the start of 2011.
His impressive package includes a moving fastball that sits in the 94-95 mph range and has been clocked this spring at 98. His knuckle-curve, which keeps hitters off-balance with its dancing, is big-league ready, while his change is above-average.
Where Betances has to improve – and this matter showed up with the Thunder late last season – is his fielding when pitching out of the stretch with runners on. He had trouble with balls hit back to the mound.
Because of this, some pundits mark his total game down a few notches. Betances knows this part of his overall body of work needs improvement. So do the coaches.
“We’re always working with him on that,’’ said Thunder pitching coach Tommy Phelps. “Across the street (it’s actually about five city blocks) at the big-league complex, I know they’ve put a lot of work in with him on that as well.
“As far as pitching, Dellin is progressing rapidly.’’
Betances is also the sort who is quite coachable.
“I have two goals for this season,’’ he said. “The first is to stay healthy and have a full season, pitch at least 150 innings. The second is to do the work to improve my fielding, to get the job done in that area.
“I know, again, how much work it takes, work I’m certainly willing to do to make myself better.’’
Betances is also excited about playing a season in Trenton because, for the first time since 2007, when he was at Short-Season Class-A Staten Island, he is playing close to home. He’s a New York guy, and fans and relatives will be able to see him pitch.
“That’s what’s so great about Trenton and (manager) Tony Franklin. I know I’ll enjoy my season there.’’
And Thunder fans will enjoy having Betances.
HALL ADDS A PITCH: Lefty Shaeffer Hall, who was 11-7, 2.89 in 24 starts combined with Class-A Charleston and Tampa in 2010, is adding a cutter to his arsenal. He’s waging a strong battle for a spot in the 2011 Thunder rotation.
“It’s always good to have another pitch,’’ said Hall. “The Double-A level is a big step.’’
Hall has impressed both Franklin and Phelps with his work at camp, and he pitched impressively in intrasquad play.
“My goal is Trenton this year,’’ said Hall. “I think I’m ready to pitch there.’’
Hall is almost certain to appear in a Thunder uniform this season. If not at the start, certainly soon after.
Baselines is providing daily spring-training reports from the Thunder camp in Tampa, Fla. Comments are welcomed below, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at @jedleyq.