1. Joba Chamberlain, rhp Born: September 23, 1985 • B-T: R-R • Ht: 6-2 • Wt: 230
Drafted: Nebraska, 2006 (1st round supplemental) • Signed by: Steve Lemke/Tim Kelly
Background: As a 272-pound freshman, Chamberlain went 3-6. 5.23 for Division II Nebraska-Kearney. However, he started to emerge as a player there, improving his body and reaching the low 90s with his fastball. After one season, he transferred to Nebraska, where he starred for his hometown Cornhuskers. While his talent made him a consensus top prospect for the 2006 draft, his stock fell because of concerns about a knee injury that required surgery in the fall of 2004. He fell to the Yankees with the 41st overall pick and signed for $1.15 million. A member of the Winnebago tribe, he became the second-highest Native American ever drafted, behind only Jacoby Ellsbury. After signing, Chamberlain reported to Hawaii Winter Baseball, where he ranked as the No. 1 prospect in his first pro action. Chamberlain had a mild hamstring pull last spring and didn't make his pro debut until May, then made the minor leagues look easy. After breezing through high Class A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, Chamberlain moved to the bullpen to help the Yankees fill a big league need. He made the majors look easy too, giving up just one earned run in 19 outings. Only Mother Nature could stop him. He coughed up a 2-1 lead against the Indians in Game Three of the Division Series after he was swarmed by midges and lost his focus.
Strengths: Scouts chuckle with delight discussing Chamberlain's raw stuff, and several give him 70 or 80 grades on the 20-80 scouting scale for three different pitches. He reached 100 mph with his fastball as a reliever, and more impressively can sit at 96-97 mph when he starts. His fastball command grades at least major league average, if not higher. He also commands two breaking balls—a mid-80s slider with depth and a nasty power curveball in the low 80s. Both are strikeout pitches, and he's adept at keeping his hand on top of the curve and behind the slider. He even has shown a solid-average changeup. His arm action is clean, and his fierce competitive streak helps give him something extra when he needs it.
Weaknesses: Chamberlain will need to keep his weight in check, which would help him avoid any recurrence of his past knee, hamstring or triceps tendinitis issues. He needs to maintain the mechanical improvements he has made as a pro, which keep him more balanced and direct his energy toward the plate, rather than side-to-side. He must prove he can maintain his stuff through a full season. His career high for innings remains the 119 he threw for Nebraska as a sophomore.
The Future: While his big league debut hinted that he could be an elite closer almost immediately, Chamberlain fits the No. 1 starter profile in nearly every way except for the workhorse part of the equation. If they were only thinking of his development, the Yankees would limit him to 170 innings or so. He's likely to pitch so well as to tempt new manager Joe Girardi to use him more than that, however. If he remains healthy, Chamberlain has multiple all-star appearances in his future.
All Yankees fans should be 'chuckling with delight!" - it's gonna be huge fun watching this kid dominate for the next 20 years!