Career Profile: CC Sabathia
Here is a look at the career path and prospect development of New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia.
CC Sabathia was drafted in the first round of the 1998 draft, 20th overall, by the Cleveland Indians. A two-way player in high school, he was compared to Dave Parker as a hitter and to Vida Blue as a pitcher, but the Indians felt his upside was highest on the mound. He already threw 95-98 MPH and showed a good curve, but reports were mixed about his command and pitching aptitude. He made five starts for Burlington in the Appy League after signing, posting a 4.50 ERA with a 35/8 K/BB in 18 inning, allowing 20 hits. I didn't give letter grades to newly-drafted prospects back then, but I'd probably give a similar pitcher now a Grade B.
Sabathia missed the early part of the 1999 season with an elbow injury. He ended up pitching six games for Mahoning Valley in the New York-Penn League (1.83 ERA, 27/12 K/BB in 20 innings), three games for Low-A Columbus (1.08 ERA, 20/5 K/BB in 17 innings) and seven games for High-A Kinston (5.34 ERA, 29/19 K/BB in 32 innings). His velocity dipped to "just" 90-94 MPH and he had some significant command problems at Kinston. There were also complaints that he was too fat and was destined to get hurt. I gave him a Grade B- in the 2000 book, writing that he "has a great future if he doesn't blow out his arm."
He answered some doubts in 2000, posting a 3.54 ERA with a 69/24 K/BB in 56 innings for Kinston, then a 3.59 ERA with a 90/48 K/BB in 90 innings for Double-A Akron. Mechanical refinements got his fastball back into the 94-98 MPH range, he continued to sharpen his curveball, and worked in an improved changeup. His personality blossomed, as he gained a reputation as intelligent and very confident on the mound. There were still some worries about his control and weight, but overall his stock was high. I gave him a Grade A- in the 2001 book and ranked him as the Number Six pitching prospect in baseball.
Sabathia entered spring training in 2001 with an outside shot at the major league rotation, but many people felt he needed to pitch in Triple-A for a bit to sharpen his command. That didn't happen: he made the Indians in spring training and pitched in rotation all year, going 17-5, 4.39 with a 171/95 K/BB in 180 innings, with an ERA+ of 102. His command did wobble at times, but his stuff was so good that he was still effective. His command has gradually improved throughout his career, and he's developed into a true workhorse, getting safely past the injury nexus.
So far, through age 29, Sabathia is 157-88 (.641), with a 3.57 ERA, 123 ERA+, 1787 strikeouts against 664 walks in 2127 innings with 1947 hits allowed. His FIPs track his ERAs very closely: his career FIP is 3.58. He's got a 49.6 WAR through10 seasons, with his career-best mark so far being 7.6 in 2008.
Similar Pitchers to Sabathia through age 29: Dwight Gooden, Dave McNally, Lefty Gomez, Vida Blue, Greg Maddux, Milt Pappas, Ken Holtzman, Sandy Koufax, Nig Cuppy, and Roger Clemens. Cuppy was a 19th century guy and not really comparable. Gomez and Koufax are in the Hall of Fame, while Maddux and Clemens will be. Gooden and Blue were seen as Hall-type talents early in their careers. Certainly, Sabathia has the ability to get there if his career lasts long enough.
In the minors, Sabathia showed a mixture of great stuff with command problems and injury issues. He's continued to show the great stuff, and command and health haven't held him back. Reports have him losing 30 pounds this past winter, and of course you are likely aware of the rumors that he'll "opt out" of his contract with the Yankees and seek greener free agent pastures next year. I don't want to jinx him, but it would be the height of irony if he does get hurt after working so hard to get into better shape for this year.