Phillies Farmhand Brian Gordon Starting For Yankees?

Brian Gordon (photo courtesy of Lehigh Valley IronPigs)

When is a 32-year-old triple-A lifer a pitching prospect, sorta?

When he's been a pitcher for only four full seasons, and has knockout numbers.

Which describes Brian Gordon, who's going to fill Bartolo Colon's old slot in the New York Yankees' rotation, Thursday afternoon against the Texas Rangers.

Fourteen years ago, when Gordon was just another Texas high-school outfielder, the Diamondback snagged him in the seventh round of the amateur draft. He posted some decent numbers in Class A, but could never quite get over the hump as a hitter and eventually joined the Angels', then the Astros' organizations.

In 2007, still with the Astros, Gordon switched from outfielding to pitching. Impressively, he began his new career in Class AA and acquitted himself quite well. But the Astros released Gordon shortly into the 2008 campaign, and he signed with the Rangers. He didn't pitch all that well in the minors, but was rewarded anyway with a stint in the majors that September, getting into three games and giving up just one run.

It was back to AAA in '009, and Gordon did well but not well enough to earn another summons from the big club. In November, he became a free agent and signed with the Phillies; they too sent him to triple-A ... where, improbably enough, it looks like something clicked. Gordon posted a 3.46 ERA with Lehigh Valley last year, but that ERA belies just how well he pitched: 78 innings, 86 strikeouts, 19 walks and (this is my favorite part) only two home runs allowed.

That got got another spring in Lehigh Valley, but it also got him his first real chance as a starter -- thanks to the promotion of Vance Worley -- and his 2011 numbers include a 1.14 ERA and a sublime strikeout-to-walk ratio: 8.

Yes, Lehigh Valley is still the Phillies' top farm club.

So how does Gordon come to pitch for the New York Yankees?

He seems to have a wise agent, because Gordon's contract stipulates that he can become a free agent if another organization will add him to its major-league roster. Which the Yankees are doing because they are, quite frankly, terribly desperate for a competent starting pitcher.

By all accounts, Gordon does not throw hard, his fastball sitting right around 90 miles an hour. But he's got fantastic command of that pitch, throws a decent breaking ball, and added a cutter this spring.

There's no good reason to think Brian Gordon will win a dozen games in the major leagues, ever. But he's a great story, and there are lots of triple-A pitchers who can't do what he does. It's better than forfeiting.

For more about Brian Gordon and the New York Yankees, please visit Pinstripe Alley.

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