Graham Stoneburner puts himself on the prospect map
It’s that name — Stoneburner, and where the hurler says it comes from.
“My ancestors used to heat up rocks and put them under people’s beds, and that’s how we got our name,” he explains.
Those days are long gone, but during his first full year as a Yankees prospect, the young right-hander did all he could to live up to his fiery family name.
Along with the hard fastball – which Yankees head of player development Mark Newman has compared to that of major league veteran Jake Westbrook — Stoneburner sports a maturing a slider and a nascent change-up.
The fastball and slider combo helped him sail through his first full season as a starter, though there’s internal debate as to whether he’ll eventually have more success out of the bullpen.
Whatever the future may hold, Stoneburner looked very much like a long-term starter last May, when the RiverDogs entered the Garden State for a set with the Lakewood BlueClaws, the Phillies’ Sally League squad.
From the jump that afternoon, Stoneburner took quick advantage of a free-swinging line-up. He fanned two of the first three hitters he faced, including top Phillies prospect Jiwan James.
Then, in the second inning, he got to show off his considerable mettle.
A three-base error by Jimmy Paredes put the speedy Anthony Hewitt on third with nobody out against Lakewood’s 5-6-7 hitters, a tall task for any pitcher, let alone one making just his sixth professional start.
Stoneburner stood tall, turning the next three hitters into his third, fourth and fifth strikeouts of the day. He rang up the last man, the 17-year-old Domingo Santana, on two sliders — one in the zone, one in the dirt — and a final fastball on the inner half.
He finished the afternoon with 11 punchouts, including a stretch of seven in a row, and earned his first his first win in the minors after two early losses during which he allowed a combined four earned runs.
He left after seven shutout innings and 95 pitches, the last of which was a fastball at 95 miles per hour. The ability to carry that kind of velocity deep into games should aid him over the next couple of seasons as he vies for a spot in the Yankees’ rotation.
It’s also something he’s had to work since high school to maintain.
“When I was younger, I used to throw harder in the fourth inning than in the first, for some reason,” Stoneburner said. “They have us in pretty good shape, and that allows us to maintain our velocity throughout the game. I knew right there that that guy was a good fastball hitter, so I had to put a little extra on it."
Promoted before midseason, Stoneburner finished the year with a 9-8 record, a 2.41 ERA, 137 strikeouts in 142 innings and a sub-1.00 WHIP. He’s almost certain to spend the season in what should be another prospect-stocked Thunder rotation.
No matter his role down the line, Greg Colbrunn, his manager last year with the Charleston RiverDogs, the Yankees’ Low-A affiliate, has no problem seeing the big-time in Stoneburner’s future a few years down the line.
“He’s got a chance to move through the ranks pretty quickly. It’s hard to project where he’s going to be four years from now, but he’s spotting his fastball. If he can continue to progress like he has, we’ll see how he does.”