Profile: Joba Chamberlain

December 19, 2006
After signing for $1 Million less than teammate Ian Kennedy out of the 2006 draft, Nebraska’s own Joba Chamberlain has positioned himself near the top of the New York Yankee prospect watch list. The 6-foot-3 230-pound horse of a pitcher dominated hitters last fall in Hawaii, and dazzled scouts with his ability to move the ball around the zone.

Chamberlain, 21, dropped from potential mid-first round to first round supplemental pick due to weight concerns and triceps tendonitis flare-ups approaching draft day. Leading his team past Miami at the 2005 Super Regional, he proved his health and the potential to excel in pressure situations.

A look at his two college seasons shows why Yankee GM Brian Cashman was excited to take Chamberlain with the 41st overall pick of the draft.

2005 2.81 10-2 118.2 37 22 130 0.218
2006 3.93 6-5 89.1 39 34 102 0.255

What really sticks out is Chamberlain’s phenomenal 4/1 strikeout to walk ratio. He’s also has a large frame that – despite the concerns with arm injuries – could log 180-200 innings a season.

Chamberlain does not have problems with his stuff. He uses great arm action and a fluid drive towards the plate to hit 98, and sits with a plus control fastball at 93-95 on the gun. He likes to mix in an average to above-average changeup of 80-83 and has found success with the pitch at lower levels. His changeup will have to learn more fade to survive against top-tier hitters.

Chamberlain’s out pitch is his 10-to-4 plus slider that stays low and tempts hitters. Some reports from Hawaiian Winter Baseball have noted that the slider was declining into a loose slurve. He also throws an average curve that does more to change pace than change plain. He excels with the command of his pitches spotting them where he needs.

While many organizations decided against sending top-shelf pitching prospects to the island, there is little argument Chamberlain was the most dominate and ready player of the group in Hawaii. There he continued to display the characteristics scouts love, an uncanny ability to make hitters miss. He struck out 46 and walked only three.

Chamberlain will likely start the year in Tampa as the Yankees want to make sure his arm and weight stay under control. He could also thrive at Trenton where pitching is desperately needed if New York decides on that route.

Much has been written about the new found patience Cashman and Senior VP of Baseball Operations Mark Newman have displayed. New York is trying to get cheaper, and hopes by complementing the primetime players with prospects from their system that will happen.

Philip Hughes and new acquisition Humberto Sanchez, who the Yankees gladly accepted in return for Gary Sheffield, should be ready for mid season call-ups. This allows for continued development, something players like Chamberlain and Kennedy may not have had two seasons ago.

Chamberlain has the tools to be a big league pitcher by 2008, but like many young power guys with arm injuries, there are questions that need to be answered. If he can stay healthy, he should figure in as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter in his prime. He ranks among the elite of all Yankee farmhands – a group that includes eight premium righthanded pitchers. Only Hughes, Sanchez and Dellin Betances have higher ceilings than Chamberlain.

Strengths: A plus fastball with plus-plus control. An above-average slider he throws as an out pitch, and two average to above-average pitches that accompanied with the fastball look better than they are. Chamberlain has no trouble finding the zone, and rarely offers freebees to first. Has good character and has managed to excel despite the stresses of being over weight and a very young father. Has looked lean since his final season at Nebraska.

Weaknesses: Has had a weight problem in the past. Was reportedly at or above 290 pounds early in his career. Right triceps tendonitis that some fear could resurface. While Chamberlain has very good command and control on his pitches, his change up has little movement and can stay up in the zone at times. Slider has a tendency to role into a slurve.

MLB Comparisons: C.C. Sabathia is the obvious choice here. Similar body type and size. Both have a quiver full of fastball/change/curve/slider with above-average to plus command on all four pitches.

Where Chamberlain has an advantage is in the makeup department. Chamberlain pitched and excelled in the Big 12 for two seasons, and his parent club will not need to rush him to the Majors after only three seasons and 48 appearances like the Indians did with Sabathia. Along with a potential for many career wins, Sabathia has had maturity issues in the past and often declining success when the plate umpire has a different perspective. There haven’t been any of these issues with the Yankee draftee.

There are many similarities with Andy Pettitte as well, who has comparable – if not slightly superior – control. While pitching between the ages of 20 and 21, Pettitte had 271 BB to 106 K (between A+ and AA). Pettitte has always been known as a control guy with plus stuff. From the bleachers, of course, there’s no mistaking Chamberlain for Pettitte. His BMI is obviously much closer to Sabathia’s as is the delivery.

Others: Joba is a member of the Winnebago Tribe, and could be one of two Native Americans playing in the Major Leagues when/if he makes it up (the other is Bobby Madritsch).

Outlook: In the past, Joba Chamberlain would be a player the Yankees would dangle to pick up established Major Leaguers – Eric Milton/Chuck Knoblauch deal or the Jay Buhner/Ken Phelps deal. A new wind has blown in and with it came a responsibility not only for those what-have-you-done-for-me-lately types but for the future of the club.

It’s always very difficult to compare college numbers to professional numbers, and Chamberlain has little professional experience. His production for West Oahu has helped to comfort the Yankee brass. They took a high-risk/high-reward gamble on a guy who scouts are very high on.

Baring any further issues, Chamberlain could be a back-of-the-rotation guy for the Yankees by 2009. He should spend 2007 between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton and make the move to Lackawanna County Stadium for the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Triple-A squad sometime the following year. If he’s used in part as a trade piece he could even see the bright lights by Spring Training 2008.

Whether or not he ends up taking the #4 train to work, or drives through cornfields to the stadium, Joba Chamberlain fans should expect continued success through the minors and onto MLB. He has a wealth of natural talent that is only inhibited by a small injury and cheese pizza. If he can prove lean and durable he will make it at the next level.


Deryck Ramey can be reached at