Dellin Betances knows where he came from, and if the 22-year-old right-hander can stay healthy, he’ll soon be pitching in his backyard. Drafted by the Yankees out of a Brooklyn high school in 2006, Betances has battled back from injuries and emerged as arguably the best power arm in the system. The 6-foot-8 flamethrower went a combined 8-1, 2.11 between High-A Tampa (14 starts) and Double-A Trenton (3 starts) this summer, notching 108 strikeouts while allowing just 53 hits in 85 innings. In Game One of the Eastern League playoffs, he outdueled top Blue Jays prospect Kyle Drabek in a 2-0 Trenton win.
David Laurila: How would you describe yourself?
Dellin Betances: My name is Dellin Betances. I was born in Washington Heights, in uptown New York. At the age of 10, I moved downtown, to Manhattan, to the lower East Side. I started playing baseball there. I played basketball my whole life, until my junior year of high school. I grew up as a basketball player but then became a baseball player at the age of 10 and just ran with it. I’ve pitched ever since I started.
I went to high school in Brooklyn—Grand Street Campus—and I started playing summer ball at the age of 13, in a Youth Service League. A lot of guys came out of that, like Manny Ramirez.
DL: What does it mean to be from Washington Heights?
DB: I mean, New York style is like a lot of people on the wrong side, but thank God I grew up with great parents. They always took care of me and showed me the good routes. Obviously, it’s a tough neighborhood to live in, just trying to stay out of trouble. Growing up, I always looked up to my brothers—they both went to college—and stuff like that helped me grow up as a better person.
My goal is to make it to the big leagues and to stay, and if I do, I feel that I can contribute and help a lot of people. I want to give back to the community, because I know what it was like to go through all of that. To be able to go back and help out would definitely be an honor and a privilege for me.
DL: How important is baseball in the Washington Heights area?
DB: It’s definitely important. It is something to keep you busy and to help you stay out of the streets. You have school and then baseball, and it keeps your mind running. You don’t have to grow up like some of the guys, on the streets. Like I said, thank God I had a great family.
But a lot of guys where I grew up enjoyed playing baseball. I mean, I was born in Washington Heights and they call it like a second Dominican Republic. So a lot of guys always enjoyed playing and it really helped them out during their early stages, and even some of their other stages.
DL: What was it like to be drafted by the Yankees?
DB: Just to hear my name get called by—to get drafted by—the Yankees was an honor for me. It was the team I grew up watching when I was young, so just to be drafted by the Yankees, I thought to myself, “Like wow, I can’t believe it.” I was like in this daze, you know, and obviously I thank God for everything that He has given me. I definitely feel like He… getting picked by the Yankees was definitely even a better feeling.
DL: What was the signing process like for you?
DB: I believe that I signed July 4th, so it took me less than a month after the draft. That’s not as bad as you see with other guys now, but it did take me a little while because I definitely had college in mind. I was debating whether or not it was the right time to go. I had committed to Vanderbilt and obviously they have a great program. You see a lot of guys come out of there like [David] Price, [Pedro] Alvarez, and now Mike Minor, along with other players, so it was definitely a difficult choice. But being drafted by the Yankees made the decision a lot easier.
DL: How much did you know about life in the minor leagues at the time you signed?
DB: My coach talked to me about it, but it was still kind of a new thing. It was something I had to get used to. Just being away from home—living on my own—was something I had to get used to. But I learned, as time went by, that it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.
My life in the minor leagues has been great. I mean, it has been up and down, but it is more mental than physical. I’m glad, because I’ve had the ups and downs, but right now I feel like I’m at the best point that I’ve been at in the minors.
DL: How much have the arm issues you’ve dealt with impacted your career?
DB: It’s been tough to see other guys move up—guys that you’ve played with—who haven’t had to go through the same problems, but that‘s just life. I’m just thankful to be here now that I feel healthy enough to pitch and put my name out there again.
DL: Who are you on the mound?
DB: I’m a competitor. I love to compete and help my team win. If I can go out there and do that every five days, I feel that I’m doing a great job.
DL: Are you a power pitcher?
DB: I try to stay humble, but I definitely consider myself a power pitcher. I know that I have a good fastball and definitely a power curveball to go along with it. I also have a changeup. So yes, I consider myself a power pitcher. That would be the best way to describe me.
DL: Just how important is velocity to your game?
DB: To be honest, velocity can mean a lot and it can mean a little. If you’re commanding your pitches and you have good velocity, that’s obviously a great thing. But if you don’t command your pitches, velocity alone won’t get you too far. I feel that my velocity has been good and my command has been good to the point that I’ve been able to get guys out on a pretty consistent basis.
DL: Who has most helped you develop as a pitcher?
DB: I could name a lot of guys. Last year I worked with Danny Borrell; he is the pitching-rehab coordinator. But he is just one of many guys. Pav [Tampa Yankees pitching coach Greg Pavlick] has helped me. Obviously, Nardi [Contreras] is our pitching coordinator. But it’s hard to mention names, because I’ve worked on little stuff with basically everybody since I’ve been rehabbing and a lot of them have helped me.
DL: Are you definitely a starter down the road, or do you think your stuff might translate better to the bullpen?
DB: I definitely see myself as a starter. I’ve been starting ever since I signed, so I see myself as a starter, but if I had a chance to move up as a bullpen guy, I’d accept that role.
DL: To close, is there anything you’d like people to know about you?
DB: Just one thing: Everybody thinks I was born in Brooklyn, but I was actually born in Washington Heights—my first home. Then I moved to the lower East Side, to downtown Manhattan, so the lower East Side is my home. You’re probably the first one who knows that.
I mean, I love Brooklyn. I played in Brooklyn from age 13, I went to high school in Brooklyn, so it’s like my second home, but the lower East Side is where I started playing baseball. That is one thing that everybody should know.