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Yanks may have to take a look at Minor League prospect- Horne

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The injury to workhorse starter Chien-Ming Wang seriously threatens to submerge the Yankees' playoff hopes, which already were taking on water despite the recent spate of wins against the overmatched National League.

But I think there's a solution at Triple-A Scranton -- 25-year-old Alan Horne, who continues to impress scouts despite seemingly falling off the Yankees' radar. I'm hearing the same kinds of things about him from the same people who inspired me at this time last year to call for the Yankees to bring up both Joba Chamberlain and Shelley Duncan rather than trade for a reliever and power bat.

Instead of Horne, 31-year-old Dan Giese will start Saturday -- an interesting story because he never received a real chance to pitch in the Majors despite some impressive Minor League numbers. But only 10 of his 387 Minor League appearances came as a starter. So, he's unlikely to pass his audition. Also, de facto No. 4 starter Darrell Rasner has looked shaky his last two outings and is a guy who has been so unimpressive to the Yankees previously that he wasn't even on the 40-man roster as recently as last winter. So it's reasonable to assume the Yankees are really down two starters. New arrival Sidney Ponson isn't worth discussing.

Horne did miss six weeks with a biceps strain but has pitched six innings in each of his last two starts for Scranton. He was the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year in 2007 at Trenton. While skeptics say he did that at age 24, his progress has been delayed by numerous injuries. His stuff has never been in question.

Before the 2003 season, Baseball America ranked him No. 6 on the list of the 50 best college sophomores and he was also rated the No. 2 prospect in the SEC prior to the 2004 draft, according to MiLB.com.

Last year, he had 165 K's in 153 innings (57 walks). This year, 22 K's and 10 walks in 24 Triple-A innings.

At the Arizona Fall League last year, an American League East scout told me Horne's stuff was near the Chamberlain level and better than Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, which seemed like a much bigger compliment then than it does now.

Deric McKamey of BaseballHQ.com and author of the Minor League Baseball Analyst thinks Horne deserves a shot.

"I'd definitely gamble on Horne's upside before recycling guys like Rasner and Giese," McKamey said. "I think there's concern, though, given what happened to Kennedy. But Horne's stuff is better than Kennedy's. Of course, Phil Hughes disappointed, too, but now that's being blamed on the injury. Their bad luck with pitching prospects is making them reluctant [with Horne]."

Horne's fastball is his best pitch, clocking in at 94 mph consistently and with decent movement.

"He has very good stuff and obviously can miss bats," McKamey said. "But the worry with him is his command. What's going to happen when he falls behind to big league hitters? But, again, I think the Yankees are feeling a little gun shy right now and aren't being as aggressive as maybe they should be."

Could they be trying to protect Horne's value in anticipation of a trade?

"That's a very good point," McKamey says. "If Horne stinks it up, maybe they won't be able to get anything more for him than they got for Tyler Clippard -- a middling middle reliever [Jonathan Albaladejo]. But Clippard is a contact/change up guy and those tend to be very streaky."

In addition to the plus-fastball, McKamey says Horne has a Major League caliber curveball and cutter -- though those pitches are just average -- along with the workings of a change up, which he said was the key to Horne's 2007 success.

Evidence of his command problems were seen in his start Thursday night, when only 53 of his 96 pitches were strikes. On the plus side, he didn't yield an extra-base hit and only allowed four singles in six frames.

Alternatively, the Yankees can wait for Kennedy, who is recovering from a strained lat and hasn't pitched since May 27th. And Kennedy allowed 66 baserunners in 37-plus innings when he was healthy.

Hughes (rib fracture) is ready to start throwing again in about a week. But Hughes has become sort of the new Mark Prior minus the good pitching.

Though protecting Horne's value might be wise, the more classic Yankees thing to do is role the dice on a couple of big starts against the weak NL teams and then flip him in a deal.

Currently, McKamey doesn't think the Yanks can afford to land C.C. Sabathia and are more likely to target an innings-eater, stop-gap guy. That's a target a guy with Horne's stuff can more easily hit while offering the team hope for much more.

Michael Salfino is a nationally syndicated columnist and analyst and a regular contributor to SNY.tv.

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